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Murder defendant's girlfriend tells jury a much different story

The girlfriend of accused killer Richard Lee Pruitt testified Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court that the victim, Darin Lynn Drake, was alive the last time the two saw him — and that investigators had intimidated her into implicating Pruitt.

Alexis Fehlman, who has not been charged with a crime, has been held in custody as a material witness in the case since May 2007. She appeared nervous as she stumbled though questioning by Tim Barnack, senior deputy district attorney.

Barnack maintains that DNA and other evidence — including statements made by Fehlman — will prove a fight between the two drunken transients ended up with Pruitt murdering Drake on or about Sept. 29, 2006.

State Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. James Olson described Drake's wounds as blunt force injuries consistent with kicking or stomping. He said Drake's blood alcohol level of 0.28 could have been a contributing factor in his death.

Fehlman, 34, testified that she and Pruitt were drinking with the victim on a grassy area near the Interstate 5 southbound Central Point exit on Sept. 28. But the pair had separated during the night after an argument about Pruitt's ex-girlfriend. She went to the Circle K shop and spent the night in the back of a car. Pruitt stayed behind with Drake, she said.

Early the next morning, the two met up at their Bear Creek Greenway campsite near the Pilot truck stop. They returned to the grassy area to pick up Pruitt's backpack. When they got there, Drake was lying on his back with his legs folded under him, arms outstretched — alive, she said.

Drake was "snoring," said Fehlman, adding he was lying on her gray sweatshirt and Pruitt's tan jacket.

Barnack challenged Fehlman's testimony because it conflicted with earlier statements made during three police interviews. In earlier statements, Fehlman said Pruitt, 40, had admitted he'd fought with Drake, 47, because the victim had "bad-mouthed" her, and that Fehlman had seen blood on Pruitt's boots and his jacket that morning while the pair were still at their campsite.

Fehlman said she felt intimidated by the detectives' persistent questioning and the tone of their questions.

"I was cooperating very, very, very well. But they were putting words in my mouth. I felt threatened. I just wanted out," said Pruitt, adding she loved the defendant.

Police found Pruitt's blood-stained jacket in the blackberry bushes near the Bear Creek campsite.

Circle K clerk David Lyles, 41, testified he had allowed Fehlman to sleep in his car after she showed up at the store inebriated and distraught. He dropped her off at the Pilot station just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 29, he said.

"Her hair was all messed up and she looked like she'd been crying. I could smell alcohol on her breath," said Lyles.

James Klein, 30, testified that a transient — later identified as Arnold Swanson — flagged him down as he was walking on the overpass, pointing to Drake. He went down to investigate.

"I noticed the congealed blood and had a lady call 9-1-1," Klein said.

Oregon State Police Detective Annie Harris arrived on scene at 11:20 a.m. Harris testified she felt Fehlman was "being evasive" in two of her prior statements, and that she'd been more truthful in a third interview.

"Alexis told me she observed blood all over at least one of (Pruitt's) boots," Harris said.

Pruitt has stated he was in an alcoholic blackout and cannot remember much of the evening, said Detective Daniel Hobbs of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Pruitt's defense attorney, Rebecca Rosenstein, questioned Harris about whether she had seriously considered other potential suspects, including Swanson, whom police had initially considered "a person of interest" in the murder.

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday. The defense was set to present its evidence before Circuit Judge William G. Purdy today.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.