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All Charges Dropped Against Accused Phoenix Freeway Shooter

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

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has formally dismissed all charges against Leslie Merritt Jr., the man accused in some of the freeway shooting incidents that rocked the Valley last year.

Authorities will stop monitoring Merritt electronically and his attorneys have until May 6 to file a motion seeking to dismiss the charges with prejudice, meaning they could not be refiled. The judge’s ruling did not mention a gag order, which has been effect since earlier this year.

Prosecutors filed a motion late Friday to dismiss more than a dozen felony counts against Merritt, but left the door open to refile charges at a later date.

The move came after a judge dropped Merritt’s bond to zero based on ballistic evidence gathered by the state.

A spokesman for County Attorney Bill Montgomery says the investigation into Merritt is ongoing, but declined further comment.

The statute of limitations gives prosecutors another six-plus years to refile charges against Merritt. At some point, they will have to decide if it’s worth it to keep pursuing Merritt, said Valley trial attorney Scott Halverson, who is not involved with the case.

“They don’t want to waste resources going down a dead end,” Halverson said. “They really do want to find out who did this. And the more they channel investigation and attention toward an individual that at some point it becomes apparent that he didn’t do this, the more they’re distracted from really trying to find the person who did.”

But Merritt’s battles in civil court may be just starting. In March, his attorneys filed a $10 million notice of claim against the state, Gov. Doug Ducey, Maricopa County and Montgomery.

Public officials have qualified immunity, meaning they can’t be sued for legally doing their job. Halverson said that standard will be tough to overcome.

“It’s a much more difficult thing to establish that they knew, or really, really should have known, that he wasn’t the guy,” Halverson said.

A notice of claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Merritt’s argues he was falsely accused, that government entities have suppressed and ignored criminal evidence, and intimidated witnesses that could exonerate him.

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.