Judge Roger Brandon on Tuesday found probable cause to continue prosecution of a Cornersville man charged with the shooting death of his stepson.
The state's case against Donnie Sullivan, 52, now goes to the Marshall County Grand Jury which is scheduled to meet next on March 18. Brandon presided over the preliminary hearing Tuesday instead of Sessions Court Judge Steve Bowden because Sullivan has been one of Bowden's client's in the county judge's private practice.
Brandon also reduced Sullivan's bond to $100,000, down from $250,000.
Sullivan is accused of shooting his stepson, Timothy Swaw, 31, in Cornersville on Feb. 15.
Sullivan's attorney, Walter Bussart, made an impassioned plea that his client should be freed and the case should go no further.
"We sincerely and adamantly maintain no crime has been committed," said Bussart. "An innocent man is in jail ... he's going to sit there in jail for defending his home and himself - is that the American way? The court ought to dismiss this case now.
"Just because a homicide occurs does not mean a crime has been committed," added Bussart. "The law books are full of cases of justifiable homicide," he said, citing the recent case of Mary Winkler who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after killing her husband, a Tennessee preacher.
"If there ever was self-defense and justifiable homicide," Bussart said, "this is it."
Countering that was Assistant District Attorney Brooke Grubb.
"You can't use deadly force when deadly force hasn't been used against you," Grubb said. "He stepped way over the boundaries. The state is here to uphold the law.
"The real shame and tragedy is the 3 1/2-year-old fatherless child," Grubb said.
Swaw's widow, Traci, and his nephew, Brandon, both testified that Sullivan had "busted his lip" when he fell as the two men struggled.
Marshall County Sheriff's Department Detective Bob Johnson reported that the statement Sullivan made to him was that "Tim jumped on him, hit him in the face, and got him down twice." According to Johnson, in the statement Sullivan said he was "scared, so he got a gun and loaded it. When Tim pointed a gun at him, he shot Tim."
"You will not beat me in my house again," is what Sullivan said after the shooting, according to Stacy Adams, the neighbor from across the road.
Adams said he had been outside that day, working in his garden, but had gone indoors to watch the Daytona 500 when he heard a "boom." Moments later he looked out and saw a man sitting on the tailgate of a truck across the street, bleeding.
"He's been shot - call 911," cried Adams as he hurried out to see if he could help.
The ambulance arrived promptly, but stayed on Main Street because Sullivan was still armed.
"I thought he was going to shoot himself, or shoot him (Swaw) again," testified Adams.
"I begged the ambulance people to come down," said Adams. "We sat there for 45 minutes watching him bleed to death. The little girl (Swaw's 3 1/2-year-old daughter) was standing there looking at her daddy die."
"Did this upset you?" Grubb asked.
"I have nightmares about it every night," Adams replied. "Me and everybody was the cause of that man dying."
Detective Johnson was not on duty that day, and the first he heard of the shooting was a call from one of his neighbors in Cornersville.
"This guy's going to bleed to death," Johnson's neighbor told him. "The ambulance won't come down because there's no police there."
Johnson got dressed and drove over to Beechwood Avenue. When he got there he found three state troopers, two Marshall County deputies, and the Cornersville police chief and one of his officers. The victim had just been loaded into the ambulance and it was turning around, about to leave. Swaw's wife and little girl were getting in their truck to follow the ambulance.
Johnson asked permission to look around the house at 115 Beechwood Ave., and Wanda Sullivan, the victim's mother and Sullivan's wife, gave it to him. Johnson started taking photographs, and he and the other officers took statements.
He told the court there was blood all the way from the living room of the house to the driveway. The .22-caliber rifle Swaw is alleged to have been carrying was on the floor in the doorway of the bedroom, and the 16-gauge pump shotgun that Sullivan is reported to have used was propped against the bed. Neither gun was loaded, reported Johnson, and there was one empty shotgun shell on the floor.
The court was told that Mrs. Sullivan is currently in the hospital. Traci Swaw said that her mother-in-law has a number of health problems, including multiple sclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She uses an oxygen tank. It was Mrs. Sullivan's health that sparked the disagreement in the first place: Timothy and Brandon said she was having such a hard time breathing that she needed to be taken to the emergency room, while Donnie Sullivan asserted all she needed was a "mucus pill" and he would take her to the doctor on Tuesday.