Az. Freeway Shooting Suspect Charged

Prosecutors have formally charged a 21-year-old man suspected in some of the freeway shootings that have rattled the Phoenix area.

Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. was charged with 16 counts including aggravated assault, unlawful discharge of a weapon, disorderly conduct, endangerment and carrying out a drive-by shooting.

Authorities say they have tied him to four of the 11 shootings based on ballistics tests. State police say copycats might be shooting guns or other weapons on freeways, so the investigation remains open.

Merritt says he’s innocent and didn’t have the gun at the time of the shootings, which started in late August. He is in jail and has a court hearing scheduled for Friday.

Authorities say a series of freeway shootings that rattled the Phoenix area started two days earlier than previously believed.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said Wednesday that the shooting of a BMW is now believed to have occurred on Aug. 27, not Aug. 30. Three other shootings on Aug. 29 had been thought to be the first in 11 confirmed incidents.

The BMW was parked at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Aug. 27 and retrieved Aug. 30. Graves says the date change is being made because the BMW’s driver wasn’t sure when the shooting happened.

A pawn shop owner says suspect Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. pawned a handgun Aug. 30 that authorities say is linked to the first four shootings.

Graves says the change doesn’t affect the charges against Merritt.

This item has been corrected to show that the first shootings were initially believed to have occurred Aug. 29, not Aug. 30.