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USING SLEDGEHAMMERS TO SWAT FLIES

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Pedigo bolted from the apartment, jumped in the truck and started driving after four children he saw running from the complex parking lot.

He stopped and chased the kids on foot. The one he caught was 11-year-old Mitchell Cole, who lived nearby.

The versions of Pedigo, the boy and the other children vary dramatically from that point on, but a jury--after listening to all of them--would ultimately take just a few minutes to decide Pedigo was telling the truth.

When he caught up with Cole, Pedigo says, he grabbed him by the shirt collar. A heavyset kid who weighs almost the same amount as Pedigo, Cole fell down, wet his pants and became upset.

"I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and kind of yanked him," Pedigo says. "The kid outweighs me, so my hand kind of twisted as he fell."
When Cole was on the ground, Pedigo says, he let go of him and then gave him a good talking to.

"I told him, 'You're going to get shot for this someday,'" Pedigo says. "I told him to watch himself, control himself and stop messing with people's things. The kid was young, and my thought was to take him to his parents."
Cole, and the three other children with him that night, told very different stories. They said they did not deliberately set off the truck alarm, although one of them may have brushed the truck accidentally.

They claimed that Pedigo almost ran them over when he chased them in his truck, then caught Cole, threw him to the ground, choked him and threatened to shoot him.

Kenneth Cole, the boy's father, says the children were "absolutely terrorized" by Pedigo and feared for their lives.

Three of the children ran to a nearby house and called the police. When Pedigo learned that, he decided to stick around and complain to the cops about what he thought the kids had done to his truck.

Shortly after police arrived, so did Cole's parents, who were furious, according to police reports.

Kenneth Cole, the father, is a psychologist who does contract work for the Maricopa County Probation Department. He insisted that Pedigo be arrested, and he was, for aggravated assault.

Initially, the charges against Pedigo were dropped in a Justice of the Peace court. But Cole continued to insist that Pedigo be prosecuted, claims Mort Rivkind, Pedigo's defense attorney.

Cole says he did not attempt to exert any undue influence on Pedigo's case, but did want to see Pedigo prosecuted.

The case went before a grand jury, which indicted Pedigo for child abuse. That struck Rivkind and Thomas Phalen, a second attorney representing Pedigo, as just plain bizarre.

Rivkind says he could find no other case where an adult was charged with child abuse when he or she "did not have care, custody or control" of the child involved.

Rivkind and Phalen spent a year firing off motions and appeals, trying to get the case against Pedigo dismissed, or at least reduced to a misdemeanor.

Pedigo concedes that, by grabbing a juvenile, he was guilty of a minor assault charge and would have pleaded guilty to one. But not a felony.

Even Kenneth Cole, the boy's father, says he believes Pedigo was overcharged. Though he adamantly believes Pedigo should have paid some price for his actions, Cole says he did not understand why the case was charged as felony child abuse.

As the case dragged on, Pedigo and Shawnie got married. They had to cut short their honeymoon to Disneyland because he was due back in town for a court hearing.

Prosecutor Dave Palmer offered Pedigo the same type of plea bargain Cheryl Johnson received in her case--a Class 6 felony that could be reduced to a misdemeanor later. Pedigo turned it down.

(Palmer did not respond to a request for comment on the case.)

"There were times I wanted to take the plea bargain just to get out of it," Pedigo says. But then, he says, he would have happened on a whole new round of trouble if the boy's parents filed a civil suit against him.

Awaiting trial, Pedigo and his wife tried to get on with their lives. But they found out that accused felons can't get mortgages, and, unable to buy a home, spent much of their early married life sleeping on a futon at his parents' house.

They argued about the case, as she worried and he tried to keep it out of mind.
"I guess it was the terror of not knowing if Jason was going to be there after all of this," says Shawnie Pedigo, a "nail technician." "I would say it probably about broke our marriage up three or four times."
As an accused felon, Pedigo could not leave the state without permission--which he obtained for his honeymoon. He could not go dove hunting, because he was not allowed to have a gun.

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David Pasztor