Kennewick woman sentenced for burning trailer; daughter flees court

A Kennewick woman maintained her innocence Friday as she was sentenced to prison for intentionally setting fire to her mobile home to collect insurance money.

But her 23-year-old daughter, who also was found guilty by a Benton County jury of first-degree arson, apparently got scared and took off before the court hearing started.

"She was here waiting in the hallway and she's panicked," defense attorney Gary Metro said about his client, Leah Lynn Sweany.

Leah Sweany and her mother, Leysa Lynn Sweany, 48, were supposed to be in Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor's courtroom at 1:30 p.m.

The sentencing hearing started about a half-hour late because an earlier hearing ran long. Leah Sweany even sat down briefly in the courtroom while she waited, but then she went back out and disappeared.

Metro asked VanderSchoor to give him time to find and talk to Leah Sweany. He said she has always shown up for court and other meetings with him in the past.

VanderSchoor agreed to continue Leah Sweany's sentencing to Wednesday, but told Metro that if she doesn't show up, he'll issue a warrant for her arrest.

Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said he intended to recommend that Leah Sweany serve one year and nine months in prison, which is at the low end of the sentencing range.

Meanwhile, Leysa Sweany was sentenced to two years in prison for the Jan. 7, 2009, arson, in which the fire started in the kitchen of her North Steptoe Street home.

Bloor asked for the mid-range sentence, noting that Leysa has convictions for forgery and possessing drugs in 2000.

"Secondly, and maybe more importantly, this was a mother-daughter situation," Bloor said. "No matter how you look at it, Mrs. Sweany should have called off her daughter."

Leysa Sweany reportedly instructed her daughter to leave a box on the stove and to turn the burner on, which she did, court documents said.

But during a four-day trial in January, both mother and daughter testified that they didn't know how the fire started and denied having any involvement.

Fire investigators became suspicious about the blaze when they discovered an insurance policy had been taken out on the home shortly before the fire and that the Sweanys were being evicted from the Santiago Estates trailer park.

Leysa Sweany told investigators she'd taken out the $47,000 insurance policy after learning in October 2008 that it would cost between $5,000 and $15,000 to move the trailer, documents said.

The day of the fire, the women reportedly loaded some belongings into their car and the family dogs were either put outside or taken to a neighbor's home.

Fire officials estimated the mobile home sustained $5,000 in smoke damage. Leysa Sweany reportedly filed an insurance claim for more than $10,000 after the fire.

Tonya Meehan-Corsi, Leysa Sweany's attorney, said a sentence of one year and nine months would be "pretty substantial" for her client.

"This isn't some sort of situation where (the Sweanys) went to somebody's house and set it on fire. ... This was their own place," Meehan-Corsi said.

She also questioned how the jury could return a guilty verdict on such a serious charge in so little time and told the judge they intended to appeal. It took the jury less than 15 minutes to return guilty verdicts.

When VanderSchoor asked Leysa Sweany if she wanted to say anything, she simply said: "I maintain my innocence. We didn't."

Bloor asked VanderSchoor to set the appeal bond at $25,000, but added that he didn't think there was any way the conviction would be overturned.

"I really think it's in her own best interest to do her time," he said. "By the time the appeal is over, she'll have served her time."

VanderSchoor set the appeal bond at $10,000 and gave Leysa Sweany a week to secure the bond. If she can't, she is to turn herself in at the Benton County jail by 2 p.m. Friday.