Valley pawn shop crucial in arrest of I-10 shootings suspect

Late Friday Night the Arizona Department of Public Safety announced an arrest in a series of shootings along valley freeways.

Investigators say Leslie Merritt Junior was the shooter in the first four incidents that happened along the I-10 freeway late last month.

DPS says they linked Merritt to the crimes through a gun that was pawned at a valley pawn shop. In fact, law enforcement has an important relationship with pawn shop owners who often help crack crimes.

Troopers from DPS collected guns for ballistic testing from several pawn shops across the valley; FOX 10 spoke to one shop that turned over two guns.

Behind the doors of pawn shops, you might expect a secret exchange of guns for quick cash, but just walk into Windy City Pawn Shop in Phoenix.

"We run a very transparent business, everything is in the open," said Mario Escamilla, the Store Manager.

Escamilla says pawn shops across the valley partner with police. State law requires shops to collect fingerprints and identification from sellers, plus every transaction is video recorded. That system is what DPS said helped lead them to the I-10 shooting suspect.

"There's a police log detail that we inform the police department on a daily basis, so they know exactly what we take and who we take it from," said Escamilla.

DPS says the suspect is forensically linked to the crime. They say he used a 9mm handgun that is a relatively inexpensive weapon and one you'll find in most pawn shops across the valley.

At Windy City Pawn they say investigators took in two of their 9mm HiPoint handguns, but DPS found a match from one at Mo Money Pawn Shop a few blocks away. That's where investigators say Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. pawned his gun. Ballistic testing reportedly lined up with the first four shootings.

"And every single one will line up to a serial number so they can find out what gun was sold, where, how long ago, who sold it to who, that's police work, and we don't get involved in that," said Escamilla.

Merritt denies he is the shooter, and he says his gun was at the pawn shop during the time of the shootings. Mo Money Pawn Shop is not commenting on the case because they say they are witnesses.