An Eastern Kentucky drug dealer is trying to get his 25-year sentence set aside in a case in which he admitted taking part in the murders of two people he believed had given police information about his pill-trafficking operation.
Eugene Slone, 57, who lived in Manchester, pleaded guilty in January 2015 to conspiring to distribute pain pills in Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties.
Slone also admitted paying another person to kill Davey Sparkman, 26, and his fiancée, 18-year-old Keisha Sexton, in July 2012.
The two were shot to death at an abandoned surface coal mine in Knott County and their bodies burned in a pickup truck.
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Court records indicate Sparkman and Sexton were involved in Slone’s drug ring.
Slone said he asked them to come to a meeting at the mine, “knowing others would be waiting to kill them,” he said in his plea agreement.
Slone filed a motion earlier this year in hopes of getting his sentence set aside. It is pending.
Sloan claimed his attorneys were ineffective in representing him because they failed to argue that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the murders; did not get him a five-year sentence as part of his plea; and failed to get a quick trial for him as required under federal law, according to a court document.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Rosenberg argued Slone’s attorneys did not fall short in representing him.
Slone’s claims are “bare accusations” with no proof and should be dismissed, Rosenberg said.
Slone’s attorneys, Brandon J. Storm of London and Candace C. Crouse of Cincinnati, submitted sworn statements disputing Slone’s claims.
Slone said Storm convinced him he would receive a five-year sentence for pleading guilty, even if the prison term outlined in the deal was 20 or 25 years, according to a court document.
However, Storm and Crouse said Storm never made that pledge, and Rosenberg called the claim “pure fiction.”
Rosenberg said the 25-year sentence benefited Slone because it spared him from a potential life sentence if he’d been convicted at trial.
Federal prosecutors in Kentucky considered seeking the death penalty for Slone, but then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder decided against it.
However, Slone could still have been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Rosenberg, Storm and Crouse said the delays in the complex case were legitimate and approved by the judge.
Among other things, the trial was continued so defense attorneys could research the issue of the federal death penalty and argue against seeking it against Slone.
Crouse said defense attorneys and prosecutors negotiated a potential plea deal for Slone through the summer of 2014, but the government was not willing to approve a 20-year sentence and Slone didn’t want to admit guilt in the murders.
Slone changed his mind after prosecutors turned over additional evidence soon before the scheduled trial date in January 2015, Crouse and Storm said.
It was the first time Slone and his attorneys could see who the prosecution witnesses were and what they were saying about Slone’s involvement in the murders, the defense attorneys said.
Slone told his attorneys to contact Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman and work out a deal.
Federal authorities believed Slone acted alone in killing Sparkman and Sexton, according to a court document.
However, Slone finally said he would plead guilty in connection with the murders because others were involved and he didn’t pull the trigger, Crouse said.
Slone agreed to a 25-year sentence and gave federal authorities information on others he said were involved in the murders.
If that information had led to the convictions of other people in the murders, prosecutors would have asked a judge to cut five years off Slone’s sentence, Crouse said.
However, federal investigators were not able to confirm Slone’s information and no one else has been held responsible for the murders, Crouse said in her statement.
Slone’s other argument is that the government did not establish federal jurisdiction by proving Sparkman and Sexton had given police information on Slone’s drug trafficking.
The issue is whether Slone had to have known the victims helped authorities investigate him in order for the federal law to apply, or whether it was enough that be believed they had.
Storm and Crouse said they researched the issue and felt the law was not clear.
They prepared to argue the issue at trial, but if they’d lost, it would have exposed Slone to a potential life sentence.
If the defense attorneys won the point, Slone could still have been charged with murder in state court.
It was unlikely that a state prosecutor “would allow Mr. Slone to get out of a double murder on a technicality,” Storm said in an affidavit.
Rosenberg said it was sound trial strategy for the defense attorneys not to raise the argument.
As it turned out, Sparkman and Sexton were not informants, according to a court document.
Slone was a major drug dealer between 2009 and mid-2012, when he was arrested after the murders.
His operation was an example of the pill pipeline between Eastern Kentucky and Florida that flourished at the time, in part because Florida had weak oversight of pain clinics and Kentucky had a model system to monitor drug prescriptions.
An accomplice said Slone took part in arranging for carloads of addicts and drug runners to go to Florida to get pill prescriptions, and also had a bulk source who supplied up to 12,000 pills at a time.
A detective testified the drug ring was responsible for distributing between 150,000 and 400,000 pills.
A total of 12 people were convicted of taking part in the drug operation.
Slone is in federal prison in South Carolina. His scheduled release date is May 12, 2034.
There is no parole in the federal prison system, but inmates can shave off up to 15 percent of their sentence for appropriate behavior.