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Vanessa and her husband had a difficult marriage

Sunday, February 21, 2016 – 8:45 a.m.

Vanessa Pruitt found her husband and another man shot to death in her home. She was too upset at the scene for a thorough interview.

Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed her the following morning at her residence. The interview was recorded with the witness' knowledge and consent.

Participants:

  • Detective T. Armstrong
  • Detective S. Murphy
  • Vanessa Pruitt

Detective Murphy: Thanks for seeing us so early this morning.

Vanessa Pruitt: It's OK. I know it's important for y'all to get the facts.

Detective Murphy: Would you please state your full name and address?

Vanessa Pruitt: Vanessa Marie Pruitt, 604 Tyler Avenue.

Detective Murphy: What do you do here in town, Mrs. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: I work at the Eagle. I'm the senior sales manager.

Detective Murphy: How old are you?

Vanessa Pruitt: 38.

Detective Armstrong: Mrs. Pruitt, can you tell us again what happened yesterday?

Vanessa Pruitt: I'll sure try. I was at my parents' in Florence. We had brunch and then I drove back — it's three hours or so. I came back and found Robbie — it's terrible — I found him and this other man. I had a bunch of leftovers… you know, in a bag. I dropped them. I screamed and ran up to call 911.

Detective Murphy: Robbie? Is Mr. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes. Sorry. So I looked for him upstairs and didn't see him. I went down, and there he was. Terrible.

Detective Armstrong: What do you drive?

Vanessa Pruitt: A Lexus RX — it's a good family car.

Detective Armstrong: Who is the other man?

Vanessa Pruitt: I don't know.

Detective Armstrong: You don't recognize him at all?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. I can't say I've never seen him. I know lots of folks here in town. You know, because of my job. But I don't know — I'm good at remembering names and faces. He seems familiar, but I really can't place him. I'm sorry.

Detective Murphy: That's OK.

Detective Armstrong: What time would you say you left for home, Mrs. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: I guess around 1:30 or so. I got back about 4:30, 4:45. I remember because I looked at the console to check the gas gauge. I wanted to make sure there was enough gas for work today. I have to go to Jackson. Or had to.

Detective Armstrong: And when did you leave for Florence?

Vanessa Pruitt: Thursday afternoon. I got there in time for dinner, and I had Friday off. It's our big family reunion. We always have it in February.

Detective Armstrong: What time did you leave the house?

Vanessa Pruitt: About ten after 1:00. I came home, put my bag in my car, and left shortly thereafter.

Detective Armstrong: And where was your husband at that time?

Vanessa Pruitt: Here. I left him here. That was the last time I saw— Oh my God.

Detective Murphy: We understand, Mrs. Pruitt. Just a few more questions.

Vanessa Pruitt: Very well.

Detective Murphy: Who attends your family reunion?

Vanessa Pruitt: Oh, everyone — me, my mom and dad, Jude, May, Georgie and Hanna. And then there's Aunt Kitty — she's on my mom's side — and Uncle Jack and all their families, kids and grandkids. It's a great time. We have a picnic, and the past few years we've gone to Swampers in the Marriott Shoals for a couple hours for the live music.

Detective Murphy: Who is Jude?

Vanessa Pruitt: My brother. May is his wife. Georgie and Hanna are their kids. They're great. They live out in California now, so it's a real treat to see them.

Detective Murphy: It sounds like quite a gathering.

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes. Lots of relatives in the area. I always look forward to it.

Detective Murphy: How often did your husband work out of your home?

Vanessa Pruitt: Sometimes.

Detective Murphy: Once a week? Three days a week?

Vanessa Pruitt: Oh no, not more than two or three days a month.

Detective Armstrong: Regular times?

Vanessa Pruitt: No, usually only if he wanted not to be bothered when he had a big case coming up.

Detective Armstrong: What kinds of cases?

Vanessa Pruitt: He handled all kinds — divorces, civil and criminal defense cases, you name it. He had some of the worst people for clients.

Detective Murphy: Did you ever know him to have visitors when he worked at home? Perhaps one of his clients?

Vanessa Pruitt: I don't remember any, and he never told me about any.

Detective Armstrong: About your family reunion, Mr. Pruitt didn't attend?

Vanessa Pruitt: No.

Detective Armstrong: Why not?

Vanessa Pruitt: He said he had to work on a case.

Detective Murphy: When did he tell you he would not be able to go with you?

Vanessa Pruitt: Wednesday evening.

Detective Armstrong: How did you feel about that?

Vanessa Pruitt: I wasn't too happy. He works— worked too hard all the time. He was always too stressed out about it. And you know… he'd find any excuse not to visit my parents. Meanwhile, his parents live just over in Tupelo, and we see them all the time. This time, I got in his face about it. I pretty much insisted he come along. He said he would, but then he backed out. Terrible. If he would've come, none of this would be happening.

Detective Armstrong: What do you mean by that?

Vanessa Pruitt: What?

Detective Armstrong: If he'd come along…

Vanessa Pruitt: Oh. I just meant, he wouldn't have been here for… whoever it was came to kill him.

Detective Murphy: What makes you think someone came here with that in mind?

Vanessa Pruitt: I don't know. I mean, he's a lawyer, he does divorces, he had criminals for clients.

Detective Armstrong: Who do you think it was?

Vanessa Pruitt: No idea. That stranger — I don't know.

Detective Armstrong: No one comes to mind?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. I mean, it could've been anyone from the office. Clients — Robbie was a defense lawyer. He dealt with pretty sleazy people. I'm sure tons of them wanted to get back at him. You know, if the verdict didn't come out right — if they ended up being put away — I could see them coming back when they got out. And then the other side was after him too. Victims hated that he was helping criminals get away with it. He got sleazy letters. I always told him he needed to get out of the business. It wasn't worth it. He should've gone back to the DA's office like I wanted him to.

Detective Armstrong: Did he ever have trouble like that — clients showing up here?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. Not yet. But I expected it, and so did he. He even bought a gun. I hated that too. It's the last thing we need in this house, as far as I'm concerned. It would just make the situation more dangerous, and if we had kids… I just wanted him out of it for good.

Detective Armstrong: Where did Mr. Pruitt keep the gun?

Vanessa Pruitt: Locked in the filing cabinet.

Detective Armstrong: Who had access to the key?

Vanessa Pruitt: No one. I mean, just Robbie. He kept it on his key chain. I guess if I'd wanted it, he would've given me a key too, but I said no way.

Detective Armstrong: What about Mr. Pruitt's office colleagues?

Vanessa Pruitt: I didn't like them too much. Lots of trouble.

Detective Armstrong: Meaning what?

Vanessa Pruitt: Gary Rayburn. He's a real loser — hung on to Robbie like a leech, as far as I'm concerned. Always getting Robbie into trouble with gambling and the like, playing with all those gadgets in the basement. He was a bad influence. Robbie needed to grow up, and Gary was definitely the one holding him back. They were like teenage boys with all their stupid toys. It drove me crazy. I'm sorry. I don't mean to get mad. I guess the situation is getting to me.

Detective Armstrong: You've been remarkably calm.

Vanessa Pruitt: It just hasn't fully hit me yet.

Detective Murphy: Do you need some time?

Vanessa Pruitt: No, go on.

Detective Murphy: You say Mr. Pruitt gambled?

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes. He placed lots of bets on sports games — totally stupid. Things like, not only who will win, but what the spread will be, who will score most in the first quarter, all of that garbage. I'll put in a few bucks in the office pool, you know how that goes. Everyone's crazy about football here. But it was too much. I had to watch him like a hawk; otherwise we would've been in debt for sure.

Detective Murphy: How did he pay for it? Did he take out loans?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. He just drew down the savings account. I kept telling him he had to stop. To him it was just fun, but not for me. Like the gun — totally inappropriate for a family.

Detective Armstrong: You don't have children, though, isn't that right?

Vanessa Pruitt: No.

Detective Armstrong: Sounds like you wanted to.

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes.

Detective Armstrong: What about Mr. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: He said he was all for it, but then… well, like I've been saying, he wasn't exactly behaving like someone who was ready to be a dad. Kept putting it off. I kept telling him we aren't getting any younger. For women, it's hard. If you have a career and you don't watch it, suddenly it can be too late.

Detective Armstrong: Sounds like you and your husband disagreed a lot.

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes. No. Well— I'm sorry, detectives. I don't mean to sound like a pill. But you know, if you've been with someone for a while, you take things for granted. Of course I loved Robbie. We were just— well, it's never easy. That's what they don't tell you — marriage is a lot of work. I'm sure they'll tell you I was pushy. I guess I was, only… life's too short, you know? I know what I want, and there comes a point where you just have to go for it, as far as I'm concerned.

Detective Armstrong: Were you getting a divorce?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. We never talked about it.

Detective Armstrong: Were you thinking of it?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. Yes. Well, sometimes I did. But you know, nothing serious. Friends would tell me to do it. But I like to complain a lot, is all. Robbie was my second husband. I felt like this was my second chance; I needed to grab hold of it and run.

Detective Murphy: Who's your first husband?

Vanessa Pruitt: Dave Lockhart. My high school boyfriend. He was killed in a car wreck back in 2002.

Detective Murphy: I'm sorry.

Vanessa Pruitt: Thank you.

Detective Murphy: Did he know Mr. Pruitt at all?

Vanessa Pruitt: No.

Detective Murphy: Mrs. Pruitt, are you seeing anyone else?

Vanessa Pruitt: What?

Detective Murphy: I mean, if your marriage was so difficult, were you—

Vanessa Pruitt: Please. I would never do that. And even if I would, I don't have time for all that running around and hiding secrets.

Detective Murphy: What about Mr. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: No.

Detective Murphy: Are you sure?

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes. I kept him happy. And he cared more about toys than any of that stuff.

Detective Armstrong: OK. Tell us more about this Gary Rayburn. You say he gambled with Mr. Pruitt?

Vanessa Pruitt: Yes.

Detective Armstrong: Did Mr. Pruitt owe him money?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. If anything, it was the other way around. Robbie was always giving him cash. It was ridiculous.

Detective Armstrong: When did you last see Mr. Rayburn?

Vanessa Pruitt: I don't know. I stay away from him. He disgusts me.

Detective Armstrong: Try to remember.

Vanessa Pruitt: I guess it was a couple of weeks ago, on a Tuesday — that would've been the first week of February. I stopped by the office to pick Robbie up. We were going to a fundraiser for the Arts Council. Gary was there. I said hello and goodbye, but that's it. I don't care to talk with him if I can help it.

Detective Armstrong: Would Mr. Rayburn have done this?

Vanessa Pruitt: No.

Detective Armstrong: Why not?

Vanessa Pruitt: He loved Robbie. Robbie gave him his whole career at the firm. He loved being able to hang around with him. Like I said, Gary was a leech. Why would a leech kill its host?

Detective Armstrong: Mrs. Pruitt, are you involved in any way with your husband's death?

Vanessa Pruitt: No. How horrible! No!

Detective Armstrong: Who do you think might be involved?

Vanessa Pruitt: I have no idea. There are so many sleazy people out there. I just don't understand how that man ended up here. To be honest, I'm in shock — I just don't understand.

Detective Murphy: Thank you, Mrs. Pruitt. We won't take any more of your time this morning.

Vanessa Pruitt: Just let me know how I can help.

Detective Armstrong: Goodbye.

Interview ends — 9:42 a.m.

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