Jury convicts woman of exploiting mentally disabled man

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A Bowie County jury returned a guilty verdict in less than half an hour Wednesday for a Texarkana woman who scammed a disabled man last March.

This morning the jury of five women and seven men is scheduled to hear testimony and arguments concerning the punishment Karen Paroline, 51, should receive for preying on a trusting person with an impaired intellect. Exploitation of a disabled person is a third degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. But because of Paroline’s prior criminal history, the state is seeking to enhance the punishment range Paroline faces to as much as 25 to 99 years or life.

Paroline first met Sherman Prewitt, a 34-year-old autistic man, at a gas station in Hooks, Texas. Sherman Prewitt told the jury he thought he was doing the right thing when he offered to buy Paroline $5 worth of gas.

Paroline told Sherman Prewitt she wanted to buy gas at a different station because the gas at the Texaco in Hooks is watered down and convinced Sherman Prewitt to ride with her to the Love’s truck stop in Leary, Texas. Paroline didn’t stop the pump at $5 when she gassed up her car in Leary.

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This brought protest from Sherman Prewitt and a false promise from Paroline. Paroline told Sherman Prewitt she could put money back in his checking account at a Walmart store if he would give her his debit card and his personal identification number.

At the Walmart in New Boston, Paroline racked up more than $200 in purchases and cash back using Sherman Prewitt’s card as he waited in her car outside. When Paroline left the New Boston Walmart she told Sherman Prewitt they would have to go to Walmart in Texarkana, Texas, to put the money back in his account.

At the Texarkana Walmart, Paroline made more self-serving purchases until the debit card was declined for a lack of funds. This time Paroline told Sherman Prewitt she had successfully put money back in his checking account when she returned to her car. Paroline told Sherman Prewitt he needed only to go in the store and sign some papers to finalize the transaction.

When Sherman Prewitt walked into the Texarkana Walmart, Paroline took off, abandoning him far from his parents’ home in Hooks.

Sherman Prewitt’s mother, Beth Prewitt, told the jury her son has a job sweeping the parking lot at Dairy Queen in Hooks where he works about an hour per day, six days a week. She said her son, who is not capable of driving a car, walks to nearby stores and at times rides an “adult trike,” as well. Beth Prewitt said Sherman Prewitt lives in a portable building behind the family’s house where he can play his drums and karaoke machine without disturbing anyone.

Beth Prewitt said her son is trusting and has difficulty managing his health and his diet. Beth Prewitt said Sherman Prewitt usually spends a few dollars at a time when he uses his debit card to spend the disability check he receives from the government.

Sherman Prewitt’s case worker, Laura Shackelford, who oversees his mental health treatment plan at Community Healthcore in Texarkana, said he is very trusting of anyone and could be misled with ease.

“He knows what stranger danger is now,” Shackelford said.

Sherman Prewitt’s defense attorney, Chief Public Defender Rick Shumaker, grilled Sherman Prewitt during his cross examination. Shumaker asked him why he didn’t call someone on his cell phone and implied that Paroline and Sherman Prewitt knew one another.

Paroline, who wore a blue ribbon in her hair similar to the red one Sherman Prewitt said she was wearing March 21, 2015, wiped tears from her cheeks with a crumpled tissue as the lawyers gave their final arguments.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Shepherd and Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter argued that Paroline conned someone she saw as an easy mark.

“She intentionally took his debit card and bought things for herself. He didn’t give her permission to do that,” Carter argued. “She used his card time and time again and then when the money was gone she left him at Walmart.”

Shepherd described Sherman Prewitt as a “trusting soul.”

“Sherman trusts everyone. He didn’t know there were bad people out there,” Shepherd said. “He went out of his way to try to help a woman pretending that she needed gas money. And what did he get for it? He was conned and ripped off.”

The jury was instructed by 202nd District Judge Leon Pesek, Jr. to be back at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston to decide Paroline’s punishment at 9 a.m.

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