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June 13, 2013

Sweeney gets 50 years in jail

Pleads guilty to murder, first-degree robbery, tampering with evidence, arson

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

Five decades in jail — that’s what 47-year-old Jeffrey Sweeney received as a sentence Wednesday morning in Laurel County Circuit Court.

Sweeney was slated for a jury trial Wednesday morning for the 2012 murder of 50-year-old Teresa A. White.

However, the trial was avoided after a plea deal was agreed upon.

Just after 9 a.m., Judge Tom Jensen stepped into the Laurel County Circuit courtroom.

The gallery was filled to capacity with potential jurors, and roll call for the jury pool began.

Toward the end of the roll call, defense attorneys Roger Gibbs and Jennifer Milligan entered the courtroom, and with them was Sweeney.

Without handcuffs and wearing a dress shirt and slacks, Sweeney sat flanked by his attorneys at the defense table, leaned back and waited for the roll call to end.

Once the roll call was complete, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, Gibbs and Milligan were asked to approach the bench. Jensen silenced the microphone, and after a short conversation, all three attorneys returned to their tables.

Jensen then spoke to the jury pool, explaining there would be a recess.

“Issues have come up that need discussed,” Jensen said, and asked potential jurors to return to the courtroom at 10 a.m.

Attorneys also filed out of the courtroom, leaving books and papers behind. On the Commonwealth’s table rested a large box almost overfilled with what appeared to be evidence — all pieces in the box were marked with red evidence tape.

As the 10 a.m. hour approached, both Gibbs and Milligan returned to the courtroom — without Sweeney.

Once jurors returned to their seats in the gallery, Steele and Judge Jensen then re-entered the courtroom.

Jensen spoke, informing the jury pool that a plea agreement had been reached.

Steele explained after court was recessed that Sweeney pleaded guilty to all counts listed on his June 2012 indictment — murder, first-degree robbery, tampering with evidence and arson.

“This is one of those cases that no matter how much time (is given to the guilty party), you still have the death of a community member,” Steele said. “Although the family is content with the outcome, there will always be a void for them that will never be filled.”

On March 29, 2012, White was discovered dead in her burned-out home on Newby Lane west of London.

Shortly before midnight that night, Kentucky State Trooper First Class Don Trosper said a neighbor called 911 to report smoke pouring from her home.

Despite a warning from dispatchers, a window was eventually broken by a concerned citizen — which sent the home into a full blaze.

Firefighters battled the inferno until the early morning hours. White’s body was discovered inside the residence, and she was pronounced dead at the scene, Trosper explained.

He added that an autopsy showed White was killed from blunt force trauma — prior to the fire.

Trosper explained that White and Sweeney were “friends.” He added that it appeared Sweeney murdered White, then set her house on fire to cover up the slaying.

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