Prosecutors in Phoenix on Friday filed court papers to withdraw criminal charges against a man who was arrested last year and accused in a string of Arizona freeway shootings, a spokesman for prosecutors said.
The move by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office came after a judge on Tuesday reduced the bail of 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr to nothing from $150,000, clearing the way for his release later that day.
"We have a professional and ethical duty to act in the interest of justice and not merely seek a conviction and this is a textbook example of doing that," said Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
A ballistics expert has called into question the methodology used early on in the investigation that tied Merritt, a landscaper, to the shootings, Cobb said.
A judge is expected to rule to formally dismiss the case against Merritt as early as Monday.
Merritt was arrested last Sept. 18 and charged with 15 criminal counts, including drive-by-shooting and aggravated assault, for four of 11 shooting incidents along a stretch of Interstate 10 that passes through Phoenix.
The shootings, which occurred in late August and early September, struck fear among motorists in the area.
No other suspect has been arrested in connection with the attacks.
The court filing on Friday by prosecutors left open the possibility that they could charge Merritt again in connection with the case, and they are continuing to work with police on the investigation, Cobb said.
Police last year said they were able to "forensically link" four of the shootings to Merritt's handgun, which was found by investigators at a local pawn store.
At the court hearing on Tuesday where Maricopa County Judge Warren Granville reduced Merritt's bail however, Merritt's attorney cited findings by the prosecution's expert witness and said a ballistics match "does not exist."
One person suffered a minor injury during the shootings.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced Merritt's arrest with an emphatic "We got him!" message on Twitter, which led critics to say Ducey was unfairly suggesting from the outset of the case that Merritt was guilty.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Curtis Skinner)
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Published Date: Apr 23, 2016 09:30 am | Updated Date: Apr 23, 2016 09:30 am