A Maryville man who pleaded guilty to killing another man he claimed was molesting his girlfriend has been sentenced to more than half a decade in prison.
Sean Patrick Foley, 26, got five years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter, a Class C felony.
The sentence came just more than two months after a jury trial was declared a mistrial.
Blount County Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington said during the sentencing that the case had been difficult and that she was struggling to decide precisely how to conclude Foley’s case.
Defense Attorney Aaron Kimsey and Assistant District Attorney Ryan Desmond took two days — Monday and Wednesday — to present evidence and bring witnesses in a final effort to bring the case to a conclusion.
Desmond argued for two enhancements in the case: the fact that Foley had used a deadly weapon in the form of a firearm and that his actions had caused risk to human lives around him when he shot and killed 44-year-old Jimmy L. Shelton on Aug. 28, 2018.
But what Harrington took into special consideration were Foley’s actions directly before the shooting.
A 33-minute audio recording Foley made was played during 2018 hearings. The recording allegedly depicted not only the murder itself, but a scene where Shelton was molesting Foley’s former girlfriend, Miranda Goddard.
Harrington noted that Foley had lain in wait, recorded the sexual encounter between Shelton and Goddard and then chosen to shoot the man.
Foley did call 911 and report the shooting, but Harrington pointed out that this didn’t have much bearing on the case.
“I don’t know how you assist the authorities when you didn’t think you’ve committed a crime,” she said in open court.
At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Desmond played a final piece of evidence in the hearing — a tape he said was one of five similar recordings in which Foley pleaded to his mother to pay a portion of his bond and get him out of jail.
Foley swore incessantly in the recording, expressing his frustration with his situation and his inability to continue life while incarcerated. “I want to be home, like yesterday,” he told her. “I can’t f---ing do anything in here. ... I sit here and grind my teeth. I literally grind my teeth.”
“I’m letting you vent,” his mother replied over and over again in the call. “It’s my job.”
Reflecting on this recording, Harrington noted the vast difference between Foley’s demeanor in past hearings and his demeanor captured in the phone call.
“Vastly different,” Harrington repeated. “Dramatically different. He was angry, demanding, volatile, manipulative and somewhat entitled.”
She added Foley also seemed belligerent in other phone calls played as evidence.
Foley’s personality under examination reflected the duality of the circumstances conveyed by both sides of the case. Kimsey had argued Shelton had attacked Foley during the altercation. The state argued it had been a crime of passion and jealousy.
Regardless, Kimsey had stressed and Harrington took into consideration the fact that Foley had no criminal history to weigh against him. Harrington noted the young man had been given an honorable discharge from the military some years back, potentially for a personality disorder, but that did not have any weight on the final decision.
Kimsey had asked for a sentence of only three years, stressing Foley needed mental rehabilitation.
But in her concluding remarks, Harrington rebutted this argument.
“As far as being rehabilitated, I think there’s a lot that could be looked at in that assessment for rehabilitation, and then you have to ... weigh that against ... he’s going to first have to prove there’s something that needs to be rehabilitated. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Between long pauses, Harrington brought up Foley’s lack of a criminal history, his belligerence on phone calls, “the interest of the public” and his unprecedented actions during the day of the murder.
“This is a very difficult case for the court,” she said.
But she finally concluded by sentencing Foley to most of the six years the prosecution was seeking. She did not impose a fine and allowed Foley jail credit.
Before the sentencing hearing began, Foley made small talk with a courtroom deputy. He asked what the weather was like outside and if the leaves had fully changed color yet, adding he hadn’t seen a plane in the sky for a year.