Attempted murder charges net 20-year sentence
A month and a half after a jury found him guilty of attempted aggravated murder, a 20-year-old Sunriver man, Christopher James Thomas Sweeney, was sentenced March 1, to 20 years in prison.
In a Jefferson County Circuit Courtroom filled with law enforcement officers and a couple family members of the defendant, Judge Annette Hillman handed down the sentence for two counts each of attempted aggravated murder and unlawful use of a weapon, and one each of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and reckless driving for the events of Nov. 2, 2017, which started in Sunriver and ended in Madras.
"You chose not to stop that night," said Hillman. "You chose to go on a 40-mile flight. You were going to go until you got caught."
The charges were a result of a police pursuit that began south of Bend, and ended on U.S. Highway 97, in Madras, around 11 p.m. that night.
Earlier that day, Sweeney, then 18, had walked away from the J Bar J Boys Ranch, in Bend, and with a friend, Corey Joseph Gallagher, then 19, had stolen property valued at about $30,000, in addition to two vehicles, from Sweeney's grandparents' home in Sunriver. Sweeney drove his grandparents' 2004 Chevrolet Venture, while the Gallagher drove their 2007 Toyota Highlander.
Deschutes County Sheriff's Office deputies spotted the vehicles, which had been reported stolen, and attempted to stop the vehicles. Gallagher stopped in Bend, and was taken into custody, but Sweeney continued on to Madras.
DCSO deputies and Oregon State Police followed the vehicle to Jefferson County, where Deschutes County deputies stopped, and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office joined the pursuit. Spike strips were deployed numerous times, but Sweeney failed to stop, until he lost control and crashed near Southwest L Street, in Madras.
Armed with a handgun, Sweeney got out of the vehicle in a crouch and drew his gun as an OSP officer, Sgt. John Russo, approached. A Jefferson County sheriff's deputy, Joe Aldred, demanded that Sweeney show his hands; Sweeney turned, and pointed his gun at Aldred. Both officers fired their weapons at Sweeney, who was shot three times. The officers then immediately provided medical assistance as they waited for an ambulance.
Sweeney was transported to St. Charles Madras for treatment, and then released to the custody of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office two weeks later, on Nov. 16, 2017. He was still in custody at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility, when the trial started in January.
After listening to the evidence over the course of a four-day trial, on Jan. 17, the 12-person jury deliberated for about an hour and returned with a unanimous verdict of guilty on all six charges.
Before sentencing, Brentley Steele Foster, chief deputy district attorney for Jefferson County, who prosecuted the case, outlined Sweeney's history of juvenile offenses and probation violations, which started when he was 15.
From the first burglary in 2014, when he broke into a shop and stole marijuana, to an earlier burglary at his grandparents' home, to the most recent offense, she said, "The point is, every time the defendant has been given a chance, he has made the worst of it."
Even in custody, she said, he has repeatedly violated rules.
Recalling a recorded telephone conversation with his friend, made from the jail, Foster said that Sweeney laughed about his conduct. "I don't think anything shows his utter lack of remorse and complete criminality than his laugh."
Foster read a statement from Aldred, who said that the incident has changed the way he responds to calls and caused night terrors. "The nightmare is not over for me yet," he wrote.
Attorney Matthew Murphy, representing Sweeney, asked that the sentences be concurrent, rather than consecutive, since they were all the result of "an uninterrupted course of conduct."
A mentor of Sweeney's, from Rimrock Trails Treatment, attributed Sweeney's actions to his addiction, and called him "softspoken, kind, loving."
Sweeney's grandparents, who were his guardians for 17 years, said that for most of his life, he was a good kid. "The kids in the neighborhood looked up to him," his grandmother, Kim Sweeney, wrote.
His grandfather, also Chris Sweeney, addressed the court and thanked law enforcement officers and first responders for saving his grandson's life. Sweeney blamed drugs for the change in his grandson's behavior.
"Grandma and I agree that all kids are good kids; they just get in the wrong path," he said.
Murphy added that Sweeney's mother had basically abandoned him, and most of the bad conduct occurred when he was between 15 and 18.
When he was given the opportunity to speak, the defendant said, "I realize that I did wrong; I still have hope for myself."
Sweeney said that he wants to go to college and become a productive member of society. "I want to turn my life around," he said. "I want to have a family. I want to be out when my grandparents are still alive."
Noting that he has committed further misconduct while in custody over the past year, Hillman announced his sentence of 20 years, with credit for time served, and three years of post-prison supervision.
"Mr. Sweeney, you still have an opportunity, and I really hope you take advantage of what's provided you," she said.
Following the sentencing, Foster issued a statement thanking investigators. "The Major Incident Team, specifically Bend Police Department, Redmond Police Department, and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, provided enormous support and assistance throughout the investigation and prosecution of this case," she said. "The District Attorney's Office is extremely grateful for the professionalism and contributions of these agencies and the entire Major Incident Team in keeping the people of Jefferson County safe."