“We got him! Great work by Arizona DPS investigators and SWAT team," proclaimed Arizona Governor Doug Ducey after police swooped into a local Wal-Mart store and arrested 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt for the recent string of freeway shootings in Phoenix.
Authorities say they have “forensically linked” the defendant’s gun to four of the 11 cars hit. That’s quite enough evidence for Governor Ducey, who already has his mind made up about Mr. Merritt’s guilt, and isn’t shy about saying so publicly.
The same can be said for the police, the prosecutor and the judge who presided over Merritt’s bail hearing the day after his arrest. They’ve all decided that they got their man and that man is guilty; so much so that they don’t even believe it’s necessary to afford him fundamental due process of law.
It was a kangaroo court at the Phoenix jailhouse yesterday. And the judge allowed the proceedings to be televised to the whole world.
Authorities didn’t even bother to bring the defendant to a court of law. Instead they conducted a legal farce via closed circuit TV from the jailhouse. Merritt was brought out of his cell totally disheveled in appearance, shackled in handcuffs and chains, wearing a black and white striped prison jumpsuit, to stand alone in front of a counter before the closed circuit camera.
His hair was a mess and it looked like he hadn’t bathed in days. In short, he looked like a despicable convict, guilty from the get go, and, of course, that is precisely the indelible impression about Mr. Merritt the authorities have intentionally left with the public, including jurors who might be called later to sit in judgment at his trial, as well as the whole world.
He was alone. There was no defense attorney representing him as the judge read off a lengthy laundry list of serious felony charges against him, including four counts each of drive-by shooting, intentional acts of terrorism, discharging a firearm within city limits, criminal damage, endangerment and disorderly conduct involving a weapon.
“I have appointed an attorney to represent you,” said the judge. But that attorney will only start representing him at future hearings in the case. So this defendant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at a crucial stage of the proceedings against him.
She then allowed the prosecutor to make a lengthy statement concerning why in his opinion Merritt’s bail should be set at $1million cash bond. That’s a cash bond, mind you – not the normal 10% that the defendant or a bondsman would have to put up to make bail – he has to come up with $1million in cash or languish in jail before his trial. The purpose of bail is to insure the appearance of the defendant at future proceedings – not to punish him before his trial.
“The state’s position is that the suspect presents a dramatic and profound threat to the community,” said the prosecutor. There are four separate victims who were instilled with fear, he argued. Everyone on the freeway was instilled with fear of an intense nature for several weeks. The fear he instilled in the community justifies a $1million cash bond.
Of course this statement went entirely un-rebutted because the defendant wasn’t represented by an attorney at this crucial stage of the proceedings. He was denied his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law.
The court simply rubber stamped the prosecutor’s bail request, saying that she finds very sufficient probable cause to set an amount of bail which is clearly excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This was not a capital case; not a murder; not even any serious injuries alleged; and there was no flight risk presented.
Merritt timidly asked the judge: “May I speak?” Remember, he should have at an attorney present to speak for him. Instead of providing that attorney, the judge warned that anything he said could be used against him in court, and took it upon herself to give him her own unsolicited legal advice about people often thinking that they can help themselves about making statements about what did or did not happen and that he really should reserve any such statements with his attorney.
What attorney? He was up against the powers of the State of Arizona alone. The court had obviously already made up her mind about his bail and clearly wasn’t interested in what he had to say.
“All I have to say is that I’m the wrong guy…” Merritt meekly declared. “I could never afford that bond. “I got two kids.” With that, the accused was led shackled and handcuffed back to his cell to be punished there probably for months and months before his trial – before he is found to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – simply because he had allegedly in the past “caused fear in the community.”
This guy was railroaded. This was kangaroo justice in a kangaroo court in Phoenix.