PHOENIX – The prosecutor in the Phoenix freeway shootings investigation said Wednesday that he will press ahead with the case despite dropping the charges against the suspect.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery refused to get into specifics at a news conference when asked basic questions about the investigation. But he said his office is not afraid to stop and review a case if needed.
"Prosecutors are not afraid of the truth. In identifying areas for further investigation, it's a part of reviewing cases in preparation for trial. Wherever the evidence leads is where we go," Montgomery said.
The case's dismissal may be interpreted by some as a sign of a botched investigation by Montgomery's office.
"If people want to draw that conclusion at this point in time, they're certainly free to do so. And I got to stand here and take it," Montgomery said.
Now that a judge has dismissed charges against the man arrested for last summer's freeway shootings in the Phoenix area, his attorneys are calling on the court to release all previously sealed documents.
Lawyers for Leslie Merritt Jr. said opening the documents will further prove their client isn't responsible for four of 11 shootings of vehicles that caused panic on Phoenix-area freeways in August and September.
"I think it will open the public's eyes to what the I-10 freeway shooter case, as well as the prosecution of Leslie Merritt Jr., is all about," attorney Jason Lamm said Tuesday.
The motion states the documents should be unsealed to prevent prosecutors from making false claims about why the case was dismissed. It cited a statement from County Attorney's spokesman Jerry Cobb saying the case's latest developments are the result of evidence uncovered by prosecutors.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," the motion states. "Allowing MCAO's statements to stand would constitute a tacit endorsement of the State's misleading the public with utter impunity."
Cobb declined to comment, saying: "We respond to motions in court, not in the media."
It's not immediately clear what's in the sealed documents.
Merritt's lawyers have contended ballistic tests cast doubt on authorities' claim that Merritt was behind four of the freeway shootings.
Merritt, who spent seven months in jail before his release last week, has maintained his innocence and says authorities arrested the wrong person.
He filed a legal claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — a month ago demanding $10 million from the state and county. Merritt alleged authorities rushed to judgment and failed to provide evidence that he was present at any of the shootings.
Lamm said the case is still in its infancy, but Merritt could seek additional recourse if his arrest is found to be arbitrary or punitive.
In the wake of last summer's shootings, the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said the gunfire was the work of a domestic terrorist, and authorities heightened patrols and surveillance in pursuit of a suspect.
Detectives took Merritt into custody Sept. 18, leading Gov. Doug Ducey to declare "We got him!" on Twitter five minutes after the arrest.
That tweet came under fire as a rush to judgment. Montgomery declined to comment on whether the tweet impacted the case. "Having made ill-advised tweets myself, I'm not going to cast a stone," he said.
In court the next day, Merritt adamantly denied shooting any cars, telling the judge, "I'm the wrong guy."
His lawyers immediately began raising questions about the evidence, citing ballistics information and phone records they say provided their client an alibi.
The decision to throw out the case leaves unanswered questions of who might be responsible for the shootings.