Suspect charged in Arizona highway shootings, held on $1 million bond

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2015 3:39 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The man who was arrested in connection with a spate of shootings along a major highway through Arizona was arraigned on Saturday on felony charges that include drive-by shooting and terrorism.

Wearing a gray and white striped prison uniform, Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, said he was not the person responsible for the shootings. It was his first court appearance since being arrested Friday.

"All I have to say is that I'm the wrong guy. I tried telling the detective that," said Merritt, who said he has two children. "My gun's been in the pawn shop for the last two months. I haven't even had access to a weapon," Merritt said.

He is being held on a $1 million cash bond.

Merritt, of Glendale, Arizona, was charged with four counts each of drive-by shooting, intentional acts of terrorism, and aggravated assault involving a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, in addition to other charges.

Authorities had been investigating about a dozen possible vehicle shootings since Aug. 29 on a roughly 10-mile (16-km) stretch of Interstate 10 through Phoenix.

A 13-year-old girl who suffered a slight cut to her ear has been the only injury reported.

Merritt was arrested at 6:47 p.m. on Friday as he entered a Wal-Mart store in Glendale with a woman and a 5-year-old child, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said.

Merritt, who has a criminal record for minor offenses, is suspected in the first four vehicle shootings on Aug. 29 and Aug. 30. Investigators tracked down what they believe to be the involved gun in these incidents at a local pawn shop.

Authorities had been monitoring him for most of the day before his arrest.

At a late Friday news conference, law enforcement officials said a gun Merritt owned was "forensically linked" to the first four shootings on the highway. Police said it was possible there were copycat shooters in some of the other incidents.

Graves said there is no known motive at this point.

“This continues to be an on-going investigation,” he said.

(Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Frank McGurty)