Jury Returns ‘Not Guilty’ Verdict, Commonwealth’s Attorney Cites ‘Circumstantial Evidence’

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A jury deliberated for 40 minutes before finding Benjamin Adam Hogan, 39, of Portsmouth, Va., not guilty on charges of breaking and entering and grand larceny. Hogan was accused of entering the home of Thomas Pruitt in June 2020 and taking a safe containing Pruitt’s savings, along with personal family items.

In his opening statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan said the case against Hogan was based solely on circumstantial evidence. He said there was not enough DNA on the drawer handles or closet door handle to get a result. He also said there is a video from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel security cameras showing the two suspects coming to the Shore the day of the burglary in a car with an empty rear seat and returning hours later with items in that rear seat covered with an afghan identified by Pruitt as among the items missing from his home.

“It was made by my great-grandmother,” Pruitt told the court. He had a photo of the afghan he kept on the back of his sofa. It was the same color and pattern as the one in the CBBT photo, said Morgan.

A neighbor of Pruitt testified he saw a car similar in color and style to the one described as Hogan’s near Pruitt’s home on the afternoon of June 19. He said two people were in the car but could provide no further description.

Defense attorney Tucker Watson put Hogan’s mother on the witness stand. She said she had been crocheting most of her life and brought an afghan that was similar in pattern and color to the one in the photo of Hogan’s with the afghan in the back seat. She told the court it was a very common pattern and that she made it for her grandchildren years ago.

Pruitt’s former girlfriend, Rebekah Pace, is charged as a codefendant. At the time of the crime, Pace had recently gotten back together with Hogan, the father of her children, after years as the on-and-off girlfriend of Pruitt.

Pruitt testified he returned from work on June 19, 2020, and noticed his storm door ajar. He went inside his Parksley-area home where he found dresser drawers open and contents strewn on the floor. He went to his closet and found his safe was missing.

Pruitt wept on the witness stand when he told the court his parents’ birth certificates and other family items were in the safe, along with a large amount of cash. He said he immediately called his mother, who lives on Tangier Island, and the police.

When the officer arrived, Pruitt told the officer he suspected his sometime- girlfriend of the theft. He said she stayed overnight there at times and she and her children used the closet that held the safe as a hiding place when they played hide-and-seek.

Pruitt said the woman came to visit him a few days before the burglary while Hogan remained in the car. Pruitt said he often gave her cash when she said she needed money for her children or for car repairs.

He said he knew exactly how much was in his safe because he kept envelopes with $2,000 in each. He said he did not trust banks because his grandfather, a Tangier waterman, remembered the Depression and banks failing. Upon questioning by defense attorney Watson, Pruitt said he knew money kept in banks was insured but thought it might take time to access it.

In his closing argument, Morgan said the defendant and the woman were at Pruitt’s house a few days before the theft. “Look into the back seat,” he told the jury. The afghan covering the item in the back seat in the CBBT video was identified by Pruitt. The neighbor testified he saw a car with two people there that day. “She knew Pruitt had cash. … Weigh the credibility of the witnesses,” he told them.

“Are you convinced beyond a reasonable doubt?” asked Watson. “There is no direct evidence, no DNA, no recovery of items.”

The jury returned at 5:30 p.m. with verdicts of not guilty of burglary and not guilty of grand larceny.

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