August 27, 2013

Man sentenced for arson, murder

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer


Jeffrey Sweeney, 47, has been sentenced for the 2012 murder of a Laurel woman.

Sweeney pled guilty to murder, arson, robbery and tampering with evidence in June, the day his jury trial was set to begin. He was recommended to serve 50 years for murder, 20 years for robbery, five years for tampering with physical evidence, and 20 years for arson. However, the robbery and tampering sentence would run consecutively for a 25-year term, while all the other charges will run at the same time as the 50-year sentence, giving Sweeney a total of 50 years in jail.

That punishment was upheld by Circuit Judge Tom Jensen on August 16.

The jurors reported for duty that June morning and defense and prosecuting attorneys were present to start the trial charging Sweeney for the March 29, 2012 death of 50-year-old Teresa Wyatt-White.

Firefighters responded to a house fire and found Wyatt-White’s body inside the burned out residence. Autopsy reports indicated the woman died from blunt force trauma prior to the fire.

Sweeney admitted being at Wyatt-White’s home on the night of the fire and murder, but initially denied killing her.

On the day of the trial, the jury poll began at 9 a.m., but attorneys approached the bench and had a discussion with Jensen. At that time, court was recessed because Jensen said there were some issues that needed to be discussed. He instructed jurors to report back to the courtroom at 10 a.m., at  which time Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele said Sweeney had entered a guilty plea to all four charges. Despite the plea agreement, Steele said the crime still had lasting effects on Wyatt-White’s family and friends.

“This is one of those cases that no matter how much time (is given), 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.”