INDIANA — A U.S. District Court judge has vacated a federal conviction of a Clark County man charged with placing a pipe bomb under the car of an officer while under investigation for murder in the early 1990s.
Sarah Evans Barker, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Indiana, ruled Sept. 11 to vacate the sentence and conviction of Charles E. Sweeney, 58, who pleaded guilty in 1992 to carrying a firearm while committing a crime of violence — one of seven federal charges for which he was initially indicted.
He was sentenced to 210 months in federal prison that same year, the executed part of which was completed in 2007. Sweeney was then transferred to an Indiana state prison where he's currently serving a 60-year sentence for the murder of acquaintance Daniel Guthrie.
News and Tribune archives show that Sweeney and Guthrie had gone fishing, and the two had made a deal to trade a saddle for 150 marijuana plants. Sweeney told police he gave Guthrie a bucket, shovel, 9-millimeter handgun and directions to the plants before he, himself, headed to play Bingo in Sellersburg.
Sweeney said he went looking for Guthrie and found him dead from what appeared to be a single gunshot wound. He told police he had buried the man's body and hid evidence to avoid being charged for having the marijuana plants. He led police to where the body was buried, believing he had immunity in giving this information.
During the murder investigation, Sweeney placed a pipe bomb under the car of an officer involved in the case, the federal charge to which he later pleaded guilty.
Sweeney has filed a litany of petitions for post-conviction relief in the federal case, the most recent in October. This petition requests in part that he be allowed to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which would mean he would be brought before a judge to determine whether his detention is lawful.
It states that since after his conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court "struck down the federal definition of crime of violence as unconstitutionally vague," that this apply to him retroactively.
The judge's ruling states that this particular conviction of Sweeney's is unconstitutional, and granted vacation of both the federal sentence and the related plea agreement. The criminal action will be reopened, it states.
Sweeney is currently being held in Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind. Online records show his earliest possible release date is Nov. 7, 2036. Following the state sentence, he is expected to serve five years under federal supervision for the federal charge.