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Sentencing set for next week
Judge mulls ex-deputy's request for new trial
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE -- Regardless of whether he receives a new trial, it appears a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy will remain behind bars.

U.S. District Court Judge William O’Kelley said Wednesday he will sentence Milton Scott Pruitt on Feb. 18 for one count of knowingly receiving child pornography on his home computer.

A federal jury convicted Pruitt of the charge in July, as well as one count of knowingly receiving child pornography on his work computer.

Pruitt, who has been in federal custody since the trial ended, faces up to 20 years in prison on both counts.

His attorney, Ann Fitz, filed a motion for a new trial related to the work computer charge in October, about an hour before his sentencing was originally scheduled.

A hearing on the motion was held Wednesday. O’Kelley said he will decide by early next week whether to grant the request.

“I had hoped to rule this afternoon, but there are some issues I need to check,” said O’Kelley, adding that he wants to check testimony provided Wednesday against transcripts from the July trial.

O’Kelley said if he grants the defense’s request, then the new trial will be scheduled at Pruitt’s sentencing next week.

If not, Pruitt will be sentenced that day on both convictions.

Fitz alleged in the document 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.

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

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

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

Rusk explained 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.

“She did not ask questions,” Rusk said. “She told what she wanted.”

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 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 Wednesday that he resigned in December after speaking with County Manager Doug Derrer about Loehrs’ report.

“I thought about it a long time,” Rusk said of his resignation. “Just the ordeal this has put on myself and my family, with my integrity being called into question when I’d done nothing wrong.”

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

“If I can’t be effective at my job, I don’t want to work there,” he said.

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.

“At the end of the day it comes down to what’s right in this case,” Fitz said. “Mr. Pruitt did not get a fair shake.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Steinberg disagreed.

Had Rusk told Loehrs before her July visit that the evidence didn’t exist, Steinberg said, the defense would have found that unacceptable.

She pointed out that the defense didn’t trust Rusk, yet expected him to tell Loehrs the evidence hadn’t been found.

Steinberg asserted that no new evidence was presented Wednesday and that the allegations had nothing to do with Pruitt's conviction.

“The only evidence uncovered was that Mr. Rusk and Ms. Loehrs didn’t get along with each other,” she said.

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 in which Ted Paxton was re-elected to a third term.