By Katie Vloet
May 18, 2016
Lorinda Swain—whose lengthy legal battle for allegedly abusing her adopted son led to seven years in prison even though the son recanted and there was no physical evidence in the case—will be exonerated. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered on May 18 that she receive a new trial, and the Calhoun County prosecutor said later that day that he will not retry her.
"I'm just in disbelief," Swain said today. "Justice wins today. ... I'm going to celebrate for the rest of my life."
Attorneys from the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School have argued that Swain is entitled to a new trial because prosecutors withheld information about her former boyfriend telling a detective that he never saw any abuse occurring. The ex-boyfriend lived with Swain at the time of the alleged abuse.
In 2009 and again in 2012, now-retired Calhoun County Judge Conrad Sindt ordered a new trial for Swain. The Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, but today's order reverses the Court of Appeals decision, saying it "erred in failing to give proper deference to the specific findings of the trial court that the defendant was entitled to a new trial."
"I'm glad that the Calhoun County Prosecutor's Office has recognized that it is time to bring this case to an end. Lorinda's ordeal will finally come to an end," said David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. Some 18 students from the Michigan Innocence Clinic have worked on the case since the Clinic first accepted the case in 2009.
The full text of the Michigan Supreme Court's order:
On order of the Court, leave to appeal having been granted and the briefs and oral arguments of the parties having been considered by the Court, we REVERSE the February 5, 2015 judgment of the Court of Appeals and we REMAND this case to the Calhoun Circuit Court for proceedings consistent with its judgment ordering a new trial. The Court of Appeals erred in applying People v Cress, 468 Mich 678 (2003), to an analysis of a successive motion filed pursuant to MCR 6.502(G)(2). Cress does not apply to the procedural threshold of MCR 6.502(G)(2), as the plain text of the court rule does not require that a defendant satisfy all elements of the test. The Court of Appeals erred in failing to give proper deference to the specific findings of the trial court that the defendant was entitled to a new trial. The defendant provided "a claim of new evidence that was not discovered before the first" motion for relief from judgment, MCR 6.502(G)(2), and we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering a new trial on the facts of this case. In light of this disposition, we decline to address the other issues presented in our order granting leave to appeal.
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