Bad decisions, amplified by dangerous drinking and a difficult divorce, led to a rapid downward spiral.
But when Christopher C. Byrne was arrested near Greenwood Park Mall in 2016 with a gun, ammunition, and bottles of ammonia and bleach, he was not planning something sinister, he said in federal court on Monday.
“I’m not the person I’ve been characterized as. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but I would never hurt anyone,” he said during his sentencing hearing Monday.
Byrne, 32, of Greenwood, was sentenced to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of possession of a handgun and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. He also will be required to go through a three-year period of supervision by federal authorities following his release from prison.
The 37-month sentence will be added onto the approximately 1½ year-sentence he is currently serving in Plainfield Correctional Facility for a handgun violation and being a habitual traffic offender.
The sentence is fitting considering the contempt for the law that Byrne had shown leading up to his arrest, said Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
Byrne expressed regret for his poor decisions that led to his arrest, how he had hurt his own family and others.
“I just want to put this behind me and move on,” he said. “I hope you’ll see in your heart who I really am and give me that second chance.”
Byrne was arrested in August 2016 near the Greenwood Park Mall after he was stopped by police on a traffic violation and refused to identify himself. He did not have a valid license plate, told the officer he was a sovereign national and did not cooperate with police. Byrne was arrested on a charge of being a habitual traffic violator.
But police also found a rifle and ammunition in the vehicle, which Byrne could not legally carry as a convicted felon. He had previously been convicted of felonies in Marion and Hendricks counties, including operating while intoxicated and theft involving weapons taken from the vehicles of both Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Greenwood Police Department officers.
In addition to the firearms, the search also uncovered an attached scope, detachable homemade suppressor — which is a silencer for a gun — and bottles of bleach and ammonia. Federal officials were contacted and started investigating Byrne as well.
At the time, Byrne also had a pending case in Johnson County from 2015 on charges of carrying a handgun without a license and being a habitual traffic violator. The case was being handled by Johnson County Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes.
Federal officials found that days before he was arrested in Greenwood, he had used his computer to look up the home addresses of Emkes, deputy prosecuting attorney Jennifer Pinnick and Officer James Trimble of the Greenwood Police Department.
Addressing the judge, Byrne described his life as in disarray when he was arrested. He had been going through a divorce, had been drinking dangerously and became interested in the sovereign citizen movement, which insists that government rules and laws cannot infringe on personal freedoms.
But he asserted that he was not planning on hurting anyone the day he was arrested in Greenwood. The firearms had been packed in his car for a hunting and shooting trip in southern Indiana, and he had forgotten to remove them.
When he had looked up home addresses for Emkes, Pinnick and Trimble, it was to research a novel that he was working on, he said.
“I understand how things looked, and understand how people could have come to the conclusion they did. But nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “I don’t have the heart to hurt people.”
But Matt Rinka, assistant U.S. attorney, argued that the facts of the case don’t add up to that explanation.
“In the government’s view, he was a ticking time bomb,” Rinka said. “Mr. Byrne was looking for a fight that day. Thankfully, it didn’t happen. But he was angry, very, very angry.”
In a statement provided to the court, the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office voiced their concerns for their safety.
“We do not know ultimately what Mr. Byrne would have done with the stuff in his car on Aug. 15, 2016, but it is clear that he made the preparations to significantly scare and/or hurt people like Judge Emkes, Deputy Prosecutor Pinnick and Officer Trimble. It is also clear that Mr. Byrne’s contempt for law enforcement and the judicial system has escalated over the past four years,” the statement read.
Bryne’s past offenses and his actions leading up to his arrest in August 2016 painted a picture of a man with serious problems with law enforcement, Magnus-Stinson said.
“You just seemed to be in a very defiant mode, where nobody was going to tell you what to do,” she said. “The convergence of these events on this particular day — everything they found in your car, everything they found on your phone, it’s a little bit inconsistent to just going hunting.”
Amplifying the seriousness of the items found in his car and his attitude of defiance is the revelation that he had looked up home addresses for those involved in his previous case, Magnus-Stinson said.
“I’m just not in the position, without any further evidence, to believe your version of why you had directions to the judge’s house. That’s very troubling information. She and the detective are rightly concerned,” she said.
Each of the two federal charges carried a maximum of up to 10 years in prison, with fines up to $250,000 and three years of supervision following his release. Magnus-Stinson felt that 37 months for each offense, running concurrently, and with three years of supervised release, was appropriate.
But with the prison sentence, as well as anger management, psychological counseling and substance abuse therapy, Byrne’s life still could turn around, Magnus-Stinson said.
“I do think you’re smart and capable. We really want you to direct your intelligence and capabilities into positive things for yourself and your family,” she said.