Man convicted in officer’s death awaits sentencing, won’t face death penalty

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MORGAN COUNTY, Ind (Mar. 3, 2016)-- A man was convicted and received the death penalty for killing a Morgan County sheriff's sergeant, but in June 2015 a federal judge overturned that ruling.

Tommy Pruitt was considered mentally ill and unfit for the death penalty. This week, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the case--meaning the death penalty is off the table.

Sgt. Daniel Starnes pulled Pruitt over on a Morgan County road in 2001. Pruitt quickly started shooting at Starnes. The man described as a "gentle giant" died weeks later from his injuries.

"We looked at the case, filed the death penalty and the trial came two years later in 2003," said Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega.

Sonnega pushed for the death penalty and got it. Pruitt was convicted by a jury.

However, this case wasn't closed and new wounds opened last summer. A federal court in Chicago overturned the death penalty in Pruitt's case, saying he is mentally ill and therefore ineligible for a death sentence.

"The legal system always requires you to check your emotions when rulings go against you or when the law doesn't do what you think it should do," said Sonnega.

"We respect the courts decision but I don't agree. My feelings are that he should have absolutely received the death penalty," said Morgan County Sheriff Robert Downey.

Pruitt will return to Dearborn County for sentencing. The crime carries a maximum of 65 years based on laws in 2001 and it will be up to a judge to determine if the sentence is served concurrently of consecutively to the other charges he faces in this case. A sentencing date has yet to be set.

"Now, the hope is closure. Sentence him and let him stay in prison and just know he will never get out and do it again," said Sonnega.

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