AG may appeal death penalty reversal in deputy’s slaying

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The state is considering whether it will appeal a federal court ruling Tuesday that reversed the death penalty imposed on a man convicted of killing a Morgan County deputy sheriff nearly 14 years ago.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Tommy R. Pruitt’s death sentence for shooting and killing Deputy Daniel Starnes during a traffic stop on June 14, 2001. The court concluded Pruitt was intellectually disabled and categorically ineligible for the death penalty and that his attorneys were ineffective in presenting evidence of his schizophrenia. The case was remanded for new penalty-phase proceedings on the murder conviction.

“The Attorney General’s Office will determine by the appropriate deadlines whether to seek rehearing or appeal further in order to defend the judgment of the state courts and jury,” according to a statement Tuesday from the office of AG Greg Zoeller.

The statement noted Pruitt’s sentence previously had been affirmed in state and federal courts.

“Engraved in stone on the memorial wall outside the Indiana Statehouse are the names of law enforcement officers such as Deputy Daniel Starnes who, while protecting the public, died in the line of duty,” Zoeller said in the statement. “My office which represents the prosecution in appellate court is reviewing the 7th Circuit’s ruling to determine whether grounds exist to seek a rehearing from the 7th Circuit or appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Out of respect for the victim’s family, for the investigators and prosecutors who put so much effort into this case and for the state court system, we will thoroughly evaluate the State’s appeal options.”

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