Arizona prosecutors moved Friday to dismiss charges against a man who was accused of repeatedly shooting at moving vehicles in the Phoenix area last summer, injuring one person and heightening fears across the region.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office asked a judge to dismiss the charges against Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21. Assuming the judge grants the request — which Cobb expects will happen Monday — the charges will be dismissed "without prejudice," meaning prosecutors have the freedom to refile them in the future.
The shootings began in late August and targeted moving vehicles on Interstate 10 and other roads, prompting fear in the region. Merritt was arrested in September and eventually faced 15 charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and drive-by shooting.
No one was killed or seriously injured in the shootings. However, a 13-year-old girl was cut by shattered glass. Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead also referred to the shootings as "domestic terrorism crimes."
"Anytime that you have multiple shootings against American citizens on a highway, that's terrorism," Milstead said. "They're trying to frighten or kill somebody."
Despite his arrest, Merritt said he was innocent, telling authorities "you have the wrong guy."
Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesperson Jerry Cobb declined to provide details about what exactly prompted prosecutors to seek the dismissal. However, he said a forensic investigation is ongoing and Merritt is still considered a suspect in the case. Cobb added that "prosecutors have an ethical and professional duty to act in the interest of justice, not to simply seek a conviction.
"This is a textbook example of that," Cobb said.
Merritt was released from jail Tuesday. His attorney, Jason Lamm, did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment, but tweeted Friday that he was under a gag order until the judge formally dismisses the charges.
Lamm has insisted in court that the Merritt was not the shooter, The Arizona Republic reported.
"There's no evidence against him," Lamm told a judge. "He's no more the I-10 shooter than you are."
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at email@example.com.
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