A federal judge sentenced former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton to serve 18 months in prison, with two years of supervised release to follow, for two felony counts of witness tampering for which he was convicted in May.
In U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky, Chief Judge Joseph McKinley made his decision after hearing more than an hour’s worth of arguments from attorneys on both sides.
Federal sentencing guidelines are set up in levels, each of which contains a range of punishments appropriate to that level.
A considerable portion of the time was spent with the prosecution and defense posing challenges to each other’s interpretation of which sections of the sentencing guidelines should apply in this case, and whether enhancements – extra levels up – should be added because of various factors, such as Eaton, who resigned Wednesday, was a public official at the time of the offense.
Other elements the judge considered to include in the sentencing formula were whether Eaton was the “leader” in the crime, whether the victim was restrained and the number of harmed entities. There was also a question of whether justice was obstructed with the deletion of a photograph in regard to whether an enhancement could be added.
McKinley agreed with the prosecution on some of the enhancements and the defense on others.
The largest point of contention between the sides was whether the deprivation of rights under color of law charges based on allegations Eaton and three deputies unnecessarily assaulted Billy Randall Stinnett on Feb. 24, 2010, while he was being arrested and while in handcuffs, should be considered as an underlying offense, as the government wanted. Eaton’s attorney, Guthrie True, argued it should not be because Eaton and two of the deputies were acquitted on those charges and even the cooperating witness, Adam Minor, did not plead guilty to that charge against him as part of his plea agreement. The judge pointed out more than once Minor did admit to assaulting Stinnett.
Eaton was convicted for having a deputy falsify a report to say he had seen a knife on the ground in the area where Stinnett was confronted and for directing and suggesting that another person involved conceal information and provide false information to investigators that Stinnett had pulled a knife on Eaton.
True said the guidelines for determining underlying offenses are established by looking at the “offense of conviction,” but co-prosecutor Sanjay Patel pointed out that the guidelines to allow consideration of conduct and the underlying indictment.
Recommended sentences were based on formulas with additions and subtractions of levels. The prosecution had suggested 87 to 108 months. A presentence investigation report put together by the probation office recommended 46 to 57 months, while True argued in court documents that the range should be of 10 to 16 months. By the time McKinley determined which overall guidelines should be used and which enhancements he would allow, he had a formula of his own, with a range of 46 to 57 months.