Tisha Pruett could not explain in 35th District Court Thursday why she stole more than $7,000 from the Early Girls Softball Association in 2014 and more than $23,000 from the Greenleaf Cemetery Association from 2014 to 2015.
    “I can tell you why you did it,” District Judge Steve Ellis told the 45-year-old Pruett as he sentenced her to eight years in prison for the Greenleaf Cemetery theft. “It’s selfish and it’s greedy … your sense of entitlement continues. I don’t think you’re a horrible person. I do think you’re a thief.”
    Pruett pleaded guilty to aggregated theft from the cemetery association as court began Thursday morning, and Ellis heard a full day of testimony in the punishment hearing that followed from representatives of the softball and cemetery associations. Pruett and her husband, Josh, are already serving deferred adjudication sentences in the softball association theft after entering pleas earlier.
    Pruett admitted to stealing the money from the cemetery association while working as the office manager at the historic site.
    Josh Pruett was president of the softball association and coached with his wife when the two stole the money from that organization, according to testimony. He was working as a CPS supervisor and lost his job after being indicted.
    The Pruetts, who formerly lived in Early with their two young daughters, now live in the McLennan County town of Moody, where Josh Pruett pastors two small Methodist churches.
    Prosecutor Elisha Bird elicited often emotional testimony that was not only about the theft of the money but the betrayal of friendship and trust and the harm to the community that went beyond the thefts. Pruett’s court-appointed attorney, Patrick Howard, asked Ellis to give Pruett another shot at probation.
    The Pruetts have repaid most of the money to the softball association, but they have not made any restitution to the cemetery, which cannot take the hit of the stolen funds, cemetery board president Steve Harris said. The theft has threatened the survival of the cemetery, and even though Ellis ordered that Tisha Pruett repay the money, it was acknowledged that it’s unlikely Pruett will ever make full repayment.
    Bird said there are a couple of provisions for collecting restitution in connection with the prison sentence. Any money credited to Pruett’s inmate fund can be garnished for restitution, Bird said. After she leaves prison, the probation in the softball association theft will remain in effect and can be modified to require repayment to the cemetery association, Bird said.
    Tisha Pruett has not seemed to take her probation in the softball association theft seriously, according to testimony from probation officials in the Brown County office, where the probation originated, and in McLennan County, where her probation was transferred. Pruett offered up excuses as to why she could not perform community service or get a job, and she did not follow through on promises to the two offices, according to testimony.
    The thefts from both associations occurred through Pruett’s use of debit cards for personal shopping trips in businesses including restaurants, hotels and stores, where items including bicycles were purchased, according to testimony.
    Former and present softball association board members said they’d been close friends with the Pruetts, and their daughters and the Pruetts’ daughters had also been friends.
    “It almost broke us,” former board member Vann Stewart said. “It took us a year or two to get out of that hole. Quite frankly, it just pisses me off. How do you do that to your kids? How do you go and be a preacher and preach on that? How do the kids justify what their mom and dad did?”
    Harris said Greenleaf Cemetery is in a “very dire” financial condition, noting that there were issues that went beyond the theft of the funds. The current board is working to rebuild the public’s confidence and get “the ship in order,” Harris said.
    “We’ve been in a constant fundraiser mode for the last year,” he said.
    Harris also said if the cemetery association doesn’t receive restitution from Pruett, he will recommend dissolving the association and asking the city and county to consider a joint takeover.
    Pruett, the only person to testify for the defense, sobbed as she said she is “so, so sorry for everything. … I put my family through a terrible ordeal. I have destroyed my kids’ lives.”
    Howard asked Pruett is she is going to find a way “to get this money paid.”
    “Yes,” Pruett replied.
    “How are you going to do it?” Howard asked.
    Pruett said she’ll find a job — digging ditches if she has to — and she hopes to obtain a loan to use for making repayment. “I don’t know that I can fix the emotional damage that I’ve done,” Pruett said. “I want to pay the money back. I want to make it right.”
    But Bird told Ellis in her closing argument that Pruett is a con artist. “This is more than a financial crime,” Bird said. “There is no way to make everyone whole. It’s just not possible. She has ruined — ruined — tons of people’s lives.”
    As Ellis prepared to announce Pruett’s sentence, he delivered a stern, impassioned lecture, telling Pruett she’d betrayed trust “repeatedly. I’ve just had it up to here listening to this today. You’ve done it repeatedly, continuing on and on and on. You’ve succeeded in breaking into prison, and you’re going to go there.”
    Ellis asked if anyone wanted to address Pruett, and Harris stepped forward. “I hope you will get help where you’re going. I really do,” Harris said. “There have been so many hurt by your actions.”
    Harris said he hopes Pruett will reach out “to those you are leaving behind out here” and help the cemetery recoup some of the money Pruett stole.