PHOENIX (AP) – A man suspected in some of the freeway shootings that rattled the Phoenix area could go to prison for 100 years if convicted, Maricopa County’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said each of the four shootings that Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, is accused of committing carries a possible sentence of 20 to 30 years. With the shootings happening on different days, sentences could be issued consecutively. However, prosecutors cautioned it was too early to predict sentencing or the outcome of any trial.
Still, Montgomery called Merritt’s arrest significant enough that the public can rest easier now.
“It appears to be the person who initiated what was going on at that time,” Montgomery said. “We haven’t had any incidents since then.”
Merritt, of suburban Glendale, is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on 15 felony counts, including aggravated assault and carrying out a drive-by shooting. He has previously said in court that authorities arrested the wrong man.
Jason Lamm, one of two attorneys hired this week to represent Merritt, said he has not had a chance to review any police reports or other evidence against his client. “We’re looking for the truth, and there is no stone that will be left unturned to find it,” Lamm said.
Merritt was arrested Sept. 18 at a Wal-Mart in Glendale. Using ballistics tests, Arizona Department of Public Safety detectives tied him to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on Phoenix-area freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10. Investigators continue to review information, and more charges are possible, Montgomery said.
His arrest brought relief to some, with Gov. Doug Ducey announcing it on Twitter. His tweet of “We got him!” drew criticism for seemingly implying that Merritt was guilty.
Montgomery called Ducey’s tweet a non-issue in relation to Merritt’s ability to get a fair trial.
“Unless there were 6 million followers of that Twitter account, I don’t think you can fairly say everyone was aware of it or could be impacted by it,” Montgomery said.
The tweet illustrated the high emotion surrounding the case, Lamm said.
“Nevertheless, we will handle this from an objective assessment of the facts and evidence as opposed to hunches and emotion,” he said. “By the way, Doug Ducey will not be on my jury. So I feel better about that.”
Meanwhile, the investigation into the other shootings remains open. Eight cars were hit with bullets, and three were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets, most while driving along Interstate 10, according to authorities. The only injury was a 13-year-old girl whose ear got cut by glass in a shooting of an SUV on Aug. 29.
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