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Pruett gets life: Man’s sentence for infant abuse uncommon for Stark County

Dan Pruett will spend life in prison, with the possibility of parole, for his sexual and physical abuse of an infant in fall 2013, a judge ruled Tuesday.

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Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Dan Pruett, left, listens to testimony from Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich, right, at Pruett’s sentencing Tuesday on charges of gross sexual imposition and aggravated assault of a baby. Pruett was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Dan Pruett will spend life in prison, with the possibility of parole, for his sexual and physical abuse of an infant in fall 2013, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Pruett entered an Alford Plea, admitting the evidence from Nov. 21, 2013, would prove him guilty without admitting guilt, to felony charges of gross sexual imposition and aggravated assault from the incident involving a 5-month-old girl. Pruett is from Arizona but was living in Dickinson at the time.

Pruett, now 45, said at his sentencing at Stark County Courthouse that because of drinking and “huffing,” he couldn’t recall the night when he left a residence with a healthy baby, who later was found nearly dead from injuries including cardiac arrest, seizures and bleeding on the brain.

“I can’t say I did (it). I can’t say I didn’t do it,” Pruett told the court.

Terry Oestreich, who was a Dickinson Police Department detective at the time of the incident and now is the Stark County sheriff, testified that in the interviews shortly after the crime, Pruett gave details of the assault.

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In sentencing him to life, Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf said what’s most troubling is Pruett’s denial of responsibility.

Pruett will serve the life term for gross sexual imposition concurrently with a 10-year sentence on the aggravated assault charge. His case went to trial in September, but only lasted a day before he agreed to the plea.

Herauf said he suspects the girl will suffer emotional scars over time. He told Pruett he is lucky to not be dealing with loss of life. Under the plea agreement, Herauf couldn’t sentence Pruett to life without the possibility of parole.

“This baby was at death’s door,” Stark County Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Hope said in recommending the life sentence. “The depravity here in this case is just stunning. It is absolutely stunning.”

Hope later said he can’t remember the last time a judge ordered such a term in Stark County.

“The crimes that we deal with normally don’t warrant a life sentence,” he said.

 

Four hours

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The call of an infant in distress came around 2:40 a.m., but investigators and Hope focused on the hours leading up to that in the case and at the sentencing.

Pruett had been partying with the infant’s mother and other people at various places throughout the previous night. He is not the child’s father.

After a couple people complained he was obnoxious and asked him to leave, Pruett, upset and intoxicated, left with the infant. He was described by a witness as “tearing out” of the parking lot, Oestreich said.

Pruett claimed the injuries to the baby were from her falling onto the floor of his pickup in a car accident. But law enforcement and medical professionals alike said the evidence doesn’t back that up.

The baby lost her pulse at one point, and paramedics had to perform CPR. Her temperature was hypothermic at 86 degrees.

“That just tells me that she was near death,” testified Dr. David Kuylen, the CHI St. Joseph’s Health emergency room doctor who treated the girl.

Tina Thorson, who knows the child through the child’s father, told the court the child is growing normally now, but is permanently blind in one eye.

“She’s doing real well,” Thorson said.

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Defense attorney Kent Morrow emphasized that the blindness is the only permanent physical injury. He recommended a sentence of 20 years on the rape and seven years on the aggravated assault charges, to run concurrently.

Those four hours were the case against Pruett.

They ended with an infant near death, but before those four hours, one witness told Oestreich that the girl was fine, and that he looked her right in the eye.

“She looked back at him and smiled.”

 

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