FROM THE ARCHIVES: Aug. 15, 1996 | Pruitt faces sentencing today

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Aug. 15, 1996 | Pruitt faces sentencing today

Teen resigned to spending rest of life in prison

By NOELLE McGEE

nmcgee@news-gazette.com

DANVILLE — At a time when most 17-year-olds are thinking about their senior year of high school, where to go to college or just where to hang out Saturday night, Brian Pruitt is thinking about his new life in the state’s prison system.

“I’m not welcoming it, but I don’t fear it,” Pruitt said recently during an interview at the Vermilion County Jail. “I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to take it a day at a time.”

Pruitt is expected to be sent to prison for the rest of his life for murdering his grandparents. He is scheduled to be sentenced today in Vermilion County Circuit Court.

Frank “Pat” McNeely, 58, and Roberta “Bobbie” McNeely, 57, were found stabbed to death Oct. 17 in the home at 1638 N. Gilbert St. where they had raised Pruitt on and off since he was 6.

Pruitt was convicted of first-degree murder for both deaths in June after a weeklong trial in Peoria.

Before sentencing Pruitt, Vermilion County Circuit Judge Thomas Fahey will consider a motion by Pruitt’s attorney, Vermilion County Public Defender Robert McIntire, to overturn the teen’s conviction or to grant him a new trial.Pruitt, however, believes an acquittal is unlikely and has resigned himself to spending the rest of his life behind bars.

He said he’s gotten used to the isolation and monotony of imprisonment at the county jail.

Pruitt has been locked in a 6-by-9-foot cell since his arrest the day after the murders and is allowed out for one hour each day. Once a week, he’s allowed to talk to visitors on a phone from behind a glass window.

He boasted that he’s had many visitors, including his father, Joe Williams, who didn’t come into his life until after his arrest; a few relatives on his father’s side; friends; a string of teen-age girlfriends; and two daughters, ages 5 and 2 months, by different women.

He said he’s sorry he won’t be around to raise them, but can’t worry about that.

“I have to worry about myself,” he said with a shrug.

Pruitt has passed the time by sleeping, exercising, playing dominoes and solitaire or reading novels. But he said his favorite pastime has been annoying other inmates.

“I like to play with people and manipulate their minds,” he said, bragging that the behavior has landed him in solitary confinement several times. “I like to get them in an argument or make them cry. It’s humorous. I ain’t got no TV or radio, so I need some type of entertainment.”

Though Pruitt no longer has nightmares about his grandparents, he said he hasn’t been able to sleep well lately because he stopped taking his medication. Pruitt, who has been diagnosed as having mental disorders, was prescribed the medication to control his behavior, and had not been taking it regularly when the murders occurred.

Pruitt believes a state maximum-security prison will be better than jail.

“I’ll be walking around and working,” he said, as he scratched his name into the countertop of a visitation room booth with his handcuffs. “I’ll have a TV and a radio. I’ll be going on down there. I have $1,080 to take with me, and you really only need $500 to survive. I’ll be set. I can still be a hustler. I’ll sell drugs up in the pen.”

Darla Shuck, Pruitt’s aunt and Mrs. McNeely’s daughter, said her nephew is in for a rude awakening.

“That’s his immaturity talking,” Shuck said, adding she’s afraid for him. She works in the medium-security state prison in Danville and has seen how rough life on the inside can be.

“I don’t think he really realizes what prison’s all about. There’s violence. There’s rape. He has no idea what’s facing him,” she  said.

Pruitt said he’s not afraid of the other inmates, even those who are bigger and tougher than him. He said he’s learned how to survive from others, including a fellow inmate at the jail.

“He gives me advice ... what I should do, what I shouldn’t do. Basically, you mind your own business,” he said. He said he knows others ... including his mother, Karen Pruitt, who has served several sentences ... who have survived.

If someone tries to bother him, he said, other inmates who are members of the Gangster Disciples, to which he belongs, will protect him.

“Nobody’s going to hurt me,” he said, trying to sound confident, but hesitating now and then. “If they don’t like me, they can just stay away from me. If they don’t, they will walk into something because I guarantee it if I go, I’m taking someone ith me.”

Though Shuck believes Pruitt deserves a life sentence, she said his fate saddens her.

“He’s thrown his life away for no reason at all,” she said, adding she once cared deeply for her nephew. “He’ll be spending the rest of his life there, and that’s a very long time when you’re only 17 years old.”

Shuck said Pruitt will never have a family or a career “like a normal person.”

“He’ll never get to go swimming again or hang out at the mall with his friends. He’ll never get to go to McDonald’s, or do any of the things kids like to do,” he said.

Shuck said she hopes Pruitt someday will feel remorse for what he did.

Pruitt said he misses his grandparents but doesn’t like to think about them.

“There just ain’t no words for it,” he said. “If I could take their place I would, but I can’t. I’m not going to dwell on something I can’t do nothing about.”

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