Jury returns guilty verdict in Fruitts trial

Written by Kelly Ducote, The Observer December 16, 2013 11:02 am

Harold “J.R.” Fruitts was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide late Friday afternoon in the case involving the death of longtime Union County employee John E. Rysdam III.

The jury found Fruitts not guilty on all other charges, which included second-degree manslaughter and three counts of reckless endangerment of another.

A sentencing date was set for 10 a.m. Jan. 17, 2014. Judge Brian Dretke allowed Fruitts to remain out on his release agreement until sentencing.

Jurors heard testimony throughout the week in the case which involved a Feb. 28, 2012, vehicle versus pedestrian crash. Fruitts was driving the 1996 Ford Bronco that struck and killed Rysdam, who was working with a group of Union County Public Works employees to fix a pothole on Palmer Junction Road just outside of Elgin.

Fruitts testified last week that he was messing with the vehicle’s stereo system prior to the crash.

Following the verdict, Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson said he was pleased with the result.

Criminally negligent homicide is a Class B felony and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“We think the jury did an excellent job in analyzing the evidence,” Thompson said, adding that it was a complex case. The jury deliberated for about six hours Friday.

Thompson said the Rysdam family seemed pleased that Fruitts was found guilty on the criminally negligent homicide charge.

“I think the family is happy he will be held accountable to the level that he should be,” he said.

As for sentencing, Thompson said his legal team has not yet looked that far in advance. He said he wants the family to have time to spend together for the holidays before sentencing in January.

Lead defense attorney J. Robert Moon, of Baker City, said he was disappointed with the verdict.

“I think he should have been exonerated,” Moon said.