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Ex-deputy gets eight years in prison
Judge denies request for new trial
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Forsyth County News
GAINESVILLE -- A former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy convicted on child pornography charges was sentenced Thursday to more than eight years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley ordered Milton Scott Pruitt to serve a total of 98 months on the two counts.

A day earlier, O'Kelley denied Pruitt's request for a new trial.

Ann Fitz, attorney for Pruitt, said she planned to file a notice of appeal Thursday afternoon.

"We look forward to taking it to a new court and new judges," she said.

Pruitt was convicted in July on one count each of knowingly receiving child pornography on his home and work computers.

He faced between five and 20 years in prison on the counts.

Thursday's sentencing hearing lasted about an hour, during which the judge heard from Pruitt, as well as the ex-deputy's wife and mother.

All three asked the court for leniency.

"I stand here today and beg the court's mercy so this nightmare can come to the quickest end possible so I can return home to be a husband to my wife and a father to my child," Pruitt said.

After O'Kelley issued his sentence, Pruitt said goodbye to his wife and was led away from the courtroom.

In an order signed Wednesday, O’Kelley denied Pruitt’s motion for a new trial on the charge related to his work computer.

Fitz filed the request in October, just an hour before Pruitt's sentencing was originally scheduled.

Fitz has maintained that then Forsyth County Information Technology Director J.D. Rusk purposely withheld evidence from the defense and lied about it in court.

Allegations against Pruitt surfaced in March 2007, when Rusk discovered he had apparently used his county-issued account and laptop computer to access images of child pornography on one of the county's servers.

The images were being kept as evidence in a sheriff's investigator's electronic files.

Authorities later found images of child pornography on Pruitt's home computer.

O’Kelley delayed Pruitt’s sentencing in October, and held a hearing on the motion Feb. 10.

Four witnesses, including Rusk, testified during the hearing about events before and after the July trial.

A primary concern was whether Rusk appropriately provided a computer expert for the defense access to electronic servers and other information related to the case.

The expert, Tami Loehrs, was not available to testify.

In his order, O’Kelley noted he is not convinced any new evidence in the case exists and that the alleged new evidence the defense cited does not appear to clear Pruitt’s name.

The order goes on to say that a recent report filed by Loehrs and testimony in the recent hearing “indicate that no evidence has been discovered that would indicate that defendant did not commit the crime of which he was convicted.”

“Furthermore, given the testimony at trial that defendant confessed to the offense conduct, the court finds that there is no reasonable probability that the alleged new evidence would have produced a different outcome at trial," the order reads.

Rusk testified last week that on June 30, 2009, GBI Agent Bobby Stanley asked him to search for files related to Pruitt's electronic profile.

Rusk said several of his employees searched servers, work stations and the like for several days but found nothing.

Loehrs, who is based in Arizona, showed up to conduct her examination two business days before the trial began in July.

Fitz took issue with Rusk for not telling Loehrs the files hadn't been found, though he said she never asked.

Rusk also said he was never told to preserve the server or images of what was on the server.

Instead, he was asked in 2007 to print out screen shots of what he had found.

The server was eventually cleaned and put to use in another department.

Questions arose during the July trial over whether Rusk appropriately made information available to Loehrs.

As a result, the county hired Loehrs in August for $21,000 to examine a server in what was referred to as "an internal human resources issue." Her work began Oct. 5.

Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard testified Feb. 10 that the county wanted to check the legitimacy of the allegations against Rusk and determine whether he had provided Loehrs with the information she sought.

Jarrard said the servers Loehrs examined in October were not the same ones she checked in July.

Rusk had been placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 9 and did not participate in Loehrs' second examination.

In a report of her findings from that visit, Loehrs said she found remnants of Pruitt's profile.

"To date, I have been unable to recover any of the evidence from the screenshot that is critical to Mr. Pruitt's defense," the report shows. "In addition, I have been unable to determine when the MSPruitt profile was deleted or who deleted it."

She went on to say that she was asked Nov. 10 to stop her probe "and therefore, have not completed a thorough examination of this item."

Rusk testified last week that he resigned in December after speaking with County Manager Doug Derrer about Loehrs' report.

Under the circumstances, Rusk said, he couldn't stay on.

In her closing statements, Fitz argued that Rusk did nothing to accommodate the defense in its attempt to obtain the same evidence being used by the prosecution.

She also contended that the U.S. Attorney's Office failed to properly advise Rusk and other county officials on how to assist Loehrs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg disagreed, asserting that no new evidence was presented during the hearing and that the allegations had nothing to do with Pruitt's conviction.

Pruitt was fired from the sheriff 's office in May 2007. He then ran for sheriff in 2008, finishing a distant second in the three-man Republican primary contest.