Failed romance fails to sway hungry jury

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Marshall County jury on Monday night found a Lewisburg man not guilty of theft or burglary of his girlfriend's apartment last fall when, according to the man and his relatives, the woman's mother disapproved of their romance.

"I thought we were pretty good friends," Michael Ray Pruitt, 40, previously of Culleoka, testified during the one-day trial, adding later; "Justice was served. Now, I can go on with my life and take care of my ex-wife" who's recently been diagnosed with cancer.

Pruitt's ex-girlfriend was apparently being protected by her mother, and circumstances surrounding the romance disintegrated into conflict, the defendant's family said as they tried to explain motives for his arrest.

"They just rigged that up to get even with him," Pruitt's mother, Patricia Pruitt said of her son's ex-girlfriend, Paula Lee Hann of Saddle Wood Apart-ments, after the jury's not guilty verdicts were read aloud at about 9:30 p.m. "I'm so happy."

Arrest warrants and prosecution questions indicated the state's theory in the case was that Hann loaned her car to Pruitt a few days after Thanks-giving last year to run errands, but that instead Pruitt left her at his Marshall Place apartment so he could take jewelry from her place.

"She gave him the jewelry to pawn," Pruitt's sister, Candy Roberts, an inmates' nurse at the Williamson County Jail, said in the third-floor lobby of the Marshall County Courthouse. "She (Hann) was in the car" that Roberts drove to the East Commerce Pawn & Sales Shop, the jail nurse said.

Assistant Public Defender Michael Collins represented Pruitt and would contend that Roberts wouldn't jeopardize her nursing license to protect her brother.

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard balked at such logic saying nurses aren't sworn deputies and besides, if he had to, "I'd lie to get my momma out of jail ... because blood is thicker than water."

Pruitt testified Hann thought they could get more money for a couple of rings, a bracelet, pendant and a coin collection, but that "I pawned them for $60 and then we went to Parson's," the pharmacy on Lewisburg's public square.

The idea of selling stolen jewelry at a pawn shop seemed illogical to Pruitt, he testified, explaining that information about "everything you pawn goes to the police."

Lewisburg Police Detective Santiago McKlean investigated the allegations raised over the pawned possessions. Warrants were sworn out Dec. 7 alleging burglary on Nov. 29 as well as theft of property valued at more than $500.

Barnard described Pruitt as Hann's "prime suspect" because he had a key to her apartment.

"The defendant wants to talk more about trash talk about her momma and less about the case," the prosecutor said.

Judge Robert Crigler described the four-man, eight-woman jury as a hard working group of citizens.

Jury deliberations began at about 6:30 p.m. "Explain burglary, verbally," was a request from the jury nearly half an hour before a court officer reported at 8:45 p.m. the jury foreman told him they were hung.

"I was on the verge of telling them to come back Wednesday," Crigler replied, noting the jury hadn't eaten since about 1 p.m.

Two hours may not be long for deliberations, but the time between meals was noted by Barnard and Collins.

Crigler asked the jury about returning Wednes-day but a juror suggested that they try again.

"We're not trying to starve a verdict out of anyone," the judge told them.

After the verdicts of not guilty on all charges were delivered, one juror agreed to speak about the deliberations.

"It was just mainly, practically, debating on whether w had the right amount of evidence," said Dackon Pullen, explaining he felt that there were "a bunch of gray areas" for the jurors to consider.