A Glimpse into Representing a Falsely Accused Domestic Terrorist

By now, everybody has heard of the I-10 Freeway Shooter case. During August and September of 2015, someone was randomly committing drive-by shootings on Phoenix Freeways. But from the minute Leslie Merritt, Jr. was arrested, I sensed something was very wrong.

Before I was even hired as his criminal defense lawyer, I listened to my client protest his innocence at his initial appearance. A ballsy move, indeed, which only a true sociopath - or an innocent man - could pull off without batting an eye.

But as I rolled up my sleeves and dug into the case, I quickly learned that my gut intuition was right on the money. There were no witnesses, no physical evidence, no nothing putting him at the scenes of the crimes. The only evidence linking him to the 15 counts of drive-by shooting, aggravated assault, and a host of other dangerous felony offenses was a supposed match between his gun and the bullets recovered from the four cars that were shot. But even that wasn’t right.

For the last of the shootings, Leslie’s gun was already in pawn. How, at least in this dimension, could the same gun have been used in all of the shootings if we can definitively show that the gun was far out of his hands for one of them? Police ignored this inconvenient fact and instead invented a new timeline for this last shooting and moved it up to a date that the gun wasn’t in pawn, despite the lack of evidence to support this hocus pocus and the adamancy of the driver of the car that was shot (while the gun was in pawn) as to the date on which it occurred.

And then there was the cell phone GPS evidence. If you don’t already know, whenever you make a call on a mobile phone, your approximate location can be determined from the towers with which your phone is communicating to make that call. That GPS data proved that Leslie, someone who is more like your goofy little brother than anything remotely close to a so-called "domestic terrorist", was miles away from the scene of the shootings when they occurred. Yet again, an inconvenient fact for the police and one that was ignored to make a round peg fit into a square hole.

After 25 years of practicing law in state and federal court, the vast majority of which has been as a criminal defense attorney based in Phoenix, did what I was seeing surprise me? Actually, it blew me away. But what was more shocking is how law enforcement doggedly pursued a young man who they knew was truly innocent (to be clear, not someone who was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, not someone who was getting off on a technicality like illegal search and seizure, but someone who was truly innocent).

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who saw what could only be described as a cheesy magic trick performed by police, done solely in an effort to quell the public fears and draw ooh’s and ahh’s at their supposedly crack investigative prowess. The public quickly realized that my client, the so-called "domestic terrorist", was nothing more than the innocent kid that my gut told me he was the minute I stepped into his case. And now the public is quickly realizing that the investigation which put him in jail was little more than slight of hand.

Was it gratifying to see Leslie walk out of jail on April 19, 2016? Hell yes, it was. Was it gratifying to see the charges dismissed three days later on April 22, 2016? Hell yes, it was. Will it be even more gratifying to see those responsible for the charade that caused an innocent man to sit in solitary confinement for seven months held accountable for what they did? Well, let’s just say that if anyone wants to sit back with me and watch, I’ve got plenty of popcorn to go around.

As a skilled and seasoned Phoenix criminal defense lawyer, I have successfully represented numerous complex and high profile cases, including murder cases, white collar crimes, and more. If you need top-quality legal counsel, contact Jason Lamm and schedule a consultation today.

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