Manslaughter trial under way

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Wanda Sullivan demonstrates to Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard how the victim, her son Timothy Swaw, grasped the .22 rifle.

Witnesses wept on the stand Monday afternoon in Circuit Court as they recounted the last hours of a 41-year-old man's life after being shot in a Cornersville house in front of his wife, daughter, mother and nephew.

Timothy Swaw died on Feb. 15, 2009. On trial charged with manslaughter in the shooting death is Donnie L. Sullivan, 53, of 115 Beechwood Avenue, Cornersville.

"You ain't gonna beat me in my house any more, you SOB," Sullivan said after the shooting, according to court testimony.

Close observers of the case have anticipated Sullivan's lawyers will argue that he shot in self-defense. Even with only two prosecution witnesses testifying the first day, there's been an indication that the state was building a case against such a defense.

Sullivan was indicted in April on a charge of "voluntary manslaughter." State law defines that as the intentional killing of another in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.

A jury of 10 women and four men was selected Monday morning. The final 12 who will decide Sullivan's innocence or guilt will be selected after closing arguments in the trial.

Prosecution and defense both waived their right to make opening statements.

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard began the prosecution's case by calling Wanda Sullivan, 61, mother of the victim, and estranged wife of the accused. She told the jury how her second son, Timothy, had worked as a mechanic at Sloan Ford in Columbia for 18 years, was a veteran of Desert Storm, and had a wife and three-year-old daughter. Timothy had treated the family to a Valentine's Day dinner at Shoney's in Lewisburg, the day before he died.

Wanda described how things had not gone smoothly at Shoney's. Donnie and her 22-year-old grandson, Brandon, who was living with them in Cornersville, had quarreled over cigarettes.

"Donnie got mad at me because he said I was taking up for Brandon," Wanda said.

"Was he mooching off you?" Barnard asked.

"Yes," she answered.

"Donnie Lee Sullivan didn't like it?"

"Yes," Wanda replied, weeping. "He said he was going to 'lock the house down' the next day."

Under questioning, Wanda described how there were guns in the house -- some on a gun rack in the living room, and more in a locked gun cabinet in Donnie's bedroom. She testified that the guns on the rack were unloaded, but the ones in the cabinet "they were loaded."

Wanda was in poor health in February last year, and was on oxygen. On that Sunday, Timothy and his wife and daughter came to Cornersville so that the little girl could ride her small four-wheeler in the Sullivans' level yard. Almost immediately, discussion started about Wanda's health, and whether to take her to the doctor. Donnie said he would give her a "mucus pill" and take her on Tuesday, while the rest of the family was insistent that she go to the emergency room that day.

The discussion escalated into shouting and pushing, and concluded with Timothy getting Donnie in a headlock on the floor and then releasing him when he promised to calm down.

Timothy went outdoors to cool off, and Donnie said he was going in the bathroom to clean the blood off his lip.

"I heard the gun cock," Wanda said. "Tim was on the porch. I said, 'He's got a gun cocked' as Tim was coming through the door."

She testified that Timothy grabbed a gun off the rack, holding it by the barrel, like a baseball bat, and saying, "You're not going to kill my family," as he walked toward Donnie's bedroom. That was all he said, according to Wanda, who said Donnie remained silent.

Timothy walked up to, but not through, the door of the bedroom, Wanda testified, and then came the single shot.

"Oh, I didn't believe he would ever shoot me," said Timothy, Wanda recounted. He went out of the house, bleeding profusely from a wound in his side, and lay on the tailgate of his pickup truck.

The second witness was Timothy Swaw's widow, Tracy.

"Is there any question he (Donnie Sullivan) killed your husband?" asked Barnard.

"No," she answered, weeping as Barnard got her to identify a picture of her late husband and their daughter, taken for Christmas 2008.

Under questioning, Tracy told the same story as Wanda Sullivan, describing the meal at Shoney's, the visit to the Sullivan home, and the quarrel over Wanda's medical condition.

"I'm not taking her to the doctor because she took up for Brandon," Tracy quoted Donnie as saying, later adding that he said, "This is my G-D house and I'll do what I want to."

When they were all outside, with Timothy bleeding on the tailgate of the truck, and Tracy calling 911, she testified that she told Donnie he was going to jail and he replied, "No, this is my G-D house -- I'm not going to jail!"

It hadn't even been a minute, emphasized Barnard, and he had that on his mind: "It's my house; I can shoot him and I'm not going to jail."