He was 16 when he killed a Durham store clerk. He could be out of prison at 40

A teen who pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a convenience store clerk will spend about 20 years in state prison.

Jarrell Paylor of Durham was 16 when he was charged with killing John Wesley Pruitt Jr., 41, at the Family Fare convenience store during an attempted robbery in 2017.

On Wednesday Paylor, now 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 240 months to 300 months, as part of a plea deal. He will receive credit for the roughly 845 days he spent in jail.

Assistant District Attorney Alyson Grine said Paylor walked into the store wearing a black mask and pointing a pistol at Pruitt around 7 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2017.

“He said ‘This is a stick up,’” Grine said. Pruitt drew his weapon, and they exchanged gunfire.

Paylor dropped his gun, ran from the store and jumped into a light blue sedan, Grine said.

Pruitt fell on the floor bleeding from his right side. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Shortly after the shooting, Paylor walked into a local hospital with a gunshot wound. Surveillance video showed he had ridden to the hospital in the same car that he jumped in after the robbery, Grine said.

An officer recognized and spoke to a man in the car, who admitted to the events at the gas station and showed police where Paylor had stashed his clothes before he went to the hospital, Grine said.

Investigators also saw photos on Instragram of Paylor holding the gun, which had been painted red, that he left at the convenience store.

In addition to a first-degree murder charge, Paylor also faced two counts of attempted robbery, two counts of possession of a stolen firearm and larceny from a person. Those charges were dismissed under the plea.

‘Mental health issues’

Defense attorney Daniel Meier said Paylor “had some mental health Issues,” around the time of the robbery and has always been willing to accept responsibility for the killing.

Pruitt’s family members have been present at preliminary hearings, including 17 at the last one, but “they felt, emotionally, they were not able to be in the same room” with Paylor on Wednesday, Grine said.

Pruitt was a beloved father, husband and community member, Grine said.

Paylor could be released from prison before he turns 40.

“[He] will have the opportunity to experience the joys of family and productive work that Mr. Pruitt is now denied,” Grine said. “To the extent that he remembers this hearing, I hope [he] will take advantage of those opportunities.”

2nd convenience-store shooting

Wednesday’s hearing was the second this week in a fatal Durham convenience-store shooting.

On Tuesday, Robert Bernard Jackson pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder related to a convenience-store robbery in December 2016, The News & Observer reported.

A prosecutor said Jackson, 37, and two others robbed the Buy Quick store at 419. S. Briggs Ave. on Dec. 19, 2015. .Jackson shot store employee Mohamed Thabet Shoufar, 58, during the robbery.

About two weeks later, Jackson shot and killed Nicholas Bell, 20, one of his accomplices in the robbery, a prosecutor said. Jackson was concerned about Bell talking about the robbery, the prosecutor said.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.