By MARY RAINWATER
After about two hours of deliberations, a jury found Robert Lynn Pridgen guilty of murder for the 2009 shooting death of 40-year-old Paul Rohne on Monday, later sentencing him to serve 20 years in prison.
Monday’s verdict and sentencing concluded the retrial of Pridgen, 59, whose initial trial in March 2011 ended in a mistrial after the jury reported it was deadlocked at 8-4.
“I am pleased with the jury’s verdict,” First Assistant District Attorney Stanley Sokolowski said Monday. “The family finally has the closure they have waited four long years for.
“This allows the family to heal and to move on, which is a satisfying feeling,” he continued. “The jury system clearly worked, and I appreciate the effort they (jurors) put into the case.”
Prior to the punishment deliberations, the jury heard testimony from witnesses for the state, include Rohne’s only sister, Gina Tidwell, and his mother, Patsy Gage, both of whom testified how Rohne’s death had affected the family.
“Since he was taken from us, things have not been the same,” Tidwell said. “Part of us is gone. Nothing is the same. We miss him every day.”
Gage, who spent every Tuesday with her son and his late daughter Amberly, agreed with Tidwell.
“When I lost my son, I lost part of my world,” Gage testified. “We are just brokenhearted. Our lives are totally different.”
Witnesses for the defense included Pridgen’s third ex-wife Vicky Pridgen, his first cousin Jim Hailey and former coworkers Reed Dobbins and Carl Davis, who currently serves as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2 in Anderson County.
All of those witnesses were asked to testify to Pridgen’s character, most stating that they were “shocked” to hear about the 2009 shooting and would continue to remain friends with Pridgen in spite of the guilty verdict.
“He was the kind of guy one could automatically take a liking to,” Dobbins said. “I have never seen him become violent with anyone. He is peaceful, witty, smart and a fun guy to be around.”
The jury deliberated for about an hour before returning with the sentence of 20 years. According to the court order, Pridgen will have to serve half of that sentence before he can be eligible for parole.
Following sentencing, Tidwell and Rohne’s father, Tony Rohne, gave victim impact statements.
“You were never my brother’s friend. You were crude and he never wanted you around his family,” Tidwell said to Pridgen. “You have walked around a free man for four years now, and now your freedom is over.
“Our prayers have been answered today.”
According to testimony presented during the trial, Rohne was fatally shot in the upper left chest during the early morning hours of Jan. 27, 2009 following a night of heavy drinking by both men, authorities have said.
Pridgen admitted to shooting Rohne, but claimed self-defense, testifying that he did so after the man had first touched him inappropriately while he was sleeping and then produced a knife.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org