FROM THE ARCHIVES: June 15, 1996 | Pruitt found guilty, faces life

FROM THE ARCHIVES: June 15, 1996 | Pruitt found guilty, faces life

Double murder carries mandatory sentence for teen

PEORIA — Brian Pruitt was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the deaths of his grandparents, Pat and Roberta McNeely.

The 17-year-old now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no parole.

Pruitt, who appeared confident throughout the weeklong trial, showed little emotion when Vermilion County Circuit Judge Thomas Fahey read the verdicts.

However, relatives of the McNeelys appeared happy and relieved. Later they said they could now put the murders behind them and start the healing process.

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

Pruitt was 16 when he was indicted last fall on eight counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.

The trial was moved to Peoria because of extensive pretrial publicity in Vermilion County.

On Friday, a jury of seven men and five women heard closing arguments in the case, then deliberated about 2 hours and 15 minutes before returning the guilty verdicts.

In his argument, Vermilion County State's Attorney Michael Clary said there was overwhelming evidence to show that Pruitt not only intended to kill or seriously harm the McNeelys when he stabbed them, but that he also knew it was wrong when he did it.

Clary portrayed Pruitt as a cold-blooded killer who stabbed his grandmother in the back with "massive force" as she lay sleeping, waited for his grandfather to return home, then stabbed him.

"He stabbed Pat in the back just as hard as he could, just like he did his grandmother," he said.

Clary said Pruitt did not call anyone for help and even robbed his grandparents of some money after he killed them.

Pruitt also went to "great lengths" to hide the evidence that connected him to the crime, including changing a garbage bag, in which he'd thrown bloody towels, and disposing of the bag and the knife he'd used in the stabbings in a secluded spot, Clary said. He added the teen also lied to police about committing the crime.

Pruitt's actions showed he felt no remorse, Clary said.

"He was not feeling sorry for what he did," he said. "He was trying to save his neck."

Though Pruitt, a ward of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, was raised in his grandparents' loving care for most of his life, he made a conscious choice to adopt his mother Karen Pruitt's lifestyle, Clary said. Karen Pruitt has been in and out of prison five and a drug-related crime, and she is currently awaiting sentencing for forgery.

Clary said that in the months leading up to the murders, Pruitt became increasingly aggressive, manipulative, intimidating and violent. He said a therapist heard Pruitt tell his grandparents he would "take care" of them if they got in his way.

When the McNeelys asked DCFS to remove Pruitt from their home, the teen decided to act.

"It was time to make good on his threat to take care of them if they got in his way, and they did get in his way," Clary said.

Vermilion County Public Defender Robert McIntire argued, however, Pruitt was insane when he committed the murders.

He said Pruitt had a long history of mental illness, for which he had been hospitalized in two out- of-state institutions. He said the illness caused Pruitt's aggressive and violent behavior, which escalated into murder.

"It was a train wreck waiting to happen," McIntire said. "This was coming."

At the time of the murders, Pruitt was diagnosed as having several disorders for which he had been prescribed medication. He said Pruitt did well when he was on his medication, but he had refused to take it regularly in the months before the mur ders.

McIntire said that when Pruitt stabbed Mrs. McNeely, he was in the midst of an episode caused by intermittent explosive disorder, which causes failure to resist impulses that can cause harm to others. He said the disorder disabled Pruitt's capacity to determine right from wrong.

However, Clary said there was no clear evidence to prove Pruitt suffered such an episode or that the disorder would leave him unable to make the distinc tion.

He said a psychiatrist who examined Pruitt could not support that conclusion, and that Pruitt had admitted to police he knew the stabbings were wrong.

Clary also said Pruitt's actions following the crime, including trying to hide the evidence, show that he knew the stabbings were wrong.

Pruitt will be sentenced to life in prison without parole in Vermilion County on Aug. 15. Illinois law does not provide for the death penalty for defendants under 18.

Darla Shuck, Mrs. McNeely's daughter, said she's relieved by Pruitt's conviction. Now that the trial is over, her family can finally move on with their lives, he said.

Shuck said she's still planning to file a lawsuit against DCFS, which she said was negligent in Pruitt's case.

McIntire said he plans to file an appeal with the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court.

"I don't feel like we're where we should be at in dealing with people like Brian," he said. "He had to commit a crime before he got any serious attention."

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