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Christopher Swanson

A 35-year-old Catoosa County, Georgia, man was sentenced Friday to up to 25 years in prison for slashing the throat of a stranger with a knife at a gas station last year.

On May 29, 2020, Christopher Lamont Swanson was standing in line at the Mapco gas station in Tunnel Hill with 77-year-old Richard Comer. The two men did not know each other, nor was there any conversation or dispute before the incident, authorities said.

Swanson approached Comer from behind, grabbed him, pulled his head back, then slashed his throat with a knife, according to an incident report presented in court. The attack left permanent damage to Comer's throat and vocal cords. Comer, a local pastor and missionary, was able to defend himself after the initial attack and fled the store.

Swanson was arrested weeks after the incident, on June 17. When he was found, Swanson told investigators he didn't have any memory of the incident, saying he had been using Xanax and heroin at the time, District Attorney Bert Poston said in a news release.

Swanson was granted bond by Magistrate Court and was released a week later. After he was released, investigators found he had given a false address on his bond paper when he failed to attend his arraignment in November.

Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris issued a bench warrant for his failure to appear, and Swanson was rearrested in February after an investigation by the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office with assistance from the Murray County and Catoosa County Sheriff's Offices. Swanson was found in Tennessee and extradited to Georgia. He has remained in custody without bond since his latest arrest.

Swanson did not have a prior felony record but had been previously arrested on charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license.

At the hearing, Comer said he didn't know how close he was to death until coming out of surgery when discussing his injury and recovery with doctors. Comer also said the act of random violence had changed his life and caused him to live in fear while Swanson was out on bond.

Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris sentenced Swanson to serve 25 years in prison, the maximum allowed, for aggravated battery on a person older than 65. He was also sentenced for possession of a knife during commission of a crime. Swanson, represented by Summerville attorney Steve Miller, had entered a guilty plea to all charges without any negotiated plea agreement with the state.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Baxter. Baxter argued at sentencing that stranger-on-stranger violence of this type is extremely rare and warrants harsh punishment.

While Swanson had a history of drug use, he was found competent during a pre-trial psychological evaluation and admitted he knew what he was doing, Poston said. Judge Morris called the case "the most shocking crime" she's seen in 20 years on the bench and added she had an obligation to protect the community.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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