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Next case awaits former lawman
Pruitt still faces 5 counts
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Forsyth County News
A former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy convicted on federal child pornography charges still faces prosecution by the state.

Milton Scott Pruitt was sentenced Thursday to eight years and two months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley.

The punishment stemmed from a July conviction against Pruitt on one count each of knowingly receiving child pornography on his home and work computers.

In December 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.

Motions in the state case were delayed as a result of events in the federal case.

“If the motions have been resolved, then it will go back on a trial calendar and we will proceed,” said Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn. “The federal conviction isn’t going to make a difference for us in terms of going forward in this case.”

She said the matter could go to trial as early as April.

Pruitt’s attorney, Ann Fitz, said Thursday she plans to appeal the federal conviction.

Fitz said she was disappointed in how the case proceeded and looks forward to “taking it to a new court and new judges.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that Pruitt chose to violate the public trust when he “used the Internet to receive child pornography on his home computer.”

“To make matters worse, on at least one occasion, he also used a Forsyth County Sheriff’s computer to view child pornography while he was working,” Yates said. “By prosecuting child pornography offenders such as Pruitt, this office is working to make our community safer for our children.”

Pruitt’s wife, Kim Pruitt, said their family will continue to fight the charges “and the sheriff’s office, the county and the GBI.”

“I find it hard to believe how they can convict someone with no evidence and it has been destroyed, there is no doubt,” she said. “We continue to fight this with former Forsyth County Information Technology Director J.D. Rusk also.”

During the trial last summer, questions arose over whether Rusk had appropriately provided access to electronic servers and other information related to the case to Tami Loehrs, a computer forensics expert for the defense.

Rusk discovered in March 2007 that Pruitt 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.

As a result of the allegations against him, Pruitt was fired from the sheriff’s office in May 2007.

Fitz filed a motion for a new trial on the charge related to Pruitt’s work computer in October, just an hour before his sentencing was originally scheduled.

She contended that Rusk withheld evidence from the defense and lied about it in court.

As a result, O’Kelley delayed the sentencing and scheduled a hearing on the motion Feb. 10.

Rusk and three other witnesses testified during the hearing about events before and after the July trial.

Loehrs, based in Arizona, was not available to testify.

O’Kelley denied the request in an order signed Wednesday.

In it, he said the defense failed to convince him there was new evidence in the case and 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.

The county hired Loehrs in August for $21,000 in an effort to check the legitimacy of the allegations against Rusk and to determine if he had provided her with the information she sought.

Loehrs was given access to the county’s servers and other information she requested.

Her work began Oct. 5. Rusk was placed on administrative leave Oct. 9, a day after the new trial was requested, and did not participate in her probe.

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.

Rusk testified Feb. 10 that he resigned in December after speaking with County Manager Doug Derrer about Loehrs’ report.

Pruitt ran unsuccessfully for sheriff against incumbent Ted Paxton in the July 2008 Republican primary.

Despite the indictment, Pruitt finished second in the three-man sheriff’s primary election with 956 votes, or 8 percent of the vote.