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Lorinda Swain

Other Michigan Exonerations with Official Misconduct
In August 2001, 40-year-old Lorinda Swain was arrested in Calhoun County, Michigan on charges of sexually molesting her adopted son from late 1994, when he was seven years old, until late 1996.

The alleged victim, Ronnie Swain, was living with his adoptive father, who had divorced Lorinda years earlier and remarried. The boy made the accusation when his stepmother confronted him about a younger relative’s claims that he had sexually abused her. In response to questions about prior sexual activity, Ronnie said that several years earlier, Lorinda had performed oral sex on him numerous times before he left for school in the mornings.

Lorinda was charged with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. She went to trial in Calhoun County Circuit Court in August 2002. Prior to the trial, Ronnie recanted to his grandparents, saying nothing sexual had occurred between him and his adoptive mother. When Ronnie took the witness stand, he balked, and said he couldn’t remember anything. However, after a recess during which he met with the prosecution, Ronnie testified that Lorinda had performed oral sex on him. His younger brother, who had also been adopted by Lorinda and her former husband, testified that there were times when she slept naked with Ronnie and kissed him on the lips.

Deborah Charles testified that she was in custody with Lorinda when she was held prior to trial, and that Lorinda confessed to her that she had slept with Ronnie and had sexually abused Ronnie while using drugs.

Swain testified and denied that sexual activity ever occurred. She also denied that she ever confessed to Charles.

On August 20, 2002, the jury convicted Swain on all four charges. She was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison. Immediately after the trial, Ronnie recanted his testimony to police, but was told it was too late and nothing could be done. Two years later, both brothers recanted to the prosecution, but again nothing was done.

In 2004, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and sentence.

In 2009, Swain, who was represented by the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, was granted a new trial.

Ronnie Swain had testified at Lorinda’s trial that she regularly performed oral sex on him before he left for school while his younger brother waited outside for the bus. At a hearing before Calhoun County Judge Sindt, two witnesses contradicted that story. A bus driver and a neighbor both testified at that they always saw Ronnie and his brother waiting together for the school bus.

Judge Sindt ruled that Swain’s defense attorney provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call those witnesses to testify at Swain’s trial.

“The only evidence against (Swain) at her trial was the testimony of her son, the complainant Ronald Swain,” Judge Sindt ruled. “He was not entirely cooperative with the prosecution in testifying against his mother at the trial.... There was no physical evidence or circumstantial evidence offered and no other witness was offered who testified to any knowledge of the crime.”

“These witnesses would have been the only testimony by independent witnesses which the jury could have utilized to test Ronald Swain’s testimony about events at the very moment he said that these crimes were being committed,” Sindt ruled. “And their testimony would have completely contradicted his testimony about the alleged sexual assaults.”

By that time, Ronnie had recanted to the Innocence Clinic lawyers as well as to the prosecution and the police. Swain was released on bond in August 2009.

The prosecution appealed and the trial court’s ruling was overturned in June 2010. The case was remanded back to Judge Sindt where lawyers for the Innocence Clinic, after extended legal wrangling, were allowed to present testimony from Dennis Book, who was living with Swain at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. According to Book, he never saw any sexual acts between Swain and Ronnie. He also stated that he was questioned by a detective prior to the trial, and he told him the same. That information was not passed along to Swain’s defense lawyer.

Swain’s defense lawyer said he did not call Book as a witness because by the time of the trial, Book and Swain were estranged and he believed Book was hostile to Swain because of the break-up. He testified that if he had known about Book’s statement to the detective, he would have called Book as a witness anyway.

In addition, Ronnie’s brother, Cody, recanted his trial testimony, saying that Swain did not kiss Ronnie on the lips and never slept naked with him.

The prosecution denied that Book made such statements to the detective (who had since died). However, Judge Sindt again granted Swain a new trial.

“Book testified that he was in the residence in the mornings before the boys went to school and stayed there after they went to school so he and Swain could be alone together,” the judge declared. “He testified that he never saw any instance of Swain sexually abusing Ronnie, that such acts could not have occurred without his knowledge, and that he would promptly have reported such acts if he had any knowledge of them.

“Not only is this direct evidence of the Defendant’s innocence,” Sindt ruled. “It is also evidence which attacks the credibility of Ronnie Swain. It is exculpatory evidence [which the prosecution had a duty] to disclose. And there is no dispute that it was not disclosed." The prosecution again appealed and in February 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Sindt again.

However, the Innocence Clinic persuaded the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case and in May 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled the appeals court and ordered a new trial for Swain.

On May 19, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In July 2017, Swain filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Calhoun County seeking damages. The lawsuit was settled in May 2018 for $1.9 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2016
Last Updated: 5/25/2018
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:25 to 50 years
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No