After six years of appeals and 12 years behind bars, a Washington County woman should be free some time today for the first time in her adult life.
Tiffany Pritchett, 30, of Donora, was ordered released yesterday by Washington County President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca following lengthy plea negotiations by defense counsel and the county district attorney's office.
Ms. Pritchett, who maintains her innocence, pleaded no contest yesterday to third-degree murder charges in the December 1993 shooting death of Troy Groomes, 25, also of Donora.
Ms. Pritchett was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1994. She was sentenced to 69 to 138 months in prison, but she already has served more than 143 months.
Ms. Pritchett was convicted chiefly on the testimony of a co-defendant, Dameon Isbell, who claimed he, Mr. Groomes, and Ms. Pritchett watched a movie at a friend's house, then walked up a snow-covered hill, where Ms. Pritchett shot Mr. Groomes in the back of the head.
Police had no suspects in the case until three months later, when Mr. Isbell was found in possession of the gun used in the homicide while attempting to rob a Donora convenience store. He told police Ms. Pritchett, who had no criminal record, shot Mr. Groomes over a rape.
Mr. Isbell was not charged in the murder and served six years for a robbery conviction.
Ms. Pritchett's 1994 murder conviction was overturned earlier this year after a judge ruled her trial lawyer was ineffective for allowing Ms. Pritchett to submit to a polygraph exam alone while he attended a college football game.
Ms. Pritchett's appeals languished for years until Washington lawyer Noah Geary took over her case two years ago.
Ms. Pritchett rejected previous plea offers and was ready for a new court battle, Mr. Geary said. Her grandmother's failing health and an appeal from the county district attorney's office, however, persuaded Ms. Pritchett to accept the offer rather than wait several more years for a new trial.
Ms. Pritchett, dressed in the standard orange Washington County Correctional Facility uniform with her hair held back in a headband, looked nervous and made no comments during the court proceeding. Family members sobbed quietly.
After the pleas, Ms. Pritchett looked relieved but had no comment at she left the courtroom.
County Assistant District Attorney Michael Fagella said he was satisfied with the outcome, as was District Attorney John C. Pettit.
"I think that justice has been served in this instance," Mr. Pettit said. "We're pleased that this is over and we'll move on to the next case."
While Ms. Pritchett has been in prison, Mr. Geary said, she earned her high school diploma and several certifications. Ms. Pritchett is anxious to leave prison, he said, and see new things, such as cell phones. She plans to attend college and keeps a positive outlook.
"Amazingly, she is not bitter," Mr. Geary said.
Still "young and naive," Mr. Geary said, Ms. Pritchett will move from the area after her release, expected some time today.
"She has a lot of life ahead, and she plans to live it," Mr. Geary said.
Janice Crompton can be reached at email@example.com or 724-223-0156.