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Defense unable to sway jury
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE -- It appears jurors were not convinced that a former Forsyth County Sheriff's deputy was not guilty of viewing child pornography on his work and home computers.

A federal jury found Milton Scott Pruitt guilty Wednesday on two counts of receiving child pornography.

Defense attorneys presented their case earlier that day after U.S. District Judge William O'Kelley ruled against their motions to have the 41-year-old Pruitt acquitted.

They argued that the prosecution, over nearly two days of testimony, had not proven that Pruitt had moved child pornography across state lines or that he knew there were such images on his home computer.

Tami Loehrs, a computer forensics examiner and expert witness for the defense, testified that she did not find images of child pornography on Pruitt's county-issued laptop computer.

"In my opinion, they were never received by the laptop," she said.

Witnesses for the prosecution had previously argued that Pruitt used his work-issued account to tap into the county server to look at images of child pornography kept in another investigator's case file.

No evidence that Pruitt had downloaded the images was presented, but witnesses said the officer opened the files in March 2007.

She said she did find about 80 images of child pornography in the unallocated space on Pruitt's home computer that did not include a date or time.

Loehrs explained that unallocated space is where images that have been deleted from the hard drive are stored and that the computer user does not have access to it.

There were two user accounts on Pruitt's computer. One, known as HP Adminstrator, was Pruitt's and another belonged to his ex-girlfriend, Jamie Sudduth.

Sudduth testified that she lived with the officer from 2005 to August 2006. Sudduth said she was with Pruitt when he bought the computer and that she last used it just before moving out.

Loehrs said she found evidence that the computer's operating system was installed in September 2006 and that Sudduth's account had been used as late as December 2006.

She also asserted that she found unusual Internet activity on the home computer, including searches on foreign search engines like German Google.

She confirmed that there was no evidence that someone hacked into the computer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg questioned Loehrs' investigation and asked if she interviewed anyone associated with the case, such as Sudduth, or sought evidence from sources other than the federal government.

"I examined exactly what the government provided in this case," Loehrs said.

When Steinberg asked if Loehrs was restricted from any additional investigating, she replied "that's not my job."

In an attempt to establish an alibi, the defense questioned sheriff's Lt. Jim Poe.

He testified that Pruitt attended a first responder training course he taught from May 7-11, 2007.

He said Pruitt signed in for the course, which lasted eight hours each day from 8:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m., in the morning and after returning from lunch.

According to the prosecution, Web sites found on Pruitt's computer included dates that spanned from November 2006 to May 2007.

In his closing argument Wednesday, Bill McKenney, one of two attorneys representing Pruitt, said that for one of the dates, Pruitt was in training.

He asked who could've been on Pruitt's computer to access the Web sites.

"Ms. Sudduth? Ms. McAfee? We don't know," he said.

Pruitt did not testify in his defense. After the verdict, he was taken into custody, where he will await sentencing on Oct. 8. He faces the possibility of up to 20 years in prison.

Pruitt was fired from the sheriff's office in May 2007. He then ran for sheriff in 2008, finishing second in the three-man Republican primary contest in which Ted Paxton was re-elected to a third term.