Bail lowered for man charged in Phoenix freeway shootings

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2015 6:50 PM
Bail lowered for man charged in Phoenix freeway shootings

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge lowered bail Monday for a man charged in several freeway shootings that put drivers in metro Phoenix on edge two months ago, but wouldn't let his attorneys call witnesses to back up a claim that he has an alibi.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville reduced Leslie Merritt Jr.'s $1 million bond to $150,000 after his lawyers made an alibi claim that wasn't considered by the court that set his original bond.

Defense attorneys wanted to call Merritt's fiancee and other family members to support the claim that their client was nowhere near the shootings, but the judge wouldn't allow it. Granville said he didn't want the hearing to become "a dress rehearsal for trial" that could influence potential jurors.

"I'll be there," Merritt said, trying to assure the judge that he would not skip out on court hearings.

Authorities say they used ballistic tests to tie the 21-year-old to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10. The investigation into the other shootings remains open.

No one was seriously injured after eight cars were hit with bullets and three were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets, mostly along Interstate 10. The only injury was to a 13-year-old girl whose ear was cut by glass.

Prosecutors said there was no reliable evidence to justify changing his bond and that Merritt's fiancee told police that she wasn't sure about Merritt's whereabouts on the day in question.

Merritt, who insists police arrested the wrong person, has pleaded not guilty to drive-by shooting, aggravated assault and other charges.

The ruling means that Merritt could be released from jail, where he has been kept since mid-September, if he posts roughly 10 percent of the bail — $15,000.

Defense attorney Jason Lamm said he appreciated the reduced bond, but kept pushing for more favorable bail. "For this man, a 22-year-old landscaper with two small children, $15,000 is like a million dollars to him," Lamm said.

Prosecutor Edward Leiter said the argument by Merritt's attorney was intended to "play on the heart strings."

Defense lawyers say phone records will show their client called his grandmother from his home just minutes before two of the shootings on Aug. 29. They also say Merritt was at home asleep during at least one of the two remaining freeway shootings he is charged with.

It's unknown whether Merritt's cellphone calls were made from Glendale or from a number registered to a Glendale address.

Lamm said the FBI has done cell-tower analysis that shows his client was at home at the time of the shootings.

"As we sit here, we have yet to see any evidence that puts Leslie Merritt Jr. along the I-10 freeway at the time of these shootings," Lamm said.