Sullivan sentenced to nearly five years

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Cornersville man was sentenced Wednesday to four years and nine months in prison as a result of a guilty verdict in the shotgun slaying death of his stepson.

Donnie L. Sullivan, 53, of Beechwood Avenue, was found guilty by a Marshall County jury early last month. Court officers said they anticipate an appeal in Sullivan's case.

Timothy Swaw, 31, died on Feb. 15, 2009. His son is now about 4 1/2 years old. Countering Sullivan's claim of self-defense, Swaw's widow, Traci, and his nephew, Brandon, testified at the trial that Sullivan had "busted" Swaw's lip when he fell as the two men struggled.

Sullivan remains out on $115,000 bond, the amount set by Judge Robert Crigler after the trial.

During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard Barnard read a statement from Sullivan to a sheriff's investigator.

"He came into the room. He was holding a gun and I shot him," Sullivan told Sheriff's Detective Bob Johnson, according to the statement Barnard read to the jury.

"It was Tim's fault," Assistant Public Defender Bill 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."

There had been a family dispute in the yard. Conflict continued in the house.

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

Subsequently, Johnson went to Sullivan's cell to tell him Swaw died and Sullivan replied, "I guess I'm going to be in jail a long time."

Sullivan might serve less than 1-1/2 years in confinement because of the way state sentencing laws are written. He is a first time offender, so he would be eligible for a parole hearing after serving 30 percent of the four years and nine months.

"No sentence seems adequate when there's been loss of life," District Attorney Chuck Crawford said Wednesday afternoon. "But I think the judge did a very good job operating within the constraints of the law in reaching a fair sentence."

Two defense attorneys, John Norton of Shelbyville and another lawyer who spoke on a condition of anonymity, said Sullivan could have been sentenced to as little as three years or as many as six.

"This was a very hard case," Crawford said. "The D-A's office took it seriously and worked very hard. The jurors worked hard. The jurors who heard the proof found him guilty as charged."

Sullivan was indicted in April on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Without commenting on grand jury deliberations or procedures, the district attorney said his office had "several indictment (documents) prepared representing the various levels of homicide.

"The grand jurors selected the charge they felt most appropriate and," Crawford said, "a regular jury ratified that decision."

Sullivan was represented by Walter Bussart of Lewisburg for his preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court. The Marshall County Public Defender's Office represented Sullivan during his Circuit Court trial.

Defendants must request a new trial before the appeals process may begin.