VIROQUA - A 24-year-old Readstown man was sentenced in Vernon County Circuit Court last Friday to 30 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision for first-degree attempted homicide.
Shayne Swadley, who pled guilty to the charge in December as part of a plea agreement, did not receive the 20.5 years of imprisonment that was the joint sentence recommendation of the district attorney and the defense attorney.
Richland County Circuit Judge Andrew Sharp, the substitute judge in the case, set aside the joint sentence recommendation citing a need to protect society and the crime victim, while also creating a penalty appropriate to the horrendous nature of the crime.
Swadley had previously pled guilty to the attempted first-degree murder charge, which was the result of the stabbing of a 45-year-old woman in her mobile home near DeSoto on May 26, 2016.
For his part, Swadley sat impassively in his chair at the defense table next to defense attorney Keith Belzer, as Sharp announced the sentence. Swadley, dressed in faded orange jail scrubs, sat in the chair without moving through most of the hearing staring straight ahead. The only exception came when the description of the horrendous knife injuries Christine Mazilauskas suffered were described by Vernon County District Attorney Timothy Gaskell.
As the attack, which involved slashing the woman’s throat from ear to ear and then repeatedly stabbing her in the arm and leg was described, it moved Swadley to squirm briefly in the chair. It was the only time he moved discernibly during the entire hearing.
In her written statement, Mazilauskas noted she lost her home and job. It now takes her one hour to get dressed. She also still sees Swadley approaching her with the knife.
The victim also wrote that Shayne was like a son to her.
The attack has left her in need of ongoing home care, counseling and physical support.
“I’m sorry for Shayne, but I can’t forgive him,” Mazilauskas wrote.
The badly scarred woman wrote that she wanted Shayne to get a life sentence, but strangely added that it should be followed by 10 years of supervision.
Mazilauskas stated that she lives in fear that Swadley will come to find her.
After the victim’s written statement was read in the courtroom by the district attorney, Ralph Swadley, Shayne’s father, made a statement. He acknowledged his son’s guilt and the fact that he should be sentenced for what he had done. However, Ralph Swadley told the court that others were involved in what happened and were not being charged.
Then after both the DA and defense attorney made statements, it was the defendant’s moment to make a statement.
“Is there anything you’d like to say?” Judge Sharp asked Shayne Swadley at that point.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” Shayne Swadley said. “I don’t know why I did it and I feel terrible for doing it.”
It turned out to be about the only thing the defendant would ever say in open court about the crime.
After reviewing some of the pertinent facts brought up in the hearing, Sharp focused on the matters that would affect his sentencing.
“To me it’s overwhelming,” Sharp said. “The gravity of the offense and the effect on the victim (are the major factors to be considered in sentencing).”
The judge said the stabbing was one of the “most vicious and aggravated crimes” he had seen in his 27 years serving as a judge and before that as a district attorney.
Sharp also had a brief review of some of the other factors that are to be considered in sentencing. He dismissed the idea of probation as inappropriate given the serious nature of the crime. The judge said the sentence would serve to protect the public, as it would protect the victim.
Sharp also said a lengthy sentence of confinement was needed to facilitate treatment of Swadley for his drug addiction. Sharp did dismiss Swadley’s minor criminal history as inconsequential in the sentencing. He also noted there was no substantial problem between the totally innocent victim and Swadley.
Sharp granted the victim’s request for $44,000 in restitution, but added it would probably be a long time in coming.
“Everyone’s life has value,” Sharp said at that point.
The judge acknowledged the victim’s concerns as she set them out in her four-page letter.
“If I was a World War One veteran I might have a different view (of the nature of this crime),” Sharp said.
“If I was a judge in New York, Chicago or Los Angels, it might be different,” Sharp said in trying to explain his sheer abhorrence at the details of the crime. “But, I’m just a little old country judge.”
Sharp acknowledged that despite having previously stated that he saw no reason for not imposing the maximum penalty, he was persuaded that there were mitigating factors arguing for less than the maximum penalty. The maximum penalty would allow for 40 years in prison to be followed by a period of extended supervision. However, the judge maintained that the viciousness of the crime merited more than 20 years of imprisonment. Noting that a stronger sentence was necessary than the joint sentence recommendation of the district attorney and defense lawyer contained in the plea agreement.
Sharp issued a 40-year bifurcated sentence with 30 years to be served in prison confinement and 10 years to be served under extended supervision.
“I do that with misgivings going both ways,” Sharp noted after pronouncing the sentence. He acknowledged both the mitigating circumstances of Swadley’s experience and the legitimate desire of the victim to have a longer sentence.
After a brief consultation with defense attorney Belzer, Sharp indicated Swadley would be given credit for 429 days served.
After pronouncing the increased sentence, the judge seemed to offer some encouragement to the defendant.
“You will complete this sentence and you will be released at some point,” Sharp said in closing. “You will be approximately my age when you are released. There will still be a lot of life left to be lived. Even in your case, and I know this is not what you wanted, it’s not a reason for total despair.”
In arguing for the 20.5-year recommendation for the amount of confinement in prison, Vernon County District Attorney Tim Gaskell said he had e-mailed DAs around the state seeking their opinion. He said the unanimous response had indicated the recommendation was “fair, reasonable and appropriate.” Some indicated the sentence might be on the high side.
“Mr. Swadley will be in his 40s when he is released after lengthy treatment and he will be sober,” Gaskell explained.
“Nothing justifies what happened,” defense attorney Belzer said in his statement. “Shayne knows that and I know that.”
However, the lawyer said if it’s not an excuse or defense for what happened the circumstances and background does offer context to what happened.
At an early age, Shayne Swadley was exposed to his mother (estranged from his father) bringing numerous boyfriends into the house, according to Belzer. At this time, Shayne lived with the family in a house in Soldiers Grove.
When he was 10 years old, Shayne went into his mother’s bedroom to tell her he was leaving for school and discovered her dead from a drug overdose. Without a phone in their home, Shayne was forced to go to a neighbor’s house where he pounded on the door until they awoke and let him use their phone to call the police. All of this time, Shayne had to shield his seven-year-old sister from the fact that their mother had died.
Belzer said that it was not shocking coming from that background that Shayne started smoking marijuana at the age of 14, drinking at 15 and passed out from taking heroin at 17. From there, it wasn't long until he was taking methamphetamine.
Through middle school and high school Shayne was in the special education program, according to Belzer. Shayne Swadley attended the North Crawford School. He earned mostly Ds and Fs and did not receive much support for school, according to the attorney. He dropped out in his junior year of high school.
Belzer said research has proved alcohol and drug use can limit brain development in teenagers. He noted Shayne had started at the age of 14.
“It’s not an excuse but it is a contributing factor,” the attorney said.
The Pre-Sentence Investigation indicated Shayne had eight percent intellectual function, Belzer noted. He said that was probably the result of early childhood trauma and substance abuse.
“This impediment is not an excuse, but it does provide context,” Belzer said.
Wade Hirschfield is the 51-year-old man for whom Swadley was working at the time of the stabbing. For two months leading up to the event, Hirschfield paid Swadley not in money but in methamphetamine.
The lawyer went on to describe some of what had happened to Swadley in the two days before Mazilauskas was stabbed.
The day before it happened Swadley was in a truck with Hirschfield and two others at a McDonald’s restaurant in LaCrosse, Belzer explained. He was left behind at the restaurant with no shirt and no shoes.
Shayne walked south headed out of LaCrosse and came to an apartment complex where a woman found him a pair of shoes and shirt to wear, the attorney explained. Shayne was headed to Waukon, Iowa where he planned on finding a woman who knew Hirschfield and would help him. A man offered him some food along the way, but could offer no other help.
Swadley hitchhiked and the next afternoon arrived in Waukon where he wandered for hours. He finally found the woman for whom he was searching and she called Hirschfield, Belzer reported. Wade Hirschfield sent a person to get him and that person gives Shayne more amphetamines when he arrived.
When Hirschfield meets Swadley he is “pissed off” that Shayne has made contact with the woman, according to Belzer. Then, Wade and Shayne do more methamphetamine.
As to Swadley’s statement that he stabbed Mazilauskas “to know what it felt like,” Belzer adds some context.
The attorney said the statement was made after Swadley was repeatedly asked by authorities why he did it. He said he didn’t know why he did it many times before he finally came out with the statement he did it “to know what it felt like to stab someone.”
Belzer said the two psychiatrists that examined him said that initially after the stabbing, Swadley did not think he had done anything wrong and that he wouldn't get in trouble. Both psychiatrists said that Swadley was delusional because of the methamphetamine. However, as Belzer acknowledged and Sharp later referenced the State of Wisconsin does not recognize voluntary intoxication as a mental illness and it cannot be used as a defense.
Nevertheless, Belzer pointed out that it was after spending two weeks in jail before Swadley knew what he had done. The attorney said it took three to four months in jail for his client to get “completely normal.”
The attorney told the court while the law does not allow voluntary intoxication as a defense, Swadley was clearly under the influence of methamphetamine. Its use had caused a lack of sleep for 48 hours leading up to the stabbing.
“When you look for intent there is none,” Belzer said.
As for the joint sentence recommendation, Belzer said he and the district attorney were in agreement.
“Shayne’s background is rife with trauma from alcohol and drugs to a lack of education and a lack of role models,” Belzer said. “The sentence recommendation is fair to the victim and and fair to society and fair to Mr. Swadley who has had a challenging background to say the least.
“A lot of effort went into making that sentence recommendation and I hope you go along with the recommendation of twenty-and-a-half years in prison and ten years of extended supervision,” Belzer said in concluding his statement.
Obviously, Judge Andrew Sharp saw things differently and added 10 years to the sentence jointly recommended by the defense attorney and district attorney.
It would seem that there has been little or no mercy shown to Shayne Swadley in his 24 years on this earth and that pattern appeared to continue at his sentencing hearing last Friday.