- Published: 08 April 2010
(For the most recent update, jump to the end of the article.)
Lorinda is currently free on bond due to the excellent work of the Michigan Innocence Clinic! The original judge ordered a retrial. Though the two witnesses against her have recanted and there was no physical evidence, since the prosecutor has no case, she has decided to appeal the judge's decision. So, Lorinda's case is still in process.
Lorinda was the victim of her child's accusations. Ronnie was, himself, guilty of sexual misconduct and when found out, he decided to deflect accusations toward himself by making accusations of his mother.
Lorinda Swain has been sentenced to 25-50 years on four counts of 1st degree criminal sexual conduct for alleged assaults on her adopted son, Ronnie, beginning when he was 8.
The reasons for doubting her guilt are legion. Now 20 years old, the boy insists he lied to police, prosecutors and the court to avoid his own charges for molesting his 3 year old niece when he was 12. There is absolutely no physical evidence in this case. The only “evidence” is a now-recanted testimony of her accuser, and the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Deborah Charles, who, by the way, has 12 aliases and 24 felony convictions.
There is intuitive belief of family members that Lorinda is wholly innocent. Ronnie’s biological grandmother has stated that she knew Ronnie was lying from the beginning. And there is scientific weight in the testimony of Dr. Thomas Keith who administered her polygraph and Dr. Steven Miller, who stated "I've worked on over 3000 evaluations in sex crime cases. I have no doubt whatsoever that she is innocent."
Lorinda’s trial was in 2001 when she was 41 years old. She is served her sentence at the Huron Valley Women's Complex in Ypsilanti. MI.
Click Next below for Updates
December 7, 2008
Chuck Pratt, Lorinda's nephew, gave us this update:
"There has recently been some national talk shows sniffing around her story. Governor Granholm personally sent Lorinda commutation papers after receiving a media package regarding Lorinda's case. Lorinda has filled out the paper work and returned it to the parole board. She is praying to get a hearing soon."
There is a new prosecutor and Lorinda's appeals attorney, Patrick O'Connell, will be attempting to reason with him and receive a new trial based on Ronnie Swain's perjured testimony.
"Finally, we intend to stage a rally sometime this spring, supporting Lorinda's innocence. This will most likely occur outdoors at the State Capitol in Lansing. We would hope to garner local, state, and possibly national news attention as we plan to charter a bus and show up a few hundred strong. We put our trust in the Lord."
February 5, 2009
Chuck called to say that the new University of Michigan Innocence Project is taking on his aunt's case. They believe there are many possibilities at their disposal and he sounded very encouraged.
Lorinda Swain's Motion for Relief from Judgment
Scheduled for June 30, 2009 at 8:30 a.m.
Calhoun County Circuit Court
This case, first brought to public attention by PI's Bill Proctor, is one of the first cases accepted by the newly formed Michigan Innocence Clinic. We encourage anyone who can attend to do so, especially citizens of Calhoun County.
Lorinda Swain has served eight years of her 25-50 year sentence for a crime that not only did she not commit but that never happened. Ms. Swain was convicted of four counts of criminal sexual conduct (1st degree) for alleging performing oral sex on her adopted son, Ronnie. She has steadfastly maintained her innocence and now the Michigan Innocence Clinic is representing her in a new attempt to obtain justice on her behalf. Ronnie Swain has repeatedly recanted his original allegations and has tried every avenue he could find to have his mother released because he knows these crimes never occurred. He admits that he fabricated the allegations to explain his own misconduct with the young daughter of his step-sibling.
The clinic filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment, a motion that is similar to federal habeas corpus, in the original trial court where Ms. Swain was convicted before Judge Conrad Sindt (Calhoun County Circuit Court). The motion alleges three claims - 1) newly discovered evidence of actual innocence, 2) an argument in the alternative that her two prior attorneys were constitutionally ineffective for not investigating that evidence, and 3) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel because her attorney failed to use or advise her to use the proper procedures for appealing her case. Judge Sindt has ordered an evidentiary hearing on June 30 at 8:30am on the first two claims.
The Clinic will present four primary witnesses to address these two claims and may present other witnesses who can bolster the claim that this new evidence would have made a huge difference in the outcome of the trial. Two of our witnesses, the school bus driver who drove Ms. Swain's two adopted sons to school and a neighbor who lived nearby Ms. Swain at the time, will testify that the two sons always waited for the school bus together in the morning. This evidence directly contradicts the prosecution's theory for when these alleged crimes occurred. The clinic also plans to call both of Ms. Swain's prior attorneys to testify. Ms. Swain's prior attorneys failed to speak with either witness, despite the central role played by the story of the younger son, Cody, playing look out by waiting for the bus alone while Ms. Swain performed oral sex on Ronnie in the house. Both sons also dispute that this series of events ever happened.
Ms. Swain's case is one of the first cases accepted by the newly formed Michigan Innocence Clinic. While the hope is that this hearing will persuade Judge Sindt that a massive injustice has been done by holding Ms. Swain for crimes that never occurred, the Clinic plans to continue to represent Ms. Swain in as many avenues that may be available to exonerate her.
Evidentiary Hearing - June 30, 2009
Though adjourned until July 16th to accommodate the availability of one witness, there were several encouraging signs in Lorinda Swain’s hearing today.
First is the mere fact that Judge Sindt, the judge from her original trial where she was found guilty, felt there was sufficient reason to order the evidentiary hearing.
Lorinda Swain has served eight of her 25-50 year sentence for a crime that not only did she not commit but that never happened. Ms. Swain was convicted of four counts of criminal sexual conduct (1st degree) for allegedly performing oral sex on her adopted son, Ronnie. She has steadfastly maintained her innocence and Ronnie has steadfastly recanted his original allegations.
The second positive sign was that on several occasions Judge Sindt overruled the prosecutor’s objects that the witnesses being called by the defense did not meet the criteria of “newly discovered evidence”. He wanted to hear everything that he could allow. The only time testimony was limited was when Ronnie and his brother, Cody, both whom testified in the original trial, were told to keep the scope of their testimony to corroborate or not corroborate the testimony of the new witness just minutes earlier.
The testimony of the school bus driver and the neighborhood schoolmate struck at the heart of the prosecution’s original allegations that Lorinda was sexually assaulting Ronnie while Cody waited outside for the bus. Their testimony made the assertion that 100% of the time Cody and Ronnie were seen either waiting together, walking toward the bus together or didn’t go to school that day. It was so consistent that had Cody been waiting outside without Ronnie, the irregularity of it would have been memorable.
The other prong on this case deals with the constitutional ineffectiveness of counsel, both at the original trial and in the appeal process. Swain’s appellate counsel, O’Connell, testified that in his opinion the original lawyer, Heddinger, failed to investigate these two obvious witnesses. The irony is that with all the issues they were dealing with, he also failed to bring it to the court’s attention, committing the same oversight as the original attorney. The prosecution attempted to portray this as simply part of the counsel’s strategy, and a failed strategy is no basis for ineffectiveness of counsel. The Michigan Innocence Clinic was more successful at depicting this as a gross oversight with possible judgment changing consequences.
The newly formed Michigan Innocence Clinic (U of Mich Law School) has displayed a deal of confidence in their case. When the hearing reconvenes, they will hear from the original defense attorney and one other witness.
July 19, 2009
A second evidentiary hearing on the Lorinda Swain case was held on Thursday, July 16th in Calhoun County Circuit Court. It was presided over by Judge Conrad Sindt, with the Michigan Innocence Clinic representing Ms. Swain and the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s office representing the state. Members of Proving Innocence also attended.
Ms. Swain was convicted of sexually abusing her adopted son, Ronnie Swain. The prosecution’s theory is that the abuse occurred on mornings while Ronnie waited for the bus in the home and his younger brother, Cody Swain, waited at the end of the driveway. The hearing was called to hear new testimony that might help prove Ms. Swain’s innocence.
The Court heard testimony from three witnesses as well as final summations from the Michigan Innocence Clinic and the prosecutor. While such judgments are always risky, many observers felt that the case for a new trial to prove Ms. Swain’s innocence was strengthened by the testimony and arguments presented. Summarized below are highlights of the hearing:
Testimony of Edwin Hettinger, Ms. Swain’s original defense counsel
•Mr. Hettinger stated that he was certain that all allegations of Ms. Swain’s sexual abuse of her adopted son, Ronnie Swain, were false and that Ronnie fabricated the story to avoid being punished for his own misdeeds.•Mr. Hettinger also admitted that he did not talk to the bus driver or the neighboring bus rider that could have provided testimony that would have have seriously damaged the prosecutor’s theory about when the supposed sexual abuse took place (mornings at bus stop). He indicated that such testimony would have been key to proving Swain’s innocence and could have made a significant difference to the jury, which struggled with their decision.•Mr. Hettinger was unable to provide a good explanation to the judge as to why he did not contact or present the testimony of these two individuals or discuss it in detail with Ms. Swain. Mr. Hettinger also admitted he did not discuss these two important witnesses with Ms. Swain’s appellant counsel.•Mr. Hettinger also indicated that he had little contact with Ms. Swain during the trial and did not visit her at the jail.
Testimony of Lana Eraca, a former neighbor who lived immediately adjacent to Swain
- This witness, called by the prosecution, claimed that she did see that on occasion Ronnie Swain and Cody Swain were separated on mornings when waiting for the bus. This seemed to support the prosecutor’s theory.
- On cross examination, Ms. Eraca indicated that she did not approve of Ms. Swain’s parenting. It was also clear that her view of Swain’s home and the bus stop may have been obstructed and that she may not have been in a position to view the kids or the bus stop that often.
- The judge agreed to let into the record pictures of the Eraca and Swain homes over the objections of the prosecution.
Testimony of Connie Harrington, sister of Lana Eraca
- This witness, called in rebuttal by the defense, indicated that she visited her sister about once a month when she lived adjacent to Ms. Swain. She testified that there were some obstructions in viewing the Swain home and that her sister usually had her curtains closed.
- Ms. Harrington stated that she loved her sister but that she was somewhat “twisted”. Ms. Harrington said that her sister “Doesn’t tell things the way they really are.”
- In response to a prosecutor’s question, Ms. Harrington said her sister was honest in the sense that she wouldn’t steal a car. But she is not honest in what she says. Ms. Harrington said she wouldn’t consider her sister reliable.
# # # # # # #
At the conclusion of all testimony and summations, the judge asked the prosecution and the defense whether the police record discusses in any way that the alleged sexual misconduct took place in the mornings. Both agreed it was not mentioned in the police record.
The judge said that he would issue a written finding after reviewing the testimony and the police reports. No time frame for issuance of that finding was mentioned.
Chanel 8 Grand Rapids Update
September 2009 Update
Lorinda's journey to freedom is prolonged once again due to the continued and sadly ridiculous efforts of the Calhoun County prosecutor, Susan K. Mladenoff.
After the original sentencing judge, Judge Sindt, ordered a retrial, the prosecutor had no case. The original case was entirely based on the testimony of two young men, who, following Lorinda's conviction, immediately recanted their testimonies and have maintained their recantations ever since. With no case left to speak of, justice and decency would argue to simply choose not to retry Lorinda's case and set her free. But in a last ditch effort at "saving face" and an "I win/you lose at all cost" mentality, Susan K. Mladenoff chose to appeal the judge's decision! The appeals court summarily denied it.
So, what now is the prosecutor's response? Drop the case? Absolutely not! She has indicated her intention to appeal the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court, a move with less chance of being heard than the earlier appeal. She now has 56 days from September 10th, November 5th, to make the appeal.
February 2010 Update
McCormack, clinical professor of law and the co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, updated us on the status of Lorinda Swain's case.
"The Supreme Court remanded Lorinda's case to the Court of Appeals for a full briefing and specifically directed the court to answer the question whether a procedural rule can prevent someone, whom the court has held is likely innocent, from getting relief. It is unsettling to have to go back to the Court of Appeals on the case, but we are encouraged by the Court's question. The case is fully briefed in the Court of Appeals and we are awaiting an argument date. We will let you know when that is, as we would like a good turnout for Lorinda for that argument."
This is another step for Lorinda, but apparently a positive one for those who have maintained their innocence and even been proven innocent, but held in prison on technicalities. We will make it known to you as soon as we receive a date from Bridget.
Kate Branham, President of PI, contacted Lorinda Swain and invited her to the first of its kind Women and Innocence Conference held in Troy, MI on November 5 - 7, 2010. Lorinda needed approval from her "tether officer" to go out of the county and spend the night at the conference. Traveling with her sister, she was allowed to do this and the conference covered her costs.
At the conference, Lorinda reconnected with Julie Baumer, whom she knew in prison and who was just exonerated herself three weeks before the conference. With the possibility of Lorinda going back into prison, she was still very encouraged by meeting with other women who have experienced what she has.
May 3, 2011
Swain Remains Free on Bond
On an emotional roller coaster that doesn't seem to ever end, on May 16, 2011 Lorinda Swain heard Judge Conrad Sindt, her original trial judge, rule that she can remain out on bond until he has ruled on the Michigan Innocence Clinic's (MIC) latest motion.
MIC maintains that the prosecution failed to turn over evidence from an interview with Lorinda's at-the-time recent boyfriend, who contradicted claims that Lorinda would be home in the morning with Ronnie while Ronnie's brother was out waiting for the bus, a claim that would corroborate Cody Swain's recantation of his original trial testimony, and would put the prosecution's office in violation of the Brady, which requires that the prosecution turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense.
Lorinda Swain Update - December 20, 2011
Lorinda Swain Update - April 26, 2012
The April 26th hearing before the original trial judge, Sindt, concluded today. Then live-in boyfriend Dennis Book alleges that he told Det. Picket that Swain could not have could not have committed the sexual abuse for which she was wrongfully convicted. Picket, who is now deceased, made no report of such a telephone interview. Judge Sindt must determine if he believes Book is telling the truth and, if so, if this is exculpatory "new evidence" that should have been turned over to the defense was such that it would have had a significant impact on the results of the trial. On that basis, Sindt can vacate the verdict and order a new trial. It is clear that with the recantation of the main witness, Ronnie Swain, that Calhoun County would have insufficient evidence to have a trial and Swain could finally go free.
Though Ronnie Swain seems the be the kind of youth who would say whatever the people around him wanted him to say, as an adult he has consistently maintained that his accusations toward his mother, Lorinda were fabricated in order to take the spotlight off of himself for some other sexual misconduct in which he was caught. The single-track, closed mindedness to the real truth by Calhoun County Prosecutor, Susan Mladenoff, has continued to destroy a family and waste valuable taxpayers' dollars.
Transcripts of the two-part hearing must be finalized and reviewed by the attorneys, who then have 3 weeks to submit written closing remarks, following which Judge Sindt will deliver his opinion. This means that this could be finished by the end of July.
New Revelations Show Prosecution's Testimony is Full of Holes - April 30, 2012
The thrust of the Michigan Innocence Clinic's case was that, according to Dennis Book, Lorinda's then live-in boyfriend, Det. Pickett called him on the phone and Book vehemently asserted that there was no possible way that Lorinda could have been guilty of such a crime without him knowing it, and had he known it, he would have turned her in himself. This would be sufficient grounds to have a retrial for not turning over exculpatory evidence to the defense, what is referred to as a Bradey violation.
The prosecutor's office countered by producing two witnesses, the original trial prosecutor and the detective partner whom Pickett had mentored, who both said under oath that Det. Pickett never made phone interviews, expcept for people out of the area, and always wrote up reports on any interviews he conducted. Basically, their counter-argument was that Book is making this up in an effort to protect Lorinda.
A few days after the closing of oral arguments, the Michigan Innocence Clinic found out that in another case Pickett had admitted under oath that there were times that he conducted interviews over the phone and that he did not write up reports on every interview conducted. This statement by Pickett of his actual behavior is sure to carry more weight than the prosecution's testimony of what Pickett's normal behavior was. We are all very hopeful for a positive outcome in this case.
On Tuesday, August 21, Lorinda Swain called Kate Branham, president of PI, to tell her the good news! Judge Sindt, the original trial judge, ruled in her favor, granting her a new trial, should the prosecution choose that route!
Lorinda has spent 8 years in prison and 3 years out on a tether during her appeal. She had been accused by her adopted son, Ronnie, of sexually abusing him. There was no evidence beyond his testimony, and after being sentenced to 25 to 50 years, Ronnie recanted his testimony as a fabrication to take the spotlight off of his own misbehavior. For a more complete review of the case, click here.
It remains to be seen whether Calhoun County prosecutor, Susan K. Mladenoff, will move to a new trial, appeal the decision or drop the charges. But without Ronnie's testimony, they simply have no case. In fact, no crime ever occurred. Their only options are to chose not to retry her or to appeal Judge Sindt's decision. The case has already been appealed by the prosecutor's office ad nauseam, wasting tax payer's money and, more importantly, years of an innocent person's life. The traditional inclination of the courts is to not accept post-trial recantations as reliable. Mladenoff's consistent choosing to ignore the plain facts of the case in favor of this blind prejudice has appeared in the past to be almost pathological, being more concerned about losing a case than about justice. If she chooses to appeal this decision, it would appear to this observer to be so outrageous as to be beyond comprehension. To examine Judge Sindt's decision in detail, it has been made available at the end of this article. Click the Read more below to see the Wood TV's Channel 8 in Grand Rapids video story.
You may download Judge Sindt's judgment for yourself. He did not grant her a new trial based on all the issues brought by the Michigan Innocence Clinic, but only one is necessary. The most significant charge by the defense against the prosecution was the failure to turn over exculpatory evidence, something which happens often as a result of tunnel vision, but sometimes due to dishonesty.
"Unspeakable injustice" is how Michelle Jacobs of Proving Innocence described in her tweet the decision of the new prosecutor, David Gilbert, to appeal the judge's decision to give Lorinda Swain a new trial. Past county prosecutor, Susan K. Mladenoff, was often criticized for her relentless pursuit to maintain Lorinda Swain's conviction as a total misuse of public funds, a lack of any ability to ever admit the office had made a mistake, and a complete denial of common sense and justice. For a more complete background on the case, click here.
Based on the testimony of Book, Lorinda's live-in-boyfriend at the time of the alledged crime, Judge Sindt ruled that the prosecution failed to pass on to the defense knowledge that Detective Pickett phoned Book and ended the phone call when Book stated he saw no evidence of any criminal behavior by Lorinda. The prosecution is appealing that decision, claiming there is no evidence (despite Book's testimony) that Pickett ever contacted Book and also claiming the defense could have called Book to testify at the time and did not, so Book's testimony is not "new evidence". As usual, the prosecution also stated that the original jury was in the best position to consider the evidence. It is interesting that so much emphasis is given to the original jury's decision, yet little is said about the fact that the original trial judge, Conrad Sindt, believes she deserves a new trial.
There are many problems with this case, but one facet stands out as typical of wrongful convictions and the facet that is a common excuse for prosecutions' failure to acknowledge that a mistake was made. Part of the original prosecution's case was the testimony of a "jail house snitch". It is utterly astounding that prosecutors and courts still give any credence to convicted felons who have everything to gain by testifying on behalf of the prosecution, and even much to lose if they do not cooperate. It is a known fact that some prisoners research cases in order to be able to falsely claim in detail another prisoner's "confession" to them while they shared a cell. The Justice Project published in 2007 Jailhouse Snitch Testimony: A Policy Review, made possible by The Pew Charitable Trust. It documented that of the known wrongful convictions in capital cases between 1973 and 2004, 46% included perjured testimony of jailhouse snitches. The report gives examples where jailhouse snitches were the deciding factor in wrongful convictions, and gave an overview of policy reforms, mainly having to do with informing the jury of the unreliability of such witnesses and if promises were made to the informants in exchange for their testimony. Some believe jailhouse snitches are so intrinsically unreliable that they should be banned all together.
The reason the prosecution is unwilling to admit they may have erred is that they have bought into the belief that recantations are unreliable without exception. Lorinda's adopted son, Ronney, recanted immediately upon realizing the seriousness of the punishment he would be inflicting upon his mother based on a lie. Any parent knows that children are more prone to lie at the time of or immediately after an incident, due to the pressure of the reward or punishment, and more likely to admit the truth later when the pressure is off. Additionally in this case, there is strong evidence this young child was influenced to make such false statements, an influence he is no longer subject to. Why do the prosecution and the courts believe contrary to what is common sense and promote it as gospel?
It is plain to see that the prosecutor's office does not wish to retry Lorinda because they have no case!!! All testimony from the original trial has either been recanted or discredited. We had hoped that the new prosecutor would be interested in justice. Instead, for reasons only he knows, he has chosen to defend the original infamous decision to try and convict this woman of a crime that never happened. No doubt that the decisions to prosecute most of Calhoun County's cases are sound, but if you are innocent and you are prosecuted for a crime you did not commit, you had better hope that it is not in Calhoun County Michigan.
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