Father of Arizona Freeway Shootings Suspect Says Police 'Grasping at Straws'

A suspect in the I-10 shootings was arrested this weekend.

September 20, 2015, 3:43 PM

— -- The 21-year-old man arrested in connection with a string of shootings on Interstate 10 in the Phoenix area had nothing to do with the alleged crimes, his father told ABC News.

Leslie Merritt Jr. faces a slew of charges related to four shootings on August 29 and 31. His father, Leslie Merritt Sr., said police were looking for a scapegoat.

"Do I believe my son had anything to do with it? Absolutely not. I will support my son and defend my son with every ounce of my being," he said. "[The police are] snatching anybody that's reported to have a 9 millimeter [handgun], might have pawned one and they're grasping at straws and they're looking -- for lack of a better term -- [for] a scapegoat."

Merritt Jr. was charged in connection with the four shootings "because the weapon that he owned is forensically linked," Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead said Friday. He was ordered to be held on $1 million cash bond, but protested his arrest to the judge, saying police have "the wrong guy."

Investigators checked pawn shops for guns matching the caliber of shell casings at the shootings, police said, and when a gun pawned by Merritt was test-fired, it was determined to be a match.

Leslie Merritt Sr. said his son had purchased two guns and then pawned them for household needs.

PHOTO: Leslie Merritt Sr. is shown in this screengrab.
Leslie Merritt Sr. is shown in this screengrab.
ABC News

"From what I was told, he pawned [the guns] shortly before or same weekend all this started ... I believe he pawned them Sunday the 30th," Merritt Sr. said. "My son is by no means ignorant. If he committed a crime with a firearm, my son has more sense than to pawn said firearm because it links directly back to you."

Merritt Sr. said his son "has had one scrape with the law," and added that he himself has a criminal history, too.

"Honestly, if my son was out shooting at something, he would hit it," he said. "My family is pro-guns, anti-criminals. I say that as a convicted felon. If you look at my record, any time I've had an issue, I've admitted to what I've done and taken my punishment.

Merritt Sr. said his son has a fiancee and children, and called him a "dedicated family man."

"I absolutely believe him ... my son's a stand-up, hard working father," he said.

Merritt Sr.'s criminal record includes misconduct involving weapons, forgery, theft and trafficking in stolen property, according to Maricopa County Superior Court records.

Arizona DPS spokesman Bart Graves today declined to comment on Merritt Sr.'s remarks.

"The case is going forward in the criminal justice system," Graves said.