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Alfred Swinton

Other Exonerations with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Shortly before 5 a.m. on January 13, 1991, the body of 28-year-old Carla Terry was found in a snowbank near the University of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.

Police soon focused on 42-year-old Alfred Swinton after witnesses said they saw him talking to Terry a few hours earlier in a nearby tavern. Police obtained a search warrant for Swinton’s apartment, which was a short walk from where Terry’s body was found.

During the search, they found a black bra in a basement common area. Although Terry’s sister, Laverne Terry, said she did not recognize the garment, police believed that Swinton had killed Terry after she refused to trade sex for drugs and that he took the bra as a “trophy.”

In March 1991, police drove Swinton to the location where Terry’s body had been discovered, as well as the locations where four other women had been found murdered in Hartford. Swinton told police that he knew all of the women, but denied having anything to do with their murders. Police, however, believed he was a serial killer.

After a forensic analyst said that bite marks on Terry’s breasts appeared to have been made by Swinton’s teeth, police arrested him on June 25, 1991. However, he was released in August when a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge him with murder after the forensic analyst said there was no way to determine when the bite marks were made in relation to Terry’s murder.

The case went cold for several years. However, Swinton again was arrested for Terry’s murder in October 1998 after another forensic odontologist examined the evidence and said the bite marks had been left not long before Terry was killed.

Swinton went to trial in Superior Court in Hartford in January 2001. Terry’s sister, Laverne—who in 1991 said that she did not recognize the black bra—testified that it in fact belonged to her niece, who had loaned it to the victim. Laverne said she had helped pin the bra so the victim could wear it.

Dr. Gus Karazulas, the chief forensic odontologist of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory, testified that bite mark analysis was an exact science that could link an individual to a bite mark to the exclusion of all other individuals. Karazulas said that he compared Swinton’s teeth to the marks on Terry’s body and determined to a “reasonable medical certainty without any reservation” that Swinton made the bite marks.

Hector Freeman testified that on the night of the crime, he saw Carla Terry around 1 a.m. at the Oakland Terrace Café and agreed to take her home. However, first they stopped at Kenney’s Grill. Freeman said he left with Terry shortly before 2 a.m. and dropped her off at the home of another sister, Rhonda Terry.

Darlene Chappell, a bartender at Kenney's Grill, testified that she saw Swinton and Terry at the bar, but Swinton left before Terry.

Martha Point-DuJour, a customer at Kenney’s, testified that she saw Swinton talking with Terry. After Terry left with Freeman, she said, Swinton left alone.

Rhonda Terry testified that she saw Carla Terry get out of Freeman’s car shortly after 2 a.m. She said she saw her sister walk across the street and out of view, but she never arrived. Her body was found less than three hours later.

Mary Alice Mills testified that although she did not remember his exact words, she heard Swinton say in 1991 that he “got away with murder.” She admitted that when she heard the statement, she was drinking alcohol and “getting stoned.”

James Arnold, an inmate at the Webster Correctional Institution and an admitted heroin addict, claimed he had two conversations with Swinton in 1991, during which Swinton told him that he bit the victim. Cynthia Stallings, a habitual drug user, testified that in August 1991, Swinton said that he was not innocent of Terry's murder, and that the authorities “had” him “through the teeth marks” that were found on Terry’s breasts.

The prosecution also presented portions of a freelance writer’s tape-recorded interview of Swinton . The writer, Karon Haller, published an article about the unsolved murders of 10 women and quoted Swinton as saying that the women likely traded sex for drugs. At the same time, Swinton said he had been falsely accused of being “an insane murderer. You don’t have to be insane to have sex and bit somebody all over her body, all right?”

The prosecution asserted showed Swinton’s “consciousness of guilt.” The tape of the interview also contained Swinton’s denials that he had any involvement in Terry’s death or the deaths of any of the women—although those denials were not in the article Haller published.

Michael Scalise testified that while he was in jail with Swinton prior to Swinton’s trial, Swinton confessed to him that he had killed Terry. Scalise, who also said that another inmate had confessed an unrelated crime to him as well, said Swinton told him he had sex with Terry, bit her on the breasts, killed her, and took her bra. Police subsequently equipped Scalise with a hidden tape recorder, but Swinton never incriminated himself and repeatedly insisted he was innocent.

Swinton’s defense attorney presented a dental expert as well. Forensic dentist Neal Riesner testified that his examination revealed no match between Swinton’s teeth and the bite marks. Riesner testified that the images used by Karazulas were too blurry to allow for a positive match, and that a computer enhancement falsely increased the appearance of a match.

On March 21, 2001, the jury convicted Swinton of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Although police said they continued to suspect Swinton in the other unsolved murders, he was never charged with any of those crimes.

In 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld his conviction, although the court said that the computer enhancement evidence should not have been allowed because the person who created the enhancement was never called to testify.

In 2014 and 2015, at the request of the Connecticut Innocence Project, DNA testing was performed on the bite mark swabs. The tests identified male DNA that did not belong to Swinton. DNA testing of the bra revealed the presence of skin cells that did not match the victim or Swinton—suggesting that Carla Terry had never worn it. Although Swinton had never been charged with sexually assaulting Terry, anal and vaginal swabs taken at the time also were tested and revealed male DNA that did not match Swinton.

Because of a conflict, the Innocence Project took over Swinton’s representation in 2015 and enlisted the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher &Flom. After bringing the case to the attention to the Hartford County state’s attorney’s office, DNA testing of the fingernail scrapings of the victim was performed. Those tests also excluded Swinton.

Since Dr. Karazulas’s 2001 testimony, the scientific community had come to reject bite mark analysis as a forensic method capable of identifying a suspect. A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that there is “no scientific basis for forensic odontologists (bite mark analysts) to proffer individualization testimony.”

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which recommended a ban on the use of bite mark evidence, has also condemned the use of bite mark analysis.

The American Board of Forensic Odontologists, the accrediting board for bite mark analysts, no longer permits analysts to make a positive identification from bite mark comparisons.

In light of those developments, Innocence Project lawyers contacted Dr. Karazulas, who provided a sworn affidavit saying he no longer believed that Swinton was the person who inflicted the bite mark on the victim.

Dr. Karazulas said that “new scientific developments caused a significant change to my understanding of bite-mark analysis, which have compelled me, as a matter of my professional ethics and civic duty, to recant completely the testimony that I gave at Mr. Swinton's trial.” Dr. Karazulas said, “First, I now understand that it is not possible to accurately measure and scientifically compare anything other than the arch of an individual's dentition. Second, I have become convinced, given the recent changes in scientific knowledge and understanding in my field, that skin is not capable of accurately recording the characteristics of human dentition, making it impossible to identify ‘the biter’ with any degree of certainty.

In January 2017, Innocence Project lawyers Chris Fabricant and Vanessa Potkin, along with Skadden attorneys Maura Barry Grinalds, Ed Tulin and Thania Charmani, filed a motion for a new trial. In June 2017, the prosecution agreed to vacate Swinton’s conviction and on June 8, 2017, he was released on bond.

On March 1, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/7/2018
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:60 years
Age at the date of crime:42
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*