On September 3, 1999, 29-year-old Freddie Hooks, Jr., was shot in the arm and buttocks in Wichita, Kansas. Hooks told police that he was walking on the street when a car containing two men pulled up and summoned him. He said that he saw 21-year-old Nathaniel Swenson in the car, so he turned and ran because he had “bad karma” with Swenson as a result of prior drug deals between them.
Hooks told police he hid in some bushes, but Swenson got out of the car and came after him. Hooks said that he ran, but Swenson shot him.
Police then arrested Swenson and charged him with attempted murder. He went on trial in Sedgwick County District Court in June 2000.
At trial, Hooks identified Swenson as the man who shot him. Hooks admitted that he had smoked a marijuana cigarette laced with cocaine and consumed several beers just prior to the shooting. He also admitted that he had prior convictions for theft and aggravated robbery.
Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Ann Marie Wenzel testified that some months after the shooting, Hooks was arrested for failing to report to his probation officer. While under arrest, Hooks showed her an unsigned affidavit and a note. The note requested that Hooks sign the affidavit swearing that Swenson was not the gunman. The note said Hooks was to mail the affidavit to Lily Jackson in Wichita. Wenzel testified that Hooks told her that Jackson was Swenson’s grandmother.
In return, the note promised that Hooks would receive $500 after he signed and mailed the affidavit, and another $500 after Swenson was released. The note, although not signed, said the second payment would be upon “my release,” which suggested that Swenson was the author of the note and the unsigned affidavit.
Swenson was convicted by a jury on June 6, 2000. He was sentenced to 16 years and 11 months in prison.
After his conviction was upheld on appeal, Swenson, acting without an attorney, filed a handwritten motion state petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that his trial attorney failed to provide an adequate defense because he did not call two critical witnesses. The petition claimed that Swenson’s mother, if called, would have testified that Swenson had neither a grandmother named Lily Jackson nor a grandmother living in Wichita.
The petition also claimed that prior to Swenson’s trial, Swenson’s cellmate told Swenson that Hooks had been shot by a man named Rodney, who was angry because Hooks had been with Rodney’s girlfriend. The cellmate, who had a lengthy criminal record, told Swenson he had found a faith in God and wanted to make amends for his own crimes. Swenson told his attorney about his cellmate prior to trial, but the attorney chose not to call the cellmate as a witness because he believed the cellmate’s criminal past put his credibility in doubt.
The petition was denied and attorney Michael Whalen was appointed to handle the appeal. After the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's denial, Whalen appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the trial attorney’s failure to call Swenson’s mother was constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. However, following the hearing, Swenson’s motion for a new trial was denied. Whalen then appealed again.
In February 2010, the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed Swenson’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Swenson had received an unfair trial because his attorney failed to call Swenson’s mother as a witness.
On August 16, 2010, Whalen filed a motion to dismiss the indictment because Swenson had not been brought to trial within the time allotted under the state’s speedy trial statute. A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case. Swenson was released from prison on August 20, 2010.
The state appealed the dismissal, and on June 22, 2012, the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed, saying the judge had applied the wrong standard. The case was remanded back to the Sedgwick County District Court for a new trial.
The case was set for retrial on December 9, 2013, but instead of going ahead, the prosecution dropped the charges and the judge dismissed the case.
– Maurice Possley