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Ex-deputy's conviction upheld


A federal appeals court has upheld the child pornography conviction of a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy.

In a nine-page opinion released Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. District Court jury’s finding that Milton Scott Pruitt knowingly received images of child pornography on his home computer.

Pruitt was found guilty in 2009 of one count each of knowingly receiving child pornography on his work and home computers.

He was sentenced to eight years and two months in federal prison, which he is currently serving.

During a March 3 hearing, Ann Fitz, Pruitt’s attorney, argued before a panel of three appeals court judges that the evidence against her client was insufficient to prove that he knowingly received the images on his work computer.

Citing federal cases as support, Fitz told the court that receiving an image is not the same as viewing one.

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

Elizabeth McBath, the attorney who represented the federal government, countered that Pruitt admitted to investigators that he had viewed the images.

McBath said viewing is the same as receiving the images because of the ability to enlarge, e-mail or save them. She contended that seeking out such images and viewing them makes a defendant guilty of receiving them.

According to the court’s opinion, evidence showed that Pruitt admitted knowing that files on his work computer contained images of child pornography and that he opened them out of “curiosity” and “stupidity.”

The panel also noted that evidence showed about 70 such images existed in the cache of his home computer and more than 200 graphic images of children existed in the computer’s unallocated space.

In addition, investigators found a record of Internet searches using terms such as “nude little boy” and “pre-teen” and visits to Web sites “with a child-pornography connection.”

According to the court's opinion, “Although defendant’s computer forensics expert suggested that a Trojan virus was responsible for the child pornography images found in the cache and unallocated space of the home computer, the jury had no obligation to credit that testimony.”

Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, said prosecutors had no comment on the matter.

Pruitt has not faced trial on the state charges he faces from the investigation.

In 2008, he pleaded not guilty 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 from the sheriff’s office, where he was a sergeant, 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.

Less than a week after his termination, Pruitt was arrested 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, finishing second in the three-man July 2008 Republican primary.