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Pruitt v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 16, 2017

Tommy R. Pruitt, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Dearborn Circuit Court The Honorable James D. Humphrey, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 15C01-0109-CF-54

          Attorney for Appellant Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana James B. Martin Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Kirsch, Judge.

         [¶1] Tommy R. Pruitt ("Pruitt") was sentenced to death in 2003 for the murder of a law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ("Seventh Circuit") granted habeas corpus relief, vacated Pruitt's death sentence, and remanded to the trial court for re- sentencing. On remand, the trial court found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and resentenced Pruitt to a term of sixty-five years for the murder, to run consecutive to his 115-year sentence, previously imposed for other related offenses, for an aggregate term of 180 years. Pruitt appeals raising the following restated issues:

I. Whether the sentence of sixty-five years for murder was prohibited under Blakely v. Washington;[1] and
II. Whether Pruitt's sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Our Supreme Court, on direct appeal, set forth the facts regarding Pruitt's crimes as follows:

On June 14, 2001, Morgan County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Starnes was driving his unmarked patrol car on a routine assignment serving warrants. His son, Ryan Starnes, accompanied him as part of a college internship. A car driven by Pruitt caught Starnes's attention and Starnes followed Pruitt for some distance, observing increasingly erratic driving. Eventually Pruitt came to a stop and Starnes pulled in behind Pruitt's car, turned on his flashing lights, and approached Pruitt's vehicle on foot. Starnes obtained Pruitt's driver's license and registration and returned to his vehicle to call the information in. In response, Starnes was told that a recent robbery report suggested Pruitt might be in possession of stolen weapons. As Starnes approached Pruitt's car for a second time, Pruitt emerged with a handgun and the two exchanged gunfire. Pruitt was shot at least seven times and Starnes was struck by five shots. Pruitt also fired at Ryan Starnes, who had remained in Starnes's car.

Pruitt v. State, 834 N.E.2d 90, 98-99 (Ind. 2005).[2] Deputy Starnes ultimately died on July 10, 2001, and Pruitt was charged with numerous offenses, including murder.

         [¶4] In 2003, Pruitt was found guilty of murder, [3] attempted murder, possession of a handgun without a license, resisting law enforcement, and four counts of receiving stolen property. Id. at 99. The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Pruitt killed a law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty and recommended the death penalty. Id. The jury then reconvened for a third phase of the trial and found Pruitt guilty of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon as a Class B felony and possession of a handgun without a license as a Class C felony. Id. The jury also found Pruitt to be a habitual offender. On November 21, 2003, the trial court imposed the death penalty for the murder and sentenced Pruitt to an aggregate term of 115 years for the remaining counts.

         [¶5] Once Pruitt exhausted state court remedies (see Pruitt I, 834 N.E.2d 90 and Pruitt v. State, 903 N.E.2d 899 (Ind. 2009)), he sought federal habeas relief challenging the imposition of the death penalty. After Pruitt had been denied relief in federal district court, Pruitt v. Wilson, No. 3:09-CV-380-RLM, 2012 WL 4513961 (N.D. Ind. Oct. 2, 2012), rev'd sub nom, Pruitt v. Neal, 788 F.3d 248 (7th Cir. 2015)), the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court and vacated the death penalty, finding that: (1) the Indiana Supreme Court's decision that Pruitt had not shown that he is intellectually disabled was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts; and (2) Pruitt had demonstrated that he is intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty. Pruitt v. Neal, 788 F.3d 248, 270 (7th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1161 (2016). The Seventh Circuit granted a conditional writ of habeas corpus and ordered the State of Indiana to either initiate a new penalty-phase proceeding or release Pruitt. Id. at 276.

         [¶6] The case was remanded to the Dearborn Circuit Court for resentencing on the murder conviction only, and on April 20, 2016, that court conducted a new sentencing hearing. The parties understood that Pruitt was to be resentenced to a term of years for murder under Count I. Resent. Tr. at 4-5.[4] Pruitt raised no objections to either the original presentence investigation report ("PSI") or the probation department's 2016 update to the PSI ("PSI Update"). Id. at 7. During the resentencing hearing, Pruitt urged the trial court to make its findings from the evidence already in the record. Defense counsel stated:

[A]n extensive trial in this matter and an extensive litigation regarding . . . the mental condition of our client, Mr. Pruitt[, ] that occurred both prior to trial, at the penalty phase, and then at the Post-Conviction trial, which the Court also conducted. At this point, you know, that evidence is all actually already in the record before the Court. As we understand the decision of the [Seventh Circuit], essentially . . . the death penalty sentencing was overturned because of what the Court felt [was] significant evidence of intellectual disability and/or mental illness of our client, Mr. Pruitt, at the time and before, you know, this incidence occurred. And we would ask the Court to specifically note the testimony that the Court actually issued a separate order ...

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