Legal teams look back on Lorinda Swain case

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Lorinda Swain spent years behind bars even after her adoptive son recanted his claims of sexual abuse. The circuit court eventually ordered a new trial, and prosecutors decided to drop the charges.

Swain was convicted in 2002 for having sexual relations with her son. But the son later changed his story, saying that he wasn’t telling the truth when he testified at trial that Swain had molested him over a period of years.

“So, the son after the trial came forward and admitted that his story was false and that his stepmother had put him up to it,” said David Moran, University of Michigan Innocence Clinic director.

Moran says it was something else that eventually won his team a new trial for his client.

“We also contacted Lorinda Swain’s ex-boyfriend, who lived in the house for most of the period during which this alleged sexual molestation was supposedly happening on a daily basis, and he very emphatically confirmed that this wasn’t true,” Moran said.

Not only was it not true, according to Moran, but the lead detective on the case interviewed the boyfriend during his initial investigation. Moran says Detective Guy Pitcketts never turned over that evidence to the defense. Not knowing about the boyfriend’s accounts, Swain’s lawyers at the time didn’t call him as a witness.

“I don’t doubt that the prosecution didn’t know about it,” said Moran. “But under the law, the duty to turn over exculpatory information goes to both the prosecution and the police.”

The circuit court agreed and ordered a new trial. But by then, Picketts had passed away. With an uncooperative victim and a missing lead detective, the Calhoun County prosecuting attorney decided to drop the case.

“But the bottom line is our victim had recanted, and any statements, any admissions that (Swain) allegedly made to anybody else weren’t admissible unless we could actually bring in the victim to come in and testify that something had occurred,” said Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney David Gilbert.

When asked whether Swain was wrongfully convicted, Swain said, “No.”

Gilbert questions why the defense waited until after Picketts died to claim the detective failed to turn over potentially favorable evidence. 

“They claim that (Picketts) had interviewed the boyfriend,” said Gilbert. “It’s her boyfriend. I mean, I don’t know how it would take so long to figure that out that they interviewed this witness. And they didn’t know about it? It’s her boyfriend.

“I can’t tell you why (the victim) recanted,” Gilbert added. “Many times victims recant because people get to them. In this case, you’re talking about a child of the suspect who ended up living with family. Why the kid recanted? I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”

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