WATCH UPDATES ON THE PHOENIX FREEWAY SHOOTINGS CASE (Photo: Arizona Department of Public Safety) None of the bullets marked as evidence in the dismissed I-10 shooting case could be linked to the gun owned by former suspect Leslie Merritt Jr.
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County Attorney Bill Montgomery remains tight-lipped about the “freeway shooter” case and the case against Leslie Merritt Jr.
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Leslie Merritt Jr.’s defense argues his innocence saying that Merritt will never be convicted.
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Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., who faced 15 felony charges in connection with a string of high-profile freeway shootings, is released from custody.
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Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. could be out of custody by Tuesday evening on pretrial release, but Superior Court Judge Warren Granville ordered Merritt to wear an electronic monitor.
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Jason Lamm, attorney for Leslie Merritt Jr., speaking after Merritt’s bond was reduced.
Megan Cassidy / The Republic | azcentral.com
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5 key takeaways from the more then 1,200-page report released by DPS on the Phoenix freeways shootings.
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Leslie Allen Merritt, a suspect in some of the recent shootings made an initial appearance in court Saturday morning. Merritt is facing multiple counts of drive-by shooting, intentional acts of terrorism and discharging a firearm within city limits.
Yihyun Jeong/The Republic
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The investigation into the Phoenix freeway shootings is not yet over, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Saturday afternoon, just hours after their suspect in the case made his first court appearance and is ordered held on $1 million bond.
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Leslie Allan Merritt, Sr., the father of the suspected Phoenix freeway shooter, insists that his son is innocent.
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Director of Arizona Department of Public Safety Colonel Frank Milstead speaks briefly about the arrest of the freeway shootings suspect.
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Brandon Copeland, 30 and his girlfriend, Danielle Cobb, 40, Glendale, talk about witnessing the arrest of a suspect in the freeway-shootings case at a Walmart near 57th and Northern avenues in Glendale Friday night.
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Phoenix police handed out fliiers Wednesday morning, seeking any information regarding the recent freeway shootings in the Phoenix area. There have been a total of 11 shootings near or along Interstate 10 since Aug. 29.
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Republic reporter Megan Cassidy discusses Phoenix freeway shootings on CBS News Wednesday afternoon.
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The Arizona Department of Public Safety is investigating nine possible freeway shootings reported over 10 days in the Phoenix area. The reward for information leading to an arrest or indictment in the case has been raised to $20,000.
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Investigators believe the shooter or shooters took multiple shots at each vehicle. Three out of the four shots went through the windshield or passenger window of the cars, according to DPS.
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Ballistics report in Phoenix freeway shootings details gaps in Merritt case
Montgomery: Phoenix freeway shooting probe continues
Leslie Merritt Jr.’s defense argues his innocence
Phoenix freeway shooting suspect released
Judge releases Phoenix freeway shooting suspect with monitoring
5 fast facts about the Phoenix freeway shootings
Freeway shooting suspect: ‘I’m the wrong guy’
DPS says freeway shootings investigation is not over despite arrest
Father of Phoenix freeway shootings suspect say he’s innocent
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Witnesses on arrest of freeway shooting suspect
Phoenix police hands out fliers on freeway shootings
Republic reporter discusses Phoenix freeway shootings on CBS News
DPS investigating series of freeway shootings
DPS: 4 vehicles shot on I-10 in Phoenix since Saturday
Guns connected to investigations of freeway shootings, 2015 homicide both had been pawned at Mo Money.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has turned over to the Phoenix Police Department evidence gathered in its investigation of a string of freeway shootings in 2015.
The DPS handed over ballistic evidence to assist Phoenix police with the investigation of Aaron Juan Saucedo, who is being held in a 2015 fatal shooting, said Trooper Kameron Lee, a DPS spokesman.
Phoenix police said they developed probable cause to arrest Saucedo, 23, as a suspect in the murder of 61-year-old Raul Romero, who was gunned down outside his car at an apartment complex on Aug. 16, 2015.
The link, police say, was a Hi-Point 9mm handgun Saucedo had sold less than three weeks after the murder.
Speculation quickly arose about a possible connection to the freeway shootings, which occurred the same year and also involved a Hi-Point 9mm handgun.
Lee said the guns connected to the two crimes were pawned at Mo Money Pawn Shop, near 12th Street and Indian School Road.
Analyzing bullet fragments
According to the DPS, investigators obtained eight weapons from Valley pawn shops on Sept. 17, 2015. They all were test-fired in connection with the freeway shootings, a string of at least 11 incidents in August and September 2015, most of which occurred along a stretch of Interstate 10 in Phoenix.
Investigators began to analyze the bullet fragments but stopped when fragments from the fourth gun matched evidence recovered from a victim’s vehicle, Lee said.
The gun belonged to Leslie Merritt Jr., 22, who was arrested the next day as the shooting suspect. The case, however, unraveled and Merritt Jr. was released from jail on April 25, 2016, with all charges dismissed. He has filed a lawsuit against the state, Maricopa County and prosecutors, alleging false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and aiding and abetting tortious conduct.
But the four remaining guns, including Saucedo’s, never were analyzed, according to DPS spokesman Raul Garcia. They were returned to pawn shops on Sept. 20, 2015.
“If we had gone on to analyze guns 5 to 8 … what are you saying about the match that you identified with gun 4?” Garcia said. “You’re discrediting your own investigation. If your child goes missing at a carnival and the child is found, do you keep looking for the missing child?”
A familiar face at the pawn shop
Saucedo was known to frequent the pawn shop, according to Mo Money General Manager Byron Vaughn. Saucedo had made several transactions there, including purchasing a few guns after he had sold the Hi-Point 9mm in September 2015, Vaughn said.
“I can’t get into what my customers buy,” he said to The Arizona Republic on Thursday afternoon. “Anything he has purchased from us, (police) have full knowledge.”
Every pawn shop in the city is required to turn over pawn details to Phoenix police. And because of Mo Money’s size, its volume of sales and purchases means the business turns in its information nightly, Vaughn said.
The documentation is used to check against reported stolen property within the city, as well as to cross-reference federal databases of gun serial numbers used in various crimes.
Vaughn said Mo Money has a policy to hold items for 21 days before putting them on sale to the public. In the case of the gun connected to Saucedo, it was held for an additional two weeks after DPS returned it to the shop, Vaughn said.
It wasn’t purchased until June 28, 2016.
The Hi-Point 9mm is a popular handgun at the shop. On average, the shop has 25 to 30 pawned and about four on sale, Vaughn said.
‘They meant business’
Vaughn said the police officers conducting their investigation on April 19 at the shop were serious. The atmosphere was similar to when the DPS had come to Mo Money in 2015 regarding the freeway shootings, he said.
“They meant business,” he said. “You could tell it was a major case. They were being completely hush-hush.”
After it was returned by DPS investigators, authorities had no contact with Mo Money officials about the Hi-Point until mid-April, when an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made inquiries, Vaughn said. About five days later, Phoenix police detectives came to the shop on April 19, he said.
Since then, more questions have been asked, including about the possibility of other parties being involved, Vaughn said. He would not offer any other details.
“Most of the people we deal with on a daily basis are great people,” he said, adding that he wanted to correct the stigma behind pawn shops. “The people that pawn stuff are usually those that don’t make enough to make it by on a weekly basis.”
As to the coincidence of the two cases being tied to the shop, Vaughn said, it’s simply a reflection of the business’ size as the largest pawn shop in Arizona.
“When you have more people you’re dealing with, you’re going to have a larger opportunity that they have done things,” he said.
Quelling ‘conspiracy theories’
The DPS issued a statement Monday saying that Saucedo has not been linked to the freeway shootings.
Lee said, “We want to quell any conspiracy theories.” .
The DPS said that, after Saucedo’s arrest, information from both cases was submitted to the National Integrated Ballistics Network database, and there was no match.
The evidence, though, was handed over to Phoenix police on Monday, according to Lee.
“It was a ‘let us give you what we have, so you can eliminate what possibility that it’s someone else,’ ” Lee said. “What they do with that evidence, you will have to ask them.”
Sgt. Jonathan Howard, Phoenix police spokesman, told The Republic that the evidence from the DPS is being considered in several Phoenix police investigations.
“We are comparing evidence in a large variety of cases to determine if there are any possible links,” Howard said.
Romero was found dead in 2015 near his car in an apartment-complex parking lot near Seventh Street and Montebello Avenue after a burst of rapid gunfire sent residents from their homes.
Daughter Lora Romero described the victim as a “loving, caring, hardworking man.” He had five children and four grandchildren, whom his daughter said “he would do anything for.”
In stating the case against Saucedo in court records, police did not provide a motive for the fatal shooting. Saucedo’s mother had been dating Romero at the time of his murder, according to court records.
“Saucedo did not wish to speak with investigators except to say he did not commit this crime,” according to the police statement of probable cause.
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