The gun that police allege was used by a suspect to fire at four vehicles on an Arizona freeway in August was not pawned at the time of the shootings, police said in a report.
Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, was arrested Friday and charged in the first four of a string of 11 shootings that occurred over two weeks and left Phoenix area drivers on edge.
Merritt said in court Saturday that police have “the wrong guy,” and that his gun had been in a pawn shop for the past two months. “I haven’t even had access to a weapon,” he said.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said in the report that they test fired a gun that Merritt allegedly pawned, and “the test fired bullets were matched to bullets and bullet fragments from the four cases.”
Police said in the report that “at the time of the shootings in question the firearm was not in pawn status.” Police also said that Merritt’s social media pages referenced the “I-10 shooter” case.
Merritt’s father, Leslie Allen Merritt Sr., said Saturday night that he believes his son is innocent and urged the public not to rush to judgment.
He said his son is a gun enthusiast and responsible gun owner, and that many people across Arizona — and especially in the Phoenix area — shared posts about the two-week shooting spree online.
“We have no doubt to his innocence,” Merritt Sr. said. “We hope whoever has done this — regardless of who it is — eventually is caught and faces justice for it. We feel for all the people that were subjected to this violence.”
“I would just ask that everybody let this play out in court,” Merritt Sr. said.
Eleven vehicles have been shot since Aug. 29. Eight involved bullets and three involved what have been described as “projectiles.” The last confirmed shooting was reported Sept. 10. There have been no serious injuries.
Merritt Jr. was charged in the first four shootings, which involved bullets. Three vehicles were shot on I-10 on Aug. 29 and a car was struck by a bullet on Aug. 30. A 13-year-old girl was injured by flying glass in one of those incidents, but refused treatment.
Merritt Jr. was charged with four counts each of drive-by shooting, intentional acts of terrorism, discharging a firearm within city limits, aggravated assault, endangerment, criminal damage and disorderly conduct involving a weapon. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Police last week detained a local 19-year-old man who they referred to as a “person of interest” in the shootings, but a judge ordered him released Friday and no charges were filed. He was never called a suspect.