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Appeal centers on evidence
Ex-deputy disputes child porn conviction
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Forsyth County News


ATLANTA -- It could be weeks before a federal appeals court issues its decision on a former Forsyth County Sheriff's deputy's conviction.

In 2009, a federal jury found Milton Scott Pruitt guilty of one count each of knowingly receiving child pornography on his work and home computers.

He is serving a sentence of eight years and two months in federal prison.

Thursday morning, a panel of three 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard Ann Fitz, Pruitt's attorney, argue that there was insufficient evidence to prove her client knowingly received the images on his work computer.

"Receiving an image is not merely viewing an image," Fitz said.

In support, she cited other federal cases, one in which there was sufficient evidence to uphold a conviction because the defendant admitted to knowing there were images of child pornography in a computer's cache.

In another case, the conviction was not upheld because the defendant did not know about such images on a computer's cache.

Fitz also maintained that Pruitt did not admit to knowing about images found on his home computer and that there were no images of child pornography found in the hard drive of his work computer.

Judge J.L. Edmondson said his position coming into the hearing was that viewing child pornography on a computer screen constitutes receiving it.

Edmondson and the other two judges questioned Fitz and Elizabeth McBath, who represented the federal government, during the hearing.

Judge Charles R. Wilson noted that the appeal is the first of its kind to be considered by the court.

McBath countered that Pruitt admitted to investigators that he had viewed the images.

She said viewing is the same as receiving the images because of the ability to enlarge, e-mail or save them.

McBath also argued that actively seeking out such images and viewing them makes a defendant guilty of receiving them.

"It's the viewing that perpetuates the [child pornography] market," McBath said. "It's the viewing that hurts the victim."

Fitz later said she felt good about the hearing.

"I know that we have the truth on our side, but there's always a little nerves that go along with it," said Fitz, who added the court may not rule for a couple weeks.

Pruitt has not yet gone to trial on state charges he faces from the investigation.

He pleaded not guilty in 2008 in Forsyth County Superior Court to five counts of violation of oath by public officer, two counts of theft by taking and one count of computer theft.

He was fired in May 2007 after being accused of using his county-issued computer to access images of child pornography belonging to the sheriff's Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce without authorization.

Pruitt was arrested less than a week after his termination and charged with 20 felony counts of violation of the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act.

He later ran unsuccessfully for sheriff against Ted Paxton in the July 2008 Republican primary.