'These murders were exceptionally heinous'

'These murders were exceptionally heinous'

He murdered his grandparents when he was 16

DANVILLE — For the second time, Brian Pruitt has been sentenced to life in prison for the fatal stabbing deaths of his grandparents nearly a quarter-century ago.

Pruitt was 16 at the time of the murders — "an angry kid who lost control," the now-40-year-old told Circuit Judge Tom O'Shaughnessy during a re-sentencing hearing in Vermilion County Circuit Court.

But O'Shaughnessy decided Monday that Pruitt's crime 24 years ago was brutal and heinous, saying that his actions were premeditated, deliberate, ruthless, cold-blooded, devoid of mercy and without remorse and done with the intent to kill the two people who most consistently loved him.

"These murders were exceptionally heinous," O'Shaughnessy said after hearing Attorney Leon Parker argue why Pruitt should walk free.

Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy argued for a life sentence, saying that allowing him to leave prison now would deprecate the seriousness of the offense.

"Brian Pruitt brutally murdered his loving grandparents. A sentence of natural life without parole is the only appropriate sentence in this case," Lacy said following Monday's hearing.

"I will continue to fight for the harshest sentences for the most violent offenders who commit brutal acts against our community."

Pruitt was originally sentenced in 1995 to life in prison without parole for murdering "Pat" and Roberta McNeely, who took in their 6-year-old grandson after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took him away from his mother, Karen Pruitt. She attended Monday's hearing and had planned for her son to live with her in Peoria if he had been released.

Pruitt was convicted of first-degree murder for stabbing his grandmother in the back with a large kitchen knife while she was sleeping in their home and, after going outside to smoke, returning 15 minutes later and fatally stabbing his grandfather in the back when he arrived home with the fast food Pruitt had asked him to get.

Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder and intermittent explosive disorder as a minor, Pruitt told the court he has changed, adding that he thinks about his grandparents often and misses them, although that causes conflict within him, knowing he's the one who took their lives.

Parker argued that his client, who suffered physical and other abuses at a young age, has been a model inmate since 2012. He no longer violates prison rules or requires medication, and he is taking classes, Parker said.

"All this indicates his potential for rehabilitation," Parker said. "He is not a danger to society."

Pruitt's case circled back to circuit court this spring due to a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — Miller v. Alabama. It declared mandatory life without parole for minors to be unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

A 2016 case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, made the previous decision retroactive to all cases prior to 2012, including Pruitt's.

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