State moving to dismiss case against suspect in freeway shootings

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Freeway shooting suspect Leslie Merritt Jr. talks to the media after being released from jail on April 19, 2016 (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Freeway shooting suspect Leslie Merritt Jr. talks to the media after being released from jail on April 19, 2016 (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Freeway shooting suspect Leslie Merritt Jr. greeted by his lawyers after being released from jail on April 19, 2016 (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Freeway shooting suspect Leslie Merritt Jr. greeted by his lawyers after being released from jail on April 19, 2016 (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Court document tweeted by Merritt's lawyer, Jason Lamm. (Source: @PhxCriminalAtty) Court document tweeted by Merritt's lawyer, Jason Lamm. (Source: @PhxCriminalAtty)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

The state has moved to dismiss all charges against Leslie Merritt Jr., the primary suspect in last summer's freeway shootings case, according to Merritt's attorney.

Merritt's lawyer, Jason Lamm, tweeted a copy of the paperwork shortly after 5:30 p.m. Friday.

A spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office confirmed the filing.

"In conjunction with (the Department of Public Safety), we have identified additional forensic investigation that needs to be completed in order for the case to proceed," Jerry Cobb told The Associated Press. 

This action will allow them "the necessary time" to file charges again, Cobb added. He declined to comment further.

A judge is expected to rule on the motion next week.

Merritt was released from jail without bond earlier this week. Although the judge reduced Merritt's bail to zero, he did order electronic monitoring.

"Based upon the written motion and material submitted pursuant to court order under seal, the court does find a material fact not presented earlier that would justify a modification of release conditions," Judge Warren Granville ruled.

Because the parties in the case are subject to a gag order, we do not know what that "material fact not presented" is.

Lamm said via Twitter that the imposed gag order will remain in place until a judge formally dismisses it.

A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety said his agency will have no comment until the gag order is lifted.

"I would expect a statement next week," Capt. Damon Cecil said in an email.

The governor's office, like DPS, had little to say about Friday's development.

"This issue is working through the criminal justice system, where it remains under investigation by state and county authorities," spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. "We expect the case to be treated fairly."

"All I have to say is I'm the wrong guy."

Merritt, the father of two, has maintained that he had nothing to do with the shootings along I-10 last summer since he was arrested.

"All I have to say is I'm the wrong guy," he said at his initial court appearance in September. "I tried telling the detectives that. My gun's been in the pawn shop the last two months. I haven't even had access to a weapon," he said.

Bail at the time was set at $1 million. 

Merritt's family stood behind him.

"Whoever thinks my son is the I-10 shooter is a moron," Leslie Allan Merritt Sr. said after his son's arrest. "I know my son. My entire family knows my son. There's no way he could have done it."

He said he didn't want the public to make assumptions, and that just because his son was arrested, the public should remember that people are innocent until proven guilty. 

"We got him!"

The arrest of Merritt was celebrated by Gov. Doug Ducey via Twitter, a move that several have criticized. Ducey posted his now infamous tweet just five minutes after a SWAT team took Merritt into custody.

Critics were just as quick on the draw, saying the tweet implied that Merritt was guilty before he had even been booked, let alone tried in court.

"When he says, 'We got him,' you don't 'get' somebody until they're convicted or plead guilty," Mike Black, a Phoenix criminal defense attorney for 30 years, said shortly after Merritt's arrest. "He's assuming this young man is guilty."

Lamm did not directly address that apparent assumption when his client was released from jail, but he did talk about how Merritt was perceived by the public.

"There's no evidence against him to show that he's responsible for this," Lamm said as he spoke outside court Tuesday morning, the day Merritt was released. "Our client was branded public enemy No. 1. He was called a domestic terrorist. He’s been in jail in solitary confinement for seven months. Our reaction? We’re thrilled."

State's case 'doomed'?

Shortly after Merritt's release, a local legal expert said the state's case against Merritt might be "doomed."

"Nobody has tied him to being present during any of the shootings, and there are some alibi witnesses that said he wasn't around, all kinds of things that point to it not being him," Dwane Cates said. " One big thing was ballistics, and if they lose ballistics, I think the case is doomed."

A day later Robert McDonald, the driver of a bus that was hit by bullets last summer in the second case attributed to the freeway shooter, shared his frustration with the state's handling of the case.

"I think that there was such a rush to make an arrest back in September that mistakes could have been made," McDonald said. 

The bullet that struck McDonald's bus went through two seats before lodging in a third just behind and to the right of him.

"My life could have ended August 29th, 2015," McDonald said, explaining that he's been on leave since the incident. "I've been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder."

Dismissed without prejudice?

The court document tweeted by Lamm Friday evening appeared to be a motion to dismiss without prejudice. That means that theoretically, charges could be refiled at some point.

Merritt was charged in connection with four of the 11 freeway shootings that kept the Phoenix metro area on edge for weeks last August and September. The investigation into the other shootings is still open.

Merritt has filed a $10 million claim against Ducey and the state, claiming they ignored evidence, intimidated witnesses and falsely accused him of the shootings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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