It was a kangaroo court at the Phoenix jailhouse last September as I posted then; and the presiding judge allowed the farcical proceedings to be televised to the whole world.
“We got him!” proclaimed Arizona Governor Doug Ducey after a police SWAT team swooped down to arrest 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt, branding him as the infamous “Phoenix freeway shooter.” His gun is “forensically linked” to the crimes the authorities insisted.
So they all had their minds made up right there and then – the governor, the cops, the prosecutor, even the judge who threw fundamental due process of law right out the window. The defendant was guilty as sin and deserved to rot in jail for several months before his trial on $1million dollars bail.
They didn’t even bother to bring the accused to the courthouse. His bail hearing was conducted via closed circuit TV from the jail. Merritt was brought before the camera all alone, totally disheveled in appearance, dressed in prison garb, shackled in handcuffs and chains for the whole world to see. He was not provided with an attorney. His hair was a mess. He looked guilty. He was up against the powers of the State of Arizona alone.
“The state’s position is that the suspect presents a dramatic and profound threat to the community,” the prosecutor solemnly intoned. So the judge simply rubber stamped his $1million bail request, thereby setting an amount of bail which was clearly excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“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.” So this man has been languishing behind bars at the jailhouse in Phoenix for the last seven months. He was railroaded by a kangaroo court.
"With all due respect your honor, there's no evidence against him to show he's responsible for this," defense lawyer Jason Lamm told a different judge last Tuesday after demonstrating that the forensic evidence relied upon by the state has now been cast in serious doubt. "He is no more the I-10 shooter than, respectfully, you are."
It was enough to cause the new judge to reduce Merritt’s bond from $1million to zero and release him from jail under electronic monitoring. "I am just ready to go home and be with my kids," he said moments after walking out of the jail.
"Our client was branded public enemy No. 1, he was called a domestic terrorist and he's been in jail in solitary confinement for seven months. Our reaction? We're thrilled,” declared his attorney. The court set a new hearing date and told Merritt that it's important for him to show up.
"I'll be here sir," Merritt said.
Well, of course he will be there. This poor guy was never any threat to the community. There was not nearly enough credible evidence against him to give a court probable cause to lock him up in jail for seven months on $1million dollars bail. He wasn’t a flight risk.
He was simply railroaded – denied fundamental due process of law -- because of community hysteria. That Arizona governor, the cops, the prosecutor, and especially the initial bail hearing judge should all be ashamed of themselves.
Had this defendant been provided fundamental due process of law from the beginning as he should have been – as he was entitled to under the Constitution of the United States of America -- there would never have been a kangaroo court in Phoenix.