PHOENIX — A judge has ordered investigators to return a handgun belonging to a landscaper once charged in shootings on metro Phoenix’s freeways that kept motorists on edge in the summer of 2015.

The ruling Friday came eight months after charges against 22-year-old Leslie Merritt Jr. were dismissed.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety faces a Jan. 31 deadline for returning the gun.

The case against Merritt was dismissed after an expert said that the Department of Public Safety’s crime lab had incorrectly concluded that ballistic evidence linked Merritt’s gun to four of the 11 shootings in late August and early September of 2015.

Authorities say the gun was evidence in an ongoing investigation.

Merritt, who insisted he was innocent, is the only person arrested in the shootings.

VIAThe Associated Press
Author photo
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.