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Marine veteran gets up to 2 years for shooting young deer spotter

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — A Fayette County man on Friday apologized for shooting at deer spotters, hitting a teenage girl who was handling a spotlight in the back of a pickup.

“I'm very sorry to you and to your family,” said Jeremy James Pritts to Cortney Snyder, 19, during his sentencing hearing before Judge Steve Leskinen. “I just hope one day you can forgive me.”

Leskinen sentenced Pritts, 37, of Normalville to nine months to two years in state prison on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of simple assault.

Leskinen found Pritts, a Marine Corps veteran, guilty of the charges during a nonjury trial in February. Pritts was acquitted of a more serious charge of aggravated assault that could have drawn a five- to 10-year prison sentence.

During the trial, Snyder testified that she was seated in the bed of her father's pickup, holding a spotlight as the family spotted deer on Foxburg Road, when she was shot about 10 p.m. Nov. 11, 2012.

She suffered wounds in her face, chest, left hand and arm, right arm and abdomen. Snyder had open-heart surgery the next morning to remove at least one of the shotgun pellets, she testified.

During his trial, Pritts testified that he did not intend to hurt anyone, but rather hoped the shot would deter poaching and deer spotting near his home.

In a victim impact statement before the sentencing, Snyder testified she still has six shotgun pellets embedded in her.

She said she stopped hunting after the shooting because loud noises frighten her. She testified she passed out recently when a vehicle backfired near her.

“I pretty much live in fear,” Snyder testified, describing how she has flashbacks to the shooting. “I still have nightmares. It has been a nightmare ever since that night.”

For eight weeks since the shooting, Snyder said, she was too weak to “get off the couch on my own” or do much else without assistance. She has yet to return to high school to finish her senior year, she said.

The shooting took a mental toll, she said.

“Mentally, I can't handle as much as I used to be able to,” she testified. “It's taken so much. I wish it wouldn't have happened.”

Snyder's father, Ricky Snyder, said his daughter nearly died from her wounds.

“I watched her suffer,” Ricky Snyder testified. “It's something you never forget. It will never go away.”

Ricky Snyder said no prison sentence will ease his family's pain.

“It don't matter how much time served, and no amount of money can make up for what my daughter went through,” Ricky Snyder said.

Leskinen said the sentence he imposed was in the mitigated range because Pritts cooperated with police. Absent Pritts' admission to shooting at the truck, Leskinen said, prosecutors might not have proven their case.

In addition, Leskinen said he took into account Pritts' honorable military service and the 30 to 40 letters he received in support of him.

“I've never seen the kinds of letters I saw in this case, and I do believe the defendant is genuinely sorry,” Leskinen said.

Pritts' attorney, William Difenderfer of Pittsburgh, wanted a shorter prison sentence on the aggravated assault charge, followed by longer terms on house arrest so Pritts could maintain his employment.

Leskinen said the “community needs to know the punishment fits the crime,” noting there was “no excuse” for firing a weapon at someone shining a spotlight, causing near fatal injuries.

“This is too much anger, too much retaliation,” Les­kinen said.

In addition to the prison sentence, Pritts was ordered to pay $22,721 to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare for Cortney Snyder's medical bills and to serve three years of probation on his release from prison.
 

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