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Attorney: Merritt's Release Hints At Strength Of State's Case

(Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.

The man accused of indiscriminate violence that struck fear across the Valley last summer walked out of jail Tuesday, and a local attorney said it’s rare for a bond to be lowered at this stage of the judicial process. 

This week was the second time Leslie Merritt Jr.’s bond dropped. It was originally set at $1 million, then lowered to $150,000. Now it's zero.

As lawyers gather evidence, either side can ask a judge to change a suspect’s release conditions, but to get a bond lowered or dropped, the defense must give facts that weren’t previously presented to the court.

Trial attorney Scott Halverson is not involved in the case. He said given the severity of what Merritt is accused of, his release from jail is a hint about the strength of the case against him.

“If the evidence has such a weakness that it has persuaded a judge to release him on his own recognizance, then how can this evidence possibly prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is the guy that did the shooting when they come to the actual trial?” Halverson said.

Merritt still faces more than a dozen felony charges in connection with some of the I-10 shooting incidents that rocked the Valley last year.

His defense team may have seized momentum this week as Merritt was released, but Halverson said that doesn’t mean the prosecution is done building its case against Merritt.

“Cases like this evolve over years,” Halverson said. “It doesn’t mean that the state has all of its evidence. I mean, it may very well be out trying to collect additional evidence.”

With a gag-order in effect, it’s unknown what other evidence the state may have against Merritt, whose attorney said he spent 23 hours a day in isolation while in jail.

Authorities are monitoring Merritt electronically. His next court date is scheduled for May 18.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.