ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WOOD) — The woman who spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted will get about $1.9 million from the county that put her behind bars.
The settlement comes after the 58-year-old Marshall woman has been fighting Calhoun County for nearly 16 years.
Lorinda Swain was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison and stayed there even after her adopted son recanted his accusations that she had sexually abused him.
Her conviction was overturned after the Michigan Supreme Court found that Calhoun County law enforcement failed to disclose evidence that could have exonerated her. But even after she was exonerated, she had to fight another battle to get the monetary compensation the law indicates the wrongfully convicted are entitled to.
“It’s really the first time in decades that she hasn’t had some kind of legal preceding hanging over her head,” Anne Buckleitner, Swain’s attorney for the federal lawsuit, told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday.
In the federal lawsuit filed against the county and the estate of Det. Guy Picketts, who died in 2010, Swain argued her constitutional right to due process was violated when Picketts interviewed her ex-boyfriend and did not disclose the interview to her defense team, which is required by law. The lawsuit contended that if Swain’s counsel had that statement, she would have been acquitted at trial.
Appeal after appeal kept Swain’s case in the court system for years. In December 2014, she lost her last appeal before the Michigan Court of Appeals but was allowed to remain free on bond while the state Supreme Court heard her case.
In April 2016, Swain’s attorneys from the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic said in front of the Michigan Supreme Court they had evidence that her ex-boyfriend told a detective during the investigation that he never saw her abuse her son.
A month later, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Swain was entitled to a new trial. Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert declined to try her based on a lack of witnesses.
The settlement agreement came Thursday.
“Allows her accesses to the resources to do the things she’s been pining to do, frankly, for years for her family, for herself,” Buckleitner said “It’s a great resolution for the county as well because it allows them the opportunity to save attorneys’ fees.”
Had the lawsuit gone to trial, it would have taken between 18 months and two years to resolve and the judgment could have been much more than $1.9 million.
The suit also called for the county to change the way it trains and supervises investigators and the way interviews are recorded. While the settlement does not contain those provisions, Buckleitner says the award will incentivize the county to make the changes anyway to avoid multimillion lawsuits in the future.
“In the hope that it will keep the system honest, make people careful about what they might do that might expose themselves to risks,” Buckleitner said.
She said the award from the county means the state is off the hook when it comes to compensating her client for time in prison — something the state attorney general has been fighting — but the settlement is more than she would have received from the state.
“It’s really a thrilling time for her,” Buckleitner said.
The attorney said her client is eternally grateful to the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, which she believed saved her life.
The Calhoun County Board of Commissioners has to make the final approval of the settlement. Its next meeting is June 7. Any payout would come from the county and its insurance company, MMRMA.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to the Calhoun County administrator, prosecutor and sheriff Thursday. None provided comment.