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Man guilty in fellow transient's murder

Richard Lee Pruitt was found guilty Friday of second-degree manslaughter in the beating death of fellow transient Darin Lynn Drake.

Pruitt will be sentenced for the Measure 11 crime next week, said Jackson County Circuit Court Judge William G. Purdy.

A jury of eight men and four women deliberated for about two hours Friday morning before taking a lunch break. Shortly before 2 p.m., the jury reached its verdict.

Pruitt was facing murder charges after he rejected a plea offer from the state that would have reduced his charge to manslaughter in the first degree. Purdy instructed the jurors before Friday's deliberations that they could consider lesser charges, ranging from manslaughter in the first or second degree to criminally negligent homicide.

Jackson County Senior Deputy District Attorney Tim Barnack argued in court that Pruitt brutally murdered Drake by kicking and stomping him sometime after the two men and Pruitt's girlfriend, Alexis Fehlman, shared a bottle of vodka on a grassy area near the Interstate 5 southbound Central Point exit on or about Sept. 29, 2006.

Barnack said he was satisfied with the jury's verdict. Pruitt is expected to be sentenced Wednesday, Barnack said.

"The state will be seeking a sentence of 75 months in the Oregon State Penitentiary," Barnack said.

A clean-shaven and well-dressed Pruitt testified on his own behalf during the four-day trial. He admitted the three had been drinking together, but insisted he did not kill — or engage in any sort of altercation — with Drake.

Fehlman testified Wednesday that Drake was alive the last time the two saw him and that investigators had intimidated her into implicating Pruitt. Fehlman has not been charged with a crime, but has been held in custody as a material witness in the case since May 2007. Fehlman was released from custody Friday, Barnack said.

Defense attorney Rebecca Rosenstein told the jury in her closing arguments that the only reason her client was facing a murder charge was because police ignored DNA evidence that pointed away from her client. Two medical examiners stated that Drake's 0.28 alcohol level was likely to have caused breathing problems, which could have contributed to his death, she said. Rosenstein urged the jurors to be sophisticated in their deliberations.

Family members of Drake and Pruitt sat quietly in the packed courtroom as the verdict was read. Pruitt made no comment. The jury was not polled. Jury members declined to discuss their verdict.

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

Man guilty in fellow transient's murder