From the moment Arizona Governor Doug Ducey tweeted “We got him,” and announced to the world that a SWAT team from the Department of Public Safety had taken the suspected I-10 shooter into custody, people throughout Arizona were upset by the way the state was handling the situation – “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?” one critic asked, a sentiment expressed by many.
The suspect, Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., a 21-year-old landscaper and father of two, was arrested on September 18, 2015 and charged with 15 crimes related to a string of highway shootings that terrorized the metro Phoenix area for weeks last summer. The DPS said ballistics evidence tied him to four of the 11 shooting incidents.
But wary that the state had jumped the gun in making an arrest because of mounting pressure to catch the shooter, the public only became more skeptical of the DPS’ detective work when Merritt and his friends and family declared his innocence, and key evidence in the case appeared to be falling apart.
From the beginning of the pre-trial process, Merritt’s lawyers announced there were huge holes in the case, that their client was not the shooter — the gun Merritt allegedly had used on August 30 was in a pawnshop at the time, for instance.
Based on this and other ballistics evidence the defense says it possesses, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville dissolved Merritt’s bond, which resulted in his release from jail
Charges against him, however, have not been dismissed.
As news hit that the I-10 shooter suspect was getting out, social media once again erupted: “Obviously. It was clear this was the wrong guy from day 1!” one woman wrote on Facebook.
“Myself as well as many others questioned this arrest when it happened. Things just did not seem to add up based on the statements of the prosecution,” wrote another man.
Here’s a roundup of what some in the public are saying about the “botched” case against Merritt:
This #FreewayShooter case makes no sense. Ballistics originally matched the gun to 4 shootings and now ballistics shows there is no match?— Sonia Niner (@sonia49er) April 20, 2016
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Not only is Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. a free man-he is now also a very rich man-he's going to sue the AZ for millions— Mike Watkiss (@mikewatkiss3tv) April 19, 2016
Earlier this year, Merritt filed a $10 million wrongful arrest claim against Governor Ducey, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and Maricopa County.
As stated above, Merritt's case has not been dismissed; his next scheduled court appearance is May 18.
And even though it's not quite Throwback Thursday, enjoy the best meme to come out of all the mayhem:
**Editor's Note: an earlier version of this story said Merritt was charged with 16 crimes. He is being charged with 15.