In the summer of 2015, Phoenix, Arizona experienced a series of shootings on one of its freeways, Interstate 10. Authorities eventually arrested and charged 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. with the high profile shooting crimes. However, in recent months, there have been new developments in the case that showed the police apprehended the wrong man. The state's case against Merritt broke down and now all charges have been dropped against him.
The I-10 freeways shootings began in late August of last year. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there were 11 incidents of vehicles being struck by bullets or projectiles. The first three events took place on August 29th. An SUV was hit with a bullet around 11:10 in the morning. A few minutes later, a commercial tour bus was also struck by a bullet. Later that night, around 10:15 p.m. a third car was hit by a bullet. The fourth incident occurred on August 30th, the very next day. This one also took place at night. A car traveling west on the I-10 was hit by a bullet. around 9:45 p.m. Next, a pickup truck was struck by a bullet in the early morning hours of August 31st.
Two more cars were shot at a few days later, on September 6th. One was struck in the evening around 5:50 p.m. and the other later at night, around 8:30 p.m. On September 8th, two more cars were struck while traveling on the interstate. However, this time, the cars were struck with some kind of projectile. The following day a pickup truck was also hit with a projectile. The final incident linked to the shootings happened on September 10th. A commercial tractor-trailer that was pulling a semi-trailer was hit by a bullet, though it is unclear where the vehicle was at when it was struck.
Merritt was arrested later in September after authorities linked a gun he owned to four of the shootings. According to the Arizona Republic, he was facing "15 charges, including drive-by shooting and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon." These charges could have led to up to 100 years in prison if he had been convicted. Merritt has maintained his innocence since his arrest, even stating at his arraignment: "All I got to say is I'm the wrong guy, I've been telling the detectives that." Seven months later, Merritt's claims of innocence were finally vindicated. In April of 2016, a judge lowered his bail from $150,000 to zero after the ballistic evidence linking Merritt to the shootings was called into question. Merritt was released from jail the same day but was still required to wear an ankle monitor. Several days later prosecutors moved to dismiss all the charges against him. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, however. This means that they could be re-filed against Merritt later on. Merritt's attorneys are asking that sealed documents in the case be released. They state that these will show Merritt is innocent of the crimes.
In March of 2016, Merritt filed a $10 million notice of claim with several state agencies including the state of Arizona, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Maricopa County, and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. The claim states that he was wrongfully arrested. According to the Arizona Republic, "[t]he claim alleges that county prosecutors deliberately failed to present cellphone and employment records to the grand jury in their zeal for an indictment and criticized Ducey for tweeting "We got him" during Merritt's arrest." Filing a notice of claim is often a precursor to a lawsuit.
On April 27th, Bill Montgomery stated at a press conference that the investigation into the freeway shootings would continue.
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