Newly unsealed documents released in the freeway shooting casePosted: Updated:
The first documents in the freeway shooter case that were once sealed were released on Thursday since last week’s order by the judge to unseal them.
Those documents include the ballistics report by an expert hired by the prosecution. It is that report that led the state to dismiss charges against Leslie Merritt Jr., who had been charged with four of the incidents that took place in the summer of 2015.
Merritt's attorneys say in the records that the ballistics expert was brought in to double-check the work of an Arizona Department Public Safety employee who said bullet projectiles from the four shootings came from Merritt's gun. Lawyers for the 21-year-old landscaper also said the gun was in a pawn shop at the time of one of the shootings.
The testing done by the DPS criminalist had earlier determined that the fragments were forensically linked to Merritt’s gun.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which filed the case against Merritt, declined to comment on the records.
Capt. Damon Cecil, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said it would be a mischaracterization to say the expert's report was critical of his agency's forensic analysis. "Just because it disagreed (with DPS' findings) doesn't mean it was critical," Cecil said.
The newly released documents also include a detailed report generated by an engineer hired by the defense to test a tire related to the fourth shooting which resulted in charges for Merritt.
That expert determined the last shooting occurred during a time frame when Merritt’s gun was in pawn and could not have been used to puncture the tire.
Merritt, who spent seven months in jail before his release late last month, has maintained he is innocent, and that authorities arrested the wrong person.
Prosecutors, though, could still refile charges against Merritt.
Merritt has filed a legal claim - a precursor to a lawsuit - demanding $10 million from the state and county. Merritt alleged that authorities rushed to judgment and failed to provide evidence that he was present at any of the shootings.
In the wake of last summer's shootings, the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said they were the work of a domestic terrorist, and authorities heightened patrols and surveillance in pursuit of a suspect.
The decision to throw out the case leaves unanswered questions of who might be responsible for the shootings. No one else has been arrested in the investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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