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Judge lowers bond for 2, keeps another the same

Sheriff’s investigator Jeff Bittle testified in bond hearings Monday in Van Buren County Circuit Court.

In a bond reduction hearing for Rodney Merritt, one of five people charged with aggravated robbery in a March home invasion, Bittle said Merritt hid in a closet when he tried to arrest Merritt in Conway.

Bittle testified that Merritt gave a statement to deputies, but when public defender Nathan Morgan asked if Merritt hadn’t requested an attorney, Bittle agreed that he may have. “I believe he did,” Bittle said.

Judge Charles E. Clawson denied a lower bond for Merritt, which had previously been set at $50,000. Merritt’s pre-trial is set for Sept. 3.

Two co-defendants in the case, Samantha Brock and Jennifer Spencer, also asked for a lower bond.

Bittle testified that the women helped plan the robbery. Spencer claimed she was not in the room at her residence when the planning was under way, but Bittle said her co-defendants said she was the mastermind of the plan. He said the perpetrators planned the robbery to pay Spencer’s utility bills and rent. Spencer’s attorney, Lorie Mason, asked if Bittle was aware Spencer was planning to move. “She may have mentioned that,” he said.

Deputy Prosecutor Chad Brown told the judge the women’s $40,000 bonds were “inherently reasonable.” Mason argued that Spencer’s involvment was not clear and she has only a minor criminal history. Spencer, Mason said, is not a flight risk.

Clawson said that because neither woman was present at the invasion and there are questions about the roles they played he was going to lower their bonds to $7,500 each. Their next court appearances are scheduled for September.

Also Monday:

* Clawson issued a failure to appear warrant for Anita Pruitt who was due in court for pre-trial at 9 a.m. on felony burglary and theft by receiving charges. Deputy prosecutors said Pruitt had failed to show up twice before. Pruitt entered the courtroom before noon and Clawson told her he was ordering the warrant to be executed. Pruitt was handcuffed and taken to the county jail. She returned after the lunch break and her $10,000 bond was reinstated after she promised Clawson she would not be late or absent again. Her pre-trial hearing was rescheduled for Sept. 3.

* Prosecutors said the state would be nol prossing charges against Nicholas Derose when the federal district attorney takes over the case. Derose has been charged with 41 counts of distributing/possessing/viewing matter depicting child sex.

* In a case out of Searcy County, James Perry Moore was sentenced to 60 months in the Department of Correction after pleading guilty to commercial burglary. He testified that when he was working at a gas station, he used his key to re-enter the store after it closed and took “all their money and pack of cigarettes.”

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