Is Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. the Phoenix (AZ) Freeway Shooter?

Police arrested Mr. Merritt Friday at a WalMart in Glendale, AZ, and have said that his gun was used in four of the shootings. The thing is, his gun was in a pawn shop. That’s how police found it and then found him.

The thing is, Mr. Merritt says that he pawned the gun 2 months ago.

There is no dispute that the gun was found in a pawn shop. And the police are adamant that this is the gun that was used.

Who is right? Is Mr. Merritt’s story accurate, and the gun was in the pawn shop for weeks and weeks, out of his reach and out of his control? If so, why was he arrested? If the gun was in the pawnshop, why arrest the guy who pawned it and not take a look at the people who had access to it during that time? Are ballistics tests really that accurate? Is Mr. Merritt just one of the shooters?

What, in your opinion, is the Straight Dope here and why do you think so?

[For those not familiar with these shootings, here’s a fairly good recap on Wikipedia (because of course there’s a Wikipedia article; isn’t there one on everything yet?)

More info at the Wikipedia site; that’s just the lede.

How can we know? He might be lying his little ass off.

My personal view is, if he had actually pawned the gun two months ago, the police would have known that and not charged him.

I’m betting he’s a pathological liar.

(I’m also disqualifying myself as a juror on the case…)

From your link:

“But a charging document released late Saturday night by Maricopa Superior Court said that investigators determined Merritt had not pawned his gun at the time of the incidents.”

Hopefully, they are correct and he’s not telling the truth, but for me, it’s too soon to tell.

Whatever gun he might have pawned and whenever he did it, wouldn’t there be a paper trail? It must be a matter of documented record when he brought a gun into the pawn shop, and if the gun in question was the one he brought in.

Wouldn’t the suspect have gotten a copy of some kind of receipt for his gun, showing the date? If he did get that and didn’t keep it, then he’d be guilty of first-degree stupidity.

Obviously any test is vulnerable to manipulation by substitution of phony evidence. In other words, my answer is related to the accuracy of matching shell casings to the weapon that fired them, and does not address the possibility that any evidence was planted or fabricated.

The answer is yes: to an extremely high degree of certainty, the combination of the firing pin impression, ejector mark, and breech mark on an ejected shell casing can tie a shell casing to a specific gun.

Before his arrest, my wife and I discussed the parallels between this and the earlier Phoeniz freeway shootings in 1990 (we were there). We were wondering if the officials should be matching the dates with various incarceration records. It seemed likely to be the same person, and we wondered if the 1990 dude stopped because he was imprisoned. It lined up almost exactly with a 25 year sentence.

But Mr Merritt is obviously too young for our theory.

Quote from the link:
*At least four people were killed in a spate of shootings on Phoenix freeways in the early 1990s, according to a retired Arizona Department of Public Safety officer. The shooter (or shooters) was never caught. The shootings seemed to just stop, *

Pretty smart to canvas pawn shops looking for the gun.

As to the question in the OP, the cops seem pretty certain they can prove he had the gun. My understanding is that pawn shops have to keep pretty thorough records, due to their being frequently used to dump stolen goods, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t have the evidence.

Thanks for noting that; it was not in the AP article when I started this thread.

In Maricopa County? Doesn’t sound like an Hispanic name, so I’m surprised he was even suspected. :stuck_out_tongue:

No wonder judges do tell the suspects that if they want to talk that everything they say could be used against them. Merritt did claim to the judge (after he was warned) that he had pawned the gun and it was not in his possession at the times of the shootings, but the latest reports show that he is not telling the whole truth: (From the court documents)

But he got hisself a girl’s name. Must be one of them faggots they heared so much about. [/sarcasm]

Why pawn a weapon used in a notorious series of crimes?

Is he just that stupid, or was someone else doing the shooting?

Given the nature of the crime, the answer is clearly “yes”. Taking potshots at random cars has nothing to offer a less stupid man.

You know, with all that detail, “At the time of the shootings in question the firearm was not in pawn status.” is awful imprecise. Why not say* exactly *when the gun entered Pawn?

It sounds like it was in and out of pawn - that he was borrowing money against it repeatedly - rather than sold.

Then, since we have all those details, let us have the details of when it was in Pawn vs the shootings. Being very exact and detailed on everything but that is suspicious.

Wha…? This is the interesting part.

The Crime Lab was able to determine (from recovered bullets that have passed through glass and/or steel) not only the caliber of bullet, not only the make of the firearm, not only the model of firearm, but a specific list of serial numbers?!

On some cases like this the police do not always release all the information they have (and they’re not required to) and sometimes even release intentionally vague or slightly misleading information as an investigative tool.

Not saying they did so here, but it is something to keep in mind when trying to speculate.

Is that, like, Geraldo Rivera? :smiley: