An Eastern Kentucky drug dealer who admitted to paying someone to kill two people he thought had given information to police doesn’t deserve to have his sentence set aside, a federal magistrate judge has ruled.
Eugene Slone, 58, headed a drug ring that distributed pain pills in Clay, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties, according to court records.
A detective testified that the group was to blame for putting as many as 400,000 pills on the street.
Slone pleaded guilty to a drug charge.
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He also admitted that in July 2012, he paid another member of the conspiracy to kill Davey Sparkman, 26, and his girlfriend, Keisha Sexton, 18. The two had been involved in Slone’s drug ring, according to court records.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had raided Slone’s house a few days before the murders, and he and others suspected that Sparkman and Sexton had given police information that resulted in the raid.
Slone called the two and told them to go to an abandoned surface coal mine in Knott County for a meeting. When they arrived, someone Slone had paid shot them to death and burned their bodies in a pickup truck, according to court records.
Records in Slone’s case don’t name the killer.
Federal prosecutors considered seeking the death penalty against Slone, but they dropped that option before he pleaded guilty.
Slone agreed to a 25-year prison sentence, but he filed a request last year to set aside the sentence.
Slone argued that his decision to plead guilty was not voluntary, that his attorneys coerced him to plead guilty, and that they were ineffective because they didn’t challenge the federal court’s jurisdiction in the case and waived his right to a quick trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram rejected Slone’s challenge in a report filed this week.
Slone claimed in his challenge that his attorneys misled him into thinking that he would get a five-year sentence if he pleaded guilty, but the plea deal clearly spelled out a 25-year sentence, Ingram said.
Slone said at his plea hearing that he understood the sentence and that no one had offered him promises of anything else.
Ingram said testimony Slone gave at the hearing on his motion to set aside the sentence differed from what he said in written statements.
For instance, Slone claimed that one of his attorneys coached him to lie at his plea hearing, but he later testified that that didn’t happen.
Ingram found that Slone had “major credibility problems.”
Slone’s current attorney, David J. Guarnieri, argued that his earlier attorneys erred by not challenging federal jurisdiction over the murders.
The issue underlying the argument is that Sparkman and Sexton, the people Slone paid to have killed, hadn’t really informed on him to police.
Thinking that someone was an informant when that wasn’t the case wasn’t enough to create federal jurisdiction over killing Sparkman and Sexton, meaning Slone’s plea deal was not valid, Guarnieri argued.
Slone’s original attorneys should have raised every possible defense given his age and health problems, Guarnieri said in a motion.
However, Ingram ruled that it was a reasonable decision for Slone’s original attorneys not to challenge federal jurisdiction in the case.
One reason behind that was a concern that if Slone faced state charges in the murders instead, it could be a death-penalty case.
Ingram also said that Slone had not pointed to any ruling saying that a mistaken belief that the victim was an informant wasn’t adequate to support a conviction.
Ingram’s decision is a recommendation that U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove reject Slone’s challenge to his sentence.
Guarnieri objected to the recommendation.
Slone, in prison in South Carolina, isn’t scheduled to be released until May 2034.