PHOENIX – A key witness in the investigation of freeway shootings in metro Phoenix has backed away from her claim that a man arrested in the case was with her at the time of the attacks.
Leslie Merritt Jr. says phone records and accounts from family members will show that he wasn't near the scene of the shootings that put drivers on edge this summer. His fiancée initially corroborated the alibi claim during a police interview, but she eventually changed her account, saying ultimately that she wasn't with him at the time.
Jason Lamm, a lawyer for Merritt, says in a court filing that investigators with the Arizona Department of Public Safety bullied his client's fiancée into disavowing her support for the alibi. He said Merritt's fiancée recanted the alibi after investigators falsely claimed there were video recordings of the shootings and raised the possibility that his family members could face domestic terrorism charges.
"The same excerpts (from the interview transcript) make clear that no matter what the witness said to make clear that she was with the defendant on Aug. 29, investigators wanted to hear none of it as, in their minds, they already had their man," Lamm said.
Prosecutors and the Department of Public Safety declined to comment Monday, citing a gag order issued in the case.
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.
Merritt, who insists police arrested the wrong person, has pleaded not guilty to drive-by shooting, aggravated assault and other charges.
Defense lawyers had used the alibi claim in an earlier bid to get his bond lowered, saying the FBI has done cell-tower analysis that shows their client was at home at the time of the shootings.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud