Jury saw Sullivan guilty as charged

Friday, January 15, 2010
Tresha Grissom, standing at rear, holds her 2-1/2-year-old son Cohen in Lewisburg City Hall where it was standing room only for this month's meeting of the City Council.

A Cornersville man was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after a two and a half day trial this week.

Donnie L. Sullivan, 53, of 115 Beechwood Ave., was found guilty in the shooting death of his stepson, Timothy Swaw, on Feb. 15 last year. A jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 70 minutes before returning the verdict.

Sullivan's sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 3. He had been free on a $100,000 bond, secured by four properties. Judge Robert Crigler ordered Sullivan's bond increased to $115,000, and he was led away in handcuffs, still using the cane he carried throughout the trial.

Sullivan did not testify in his own defense, and his attorneys - Donna Hargrove, Bill Harold, and Michael Collins of the Public Defender's Office - did not call any defense witnesses.

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard spent almost two hours on his closing argument.

"This was a senseless, uncalled for death," Barnard told the jury. "Those really bother me. This has nothing to do with self defense, and everything to do with anger."

Sullivan's statement was read to the jury during Detective Bob Johnson's testimony Tuesday afternoon, and Barnard read it again during his closing argument.

"He came into the room. He was holding a gun and I shot him," Sullivan confessed to Johnson. At that time neither of them knew that Swaw was already dead. Johnson testified that later, when he went to Sullivan's cell to tell him Swaw was dead, Sullivan said, "I guess I'm going to be in jail a long time," and rolled back over in his bunk.

The defense's closing argument was much shorter, as Harold sought to discredit the prosecution's picture of Swaw as a peaceable man.

"It was Tim's fault," Harold said. "Tim Swaw brought that on himself. He could have got this family out of that house.

"He had a weapon, no matter how he was holding it," Harold continued. "Tim Swaw took the fight to him. He was going to finish showing him who was boss.

"Donnie Sullivan was defending himself," Harold concluded. He "did the only thing he could have done to protect himself."

As customary, the prosecution had the last word, and Barnard chose to emphasize evidence from the ballistics expert and the medical examiner that showed Swaw had been shot from a range of 12 feet, and the shotgun pellets penetrated his body in a downward direction, showing that Sullivan was standing when he took the shot.

"I know it's an emotional case," the judge said, expressing his sorrow to the victim's family, and cautioning spectators against any outburst when the verdict was announced.

Members of the Swaw family, including Wanda Sullivan, attended the trial on one side of the courtroom, while Donnie Sullivan's family members stayed on the other side. They clustered around him after the verdict, saying goodbye. If they can post the additional $15,000 bond, Sullivan will be released until the sentencing hearing.

As a Class C Felony, voluntary manslaughter is punishable by a sentence of three to 15 years, and a fine up to $10,000. As a first-time offender, Sullivan might be eligible for a parole hearing after serving 30 percent of his incarceration, and be out of prison in less than a year. Thereafter, he'd be on parole.