The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

January 26, 2013

Defendant testifies in murder trial

PALESTINE — In stating its case to the jury Friday, the defense presented testimony from the defendant in his retrial for the shooting death of an Anderson County man almost four years ago.

Robert Lynn Pridgen, 59, of Palestine, was tried for the January 2009 shooting death of 40-year-old Paul Rohne in March 2011, however, that trial ended in a mistrial after the jury indicated it was deadlocked at 8-4.

Pridgen, who did not testify in the 2011 trial, took the stand Friday and was subjected to lengthy questioning by his own attorney, Jeff Haas, as well as attorney for the state, First Assistant District Attorney Stanley Sokolowski.

Haas began his questioning by attempting to establish Pridgen’s relationship with Rohne, with the defendant testifying that the two had been good friends since before Pridgen’s third divorce in about 2001.

According to testimony, Rohne had begun dating a woman named Carla, who was friends with Pridgen and his then-wife Vicky. The two men remained friends after both had gone through respective divorces, Pridgen testified.

“We talked on the phone almost every night,” he said.

Pridgen, who has been living with his third ex-wife at her home in Neches since his retirement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, recalled how in 2008 Rohne and his former wife “begged” Pridgen to allow Rohne to live in his home, located in Bois D’Arc north of Montalba.

“I was reluctant to let anyone live in my house,” Pridgen said. “I had heard horror stories about renters and what they could do. I didn’t need the money and didn’t want anyone living there.”

Eventually, in July 2008, Pridgen relented, allowing Rohne to rent his home on the stipulation that the master bedroom and bathroom be left available for use by Pridgen.

Pridgen’s last visit with Rohne was the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2009, when Pridgen was asked by his third ex-wife if he would stay at his home for a few days in Bois D’Arc as she was under a deadline at work.

“There was no argument about it,” Pridgen testified. “I agreed and went.”

Pridgen took with him a duffel bag of clothing, medicine and toiletries, as well as a cooler of beer and soda, a 30-pack of beer and a half-pint of vodka. He also took his guns — a .45 semi-automatic revolver and 12-gauge shotgun, and a Leatherman (a multi-tool with a serrated knife blade).

“Paul had said there were some hogs tearing up the yard, so I brought the shotgun and No. 4 shot so I could ‘pepper’ them,” Pridgen said about his reason for bringing the shotgun. “Hogs are smart and once they are peppered, they usually won’t return.”

Pridgen described his visit with Rohne that evening as a normal one.

“We watched TV, solved the world’s problems and talked about hunting, fishing, women, politics and the war,” he testified. “If we were together we would usually drink — sometimes heavily. We would get more intoxicated than normal, but not ‘slobbering’ drunk.”

Pridgen testified that on the night of the shooting he estimated that he consumed from six to eight beers and several shots of vodka, finishing his half-pint and drinking from Rohne’s half-gallon of vodka.

“I remember every time the glass emptied, (Rohne) filled it up again,” he testified.

A couple of weeks prior to the shooting, Pridgen testified, a telephone conversation had occurred regarding a sexual situation Rohne had been involved in — a conversation that was brought up again on the night of the shooting.

“He said to me ‘Lynn, you sure seem to show of lot of interest in that.You ought to try it sometime,’” Pridgen testified.

Later, between 10 p.m. and midnight, Pridgen estimated, he had fallen asleep on the left side of the loveseat in the den.

“My left arm was on the arm of the chair and my right arm was just sitting there. I was sitting up asleep,” he testified. “(Rohne) was sitting right beside me. Our arms were touching.”

Pridgen testified that he was awakened to a startling situation.

“I woke up and Paul was rubbing my genitals with his left hand,” he testified. “I started to get up and he (Rohne) said, ‘don’t get up, just relax and enjoy the pleasure.’

“I jumped up about one second after he said that and went around the coffee table to the sliding glass door,” Pridgen said. “I was going to get out of the house, but I didn’t because the door was locked.”

As he was attempting to open the door, Pridgen testified that he turned back to see Rohne had a knife in his hand and was “getting up and coming towards (him).”  The knife had never been seen before by Pridgen, he testified.

“I was eight foot, maybe seven foot away from Paul,” Pridgen  stated. “I thought something bad was about to happen to me... I know I was afraid. I know I was scared.”

Instinctually, Pridgen testified, he grabbed his shotgun which was leaning up against the wall next to the sliding glass door.

“I reached and got the shotgun. I didn’t even aim — I just turned it and shot Paul,” Pridgen said. “Paul fell back onto the loveseat and slumped over. My mouth dropped open and I just thought, ‘what the hell just happened.’

“It was kind of like a dream. I was in shock. I was traumatized.”

A few minutes later, Pridgen testified, he called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that he had shot Rohne.

“I was just in shock,” Pridgen said to explain his unusual tone with the dispatcher.

Earlier in the week, the dispatcher who answered the 9-1-1 call testified that Pridgen’s tone was “non-chalant.”

“Just because I didn’t show any concern, doesn’t mean I wasn’t concerned. Paul Rohne was my friend,” Pridgen testified. “I knew it was a serious situation, but I still wasn’t myself.”  

As part of their cross examination, state attorneys brought in the loveseat on which the incident occurred and asked Pridgen to demonstrate his actions and positions prior to and at the time of the shooting. An investigator for the district attorney’s office portrayed Rohne during part of the re-enactment.

Also testifying for the defense were: Dennis Keith Pridgen, the defendant’s brother; James “Ricky” Young, a friend and TDCJ coworker of Pridgen; Priscilla Rudd, another friend and coworker; and Mark McMahon, who worked with Pridgen at Alcoa and at TDCJ.

Those witnesses were called to testify to Pridgen’s character, using phrases like “very laid back,” “a very, very peaceful man” and “not easily provoked” in describing Pridgen.

“I don’t think you could punch a fight out of him,” Young said about the defendant.

The jury will hear closing statements from both sides beginning at 9 a.m. Monday in the district courtroom (second floor) at the Anderson County Courthouse with 87th State District Judge Debra Oakes Evans presiding. The case will then go to the  jury for deliberation.

Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at mrainwater@palestineherald.com

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