KENNEWICK — A Kennewick man accused of hiring an acquaintance to kill a key witness in a drug trial to avoid going back to prison will spend the next 11 years behind bars.
Soloman Luke Swanson, 33, took a plea deal Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court that reduced the solicitation charge to felony harassment. Three counts of delivery of methamphetamine and one count of possession of meth with intent to manufacture/ deliver also were dismissed as part of the deal.
"I'm sorry," Swanson told Judge Bruce Spanner, adding that he will be different when he gets out.
"You're going away for a long time, my friend," Spanner said as a woman in the courtroom sobbed and shook her head. The woman's connection to Swanson is not known.
Swanson pleaded guilty to three counts of delivery of meth and was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.
He then pleaded guilty to felony harassment and received a sentence of three years and seven months in prison, which will run consecutive to the drug delivery sentence.
Swanson's total sentence is 11 years and one month.
Deputy Prosecutor Art Bieker wrote in court documents that amending the charge of solicitation to commit first-degree murder down to felony harassment "will hold the defendant accountable and facilitate a plea in a matter that is difficult for the defendant and the state."
Defense attorney Larry Stephenson told Spanner that the plea deal was "a very favorable resolution for my client."
Swanson also was represented by Sylvia Cornish and Kevin Holt.
Swanson -- who goes by the name Luke -- first was arrested in early 2009 after he sold meth on five separate occasions to a confidential informant who was working with the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force.
Three of the sales allegedly were made while Swanson's children were in the home, court documents said.
Swanson was out on bail awaiting trial when he reportedly learned the name of the informant, along with her home address and the car she drove.
He said the woman was "taking his life away from him," and decided to take action, documents said.
In December 2009, Swanson met with an old acquaintance and told the man he needed the informant killed because "he did not want to go back to prison," documents said.
The hitman then tipped off Benton County sheriff's investigators, who worked with Kennewick police detectives to record the man's conversations with Swanson.
The hitman requested some expense money up front and was shown a wallet full of $100 bills, but was handed only one bill with a promise of more later, documents said. Swanson said that "his bodyguard, enforcer and 'tax man' would help" with the killing, documents said.
Swanson was arrested on the solicitation allegation after meeting with the hitman and hashing out plans.
During that final meeting, the hitman complained that his back was hurting from digging the hole and Swanson allegedly claimed that he also dug one, documents said.
The third case Swanson had, which was a drug delivery charge from a Dec. 10, 2009, incident where he allegedly provided a confidential informant with meth, was dismissed.
Bieker told Judge Spanner that the reason he was agreeing to dismiss the case partially was to get a deal on the other case and also to avoid having to reveal the name of the informant.
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; email@example.com