Letter Foretells Danville Murder Victim’s Fate

Letter Foretells Danville Murder Victim’s Fate

A letter from a murder victim released in Vermilion County Circuit Court Tuesday shows she feared for her life before being killed.

Roberta McNeely said in the letter that if Brian Pruitt went to jail again he would no longer be welcome in her home.  ‘’Sometimes I feel that we are in peril and I don’t think that we should have to live like that,’’ wrote McNeely in the 1995 letter that was found by Danville Police when they processed the crime scene after her murder.

McNeely’s husband, Frank ‘Pat’ McNeely, was also murdered in the double-stabbing which occurred at their North Gilbert Street home on October 17, 1995.

Pruitt was a juvenile when he was convicted of killing the couple – who were his grandparents.  Pruitt was convicted of the murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1996.  But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 found it to be unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  So the Pruitt case was back in court in Danville Tuesday for a re-sentencing hearing.

Circuit Judge Thomas O’Shaughnessy listened to testimony and heard closing arguments from State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy – but then continued the hearing until June.

Judge O’Shaughnessy questioned Pruitt during part of the day-long hearing.  ‘’Tell me about your grandparents,’’ said the Judge.  Pruitt replied ‘’I miss ‘em….because I love ‘em.’’

‘’They didn’t deserve this.  I don’t know what else to say,’’ said Pruitt at one point.  ‘’They weren’t bad people.  They weren’t perfect.  They took me out of a bad place and gave me a home,’’ added Pruitt.

State’s Attorney Lacy asked the judge to again sentence Pruitt to natural life in prison.  She said Pruitt has shown ‘’little or no remorse for his crimes.’’  And Lacy claimed the murders were premeditated.

Pruitt’s attorney, Leon Parker, claims his client has not violated serious prison rules since 2010.  But Parker reserved his closing arguments in the hearing until June when Pruitt will be re-sentenced.

‘’So, Mr. Pruitt, why don’t you tell the judge why you killed your grandparents,’’ State’s Attorney Lacy asked as she began questioning Pruitt Tuesday.

— ‘’I still don’t know why,’’ replied Pruitt.

Retired Danville Police Detective Gene Woodard was among three retired police officers who testified at Tuesday’s hearing.  Woodard said during one of the interviews about the stabbings, Pruitt said he knew it was wrong.  Woodard says Pruitt told them his brain was telling him not to do it, but his body was telling him to do it.

Judge O’Shaughnessy continued the hearing until June to allow time for an updated pre-sentencing report on Pruitt.

[This story by Bill Pickett posted on May 14, 2019.]