One of the four suspects arrested in the beating death of a Prairie Grove man pleaded guilty Tuesday and received a 60-year prison sentence. Thirty years of that sentence are suspended, prosecutors said.
James Patton reached the plea deal while the jury was being selected for his murder trial in Washington County Circuit Court. He pleaded guilty to being an accomplice to commit murder and kidnapping. Each charge carried a sentence of 30 years, although 30 of those 60 years will be suspended, according to the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office.
Patton must serve 70 percent of his 30-year sentence before he is eligible for parole, prosecutors said.
Patton’s trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday. He was charged with capital murder, kidnapping and engaging in violent group activity, according to court documents. Records show more than 30 subpoenas were sent out in March to witnesses to testify in the trial.
Patton was the last suspect to be convicted in the beating death of Ronnie Lee Bradley, a disabled Prairie Grove man the four suspects drove around and beat to death in 2012, according to police.
Heather Swain, another defendant, was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 16 for being an accomplice to capital murder and 25 years for being an accomplice to kidnapping. In court, she cried as the judge sentenced her to life in prison. Immediately after the sentence, her daughter yelled in court, saying the sentence had ruined Swain’s life, and continued yelling in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Swain was found not guilty of a third charge of tampering with evidence. She was transferred to an Arkansas Department of Correction facility.
Two other suspects in the case pleaded guilty, avoiding the death penalty. Timothy Swinford pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with an additional 30-year sentence suspended, according to court records.
On Nov. 5, his brother, Anthony Swinford, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping, records show. He was sentenced to 40 years on the murder charge and an additional 40 years on the kidnapping charge, with the sentences to be served consecutively, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Anthony Swinford, Timothy Swinford, Swain and Patton were arrested on suspicion of capital murder and kidnapping in December 2012. In January 2013, they pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in the Washington County Detention Center.
The investigation began when the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 27, 2012, of a male body being discovered in the unpaved driveway of a chicken farm at 17409 Four Corner Road, records show. Responders determined the body was Bradley’s. He was declared dead at the scene, officials said.
According to court papers, Bradley told the suspects several times during the incident, “Please take me home.”
In an interview with authorities, Anthony Swinford said he beat the victim and left him in the driveway. He also implicated Swain, Patton and Timothy Swinford as accomplices, court records show.
Anthony Swinford also rode along with investigators and pointed out the incident locations, according to a preliminary report.
Swain cleaned up the evidence after the suspects dropped Bradley off in a driveway, a report states.
Investigators recovered bloody clothing and the vehicle used in the crime, according to the preliminary report. The suspects had marks on them that suggested they were involved in an altercation, a report states.
The death happened fewer than two weeks after Patton was arrested by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of third-degree domestic battery. He was also arrested and convicted of domestic battery in 2008 and a previous charge of assault on a family member.
Records show the suspects had a criminal history before Bradley was killed. Swain has previously been arrested in connection with domestic battery, possession of a controlled substance and driving while intoxicated. Anthony Swinford has a criminal history that includes charges of aggravated assault, possession of a controlled substance, domestic battery, breaking and entering, theft, commercial burglary, terroristic threatening and violation of a protection order. Timothy Swinford’s history includes arrests on suspicion of domestic battery, endangering the welfare of a minor and driving while intoxicated.