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'Not our character'

Three former Ashland High School varsity football players were given probation Wednesday and ordered to pay $5,000 to a woman they robbed while she delivered pizzas.

Michael James Zawadi Pruitt, James Clifford Hutchings and Melchizedek Michael Jaleel Elshalom, all 18, were each sentenced to two years' probation after admitting to their roles in the Feb. 15 robbery and stun-gun attack of Nicole Shulters while she worked as a delivery driver for Great American Pizza in Ashland. The three each pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree robbery.

Shulters had been notified of the sentencing but was unable to attend, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Allan Smith. Messages left for Shulters at Great American Pizza were not immediately returned.

The three teens have since graduated from Ashland High School, and all said they plan to attend college on scholarships while on probation. Smith said the intention of the plea agreement was to give the teens a shot at a successful future. 

"It is the state's hope that they will succeed in this," Smith said.

"If you walk the line, if you make good choices, you can get this expunged," Circuit Judge Kelly Ravassipour said.

Elshalom and Hutchings both showed signs of nervousness during the hearing. Elshalom fidgeted as he stood beside lawyer Jason Caplan, who filled in for Elshalom's court-appointed defense lawyer Clint Oborn.

Hutchings said little as he held his arms behind his back and pleaded guilty to robbery and a misdemeanor charge of menacing, admitting he made the pizza order and fired the stun gun at Shulters' back. Hutchings has a six-month jail sentence hanging over his head if he fails to comply with the terms of his probation, Smith said.

Smith said Shulters had requested Hutchings serve jail time.

At about 9:30 p.m. Feb. 15, Shulters delivered a pizza near Terra Avenue and Mohawk Street. She knocked on the door of an address that had been provided, but the resident said no one had ordered a pizza. While Shulters returned to her truck and called to verify the address, the three approached her. Hutchings told her he had called in the order and demanded the pizza and her money.

Shulters initially denied she had any money, but Hutchings called her bluff. When he called in the order, he had requested the driver carry change for a $100 bill.

Yaschar Sarapast, Hutchings' lawyer, said his client was "very ashamed of what he did," adding that Hutchings has since reported weekly to parole and probation and graduated, earning a 3.8 grade point average for the term. 

Pruitt was the most cooperative of the three defendants, Smith said, adding that Pruitt turned himself in and provided a statement the night Ashland police posted surveillance photographs of them taken at a mini-market.

After pleading guilty to robbery, Pruitt said he was ashamed of his actions.

"That's not our character," he told Ravassipour. "We have more to offer." 

Pruitt was born in Kenya and adopted by Anne Marie Pruitt and Lee Pruitt, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's accounting manager, according to a profile printed in November.

"I really, really want to play college football," Pruitt said in November. "I love the game a lot and would have a very hard time believing that it's over after high school. But I know that I can do something about it."

Pruitt will attend Western Oregon University, Hutchings will attend College of the Siskiyous and Elshalom will attend Lane Community College, their lawyers said. The three have arranged to serve their probations while at their college.

The three avoided 70-month Measure 11 sentences with the plea agreement, which Ravassipour said was approved by Shulters.

Pruitt and Elshalom were ordered to perform community service. Hutchings wasn't sentenced to community service because his felony conviction won't be eligible to be expunged for a minimum of 10 years, because his crime was more severe, Ravassipour said.

Terms of their probation include consuming no drugs or alcohol and obeying all laws.

The $5,000 fine, for which the trio are jointly responsible, is intended to cover lost wages and tips, along with counseling costs, for Shulters, Smith said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Melchizedek Michael Jaleel Elshalom, 18, enters a guilty plea in Jackson County Circuit Court Wednesday for robbing a pizza delivery driver. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Michael James Zawadi Pruitt, 18, told the judge he was ashamed of his actions. 'That's not our character. We have more to offer,' he said. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch