A man who spent five months in jail for a crime a jury decided he didn't commit is thankful for his incarceration.
Carl Leon Swanigan, a father of six children, said the isolation helped him spurn a drug habit that was dragging his family into poverty.Swanigan was arrested Jan. 17 for the city's first murder of the new year, the shooting death of a man in a reputed drug house at 226 N. 600 West.
Witnesses in the home fingered Swanigan almost immediately as the gunman who fired a .22-caliber bullet through the neck of Victor Delgado-Ojedo, severing both branches of his carotid artery.
But a re-creation of the murder scene and inconsistent physical evidence it highlighted played in the minds of a 3rd District Court jury last week. They took less than an hour to find Swanigan not guilty.
The 30-year-old, instead of finding cause to denounce the system that jailed him, celebrated its fairness.
"I can't believe I got a fair trail like that . . . not being rich and all. I thought the odds were against it," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Swanigan said he also found religion behind bars - a discovery that he believes will see him through the temptation to pick up his old drug habits.
"I got in touch with God and found myself; I found that I didn't want to be a drug addict for the rest of my life."
Swanigan's lawyers, Robert Booker and former U.S. Attorney David Jordan, drew testimony from the state's witnesses that apparently left lots of doubt in the minds of jurors.
They emphasized that:
- Every witness in the house at the time of the shooting placed Swanigan in a doorway of the home near the front door, about 12 feet away from the victim and separated from him by a wall.
"The bullet, from our position, was fired from 2 to 3 feet away," Booker said. "So Mr. Swani-gan couldn't have physically been in the position to be the killer."
- An assistant state medical examiner testified large amounts of blood would have been evident immediately in the room where the victim was standing when he was shot. Prosecutors charged that Swanigan shot Ojedo as he leaned against the front door in the living room; however, there was no evidence of blood in that area.
- An eyewitness changed his testimony between the preliminary hearing and the trial, Booker said. The man first told police he was asleep when the shooting occurred and therefore didn't see it. But he later said he saw Swanigan fire the gun even though he was sleeping because cocaine allowed him to "sleep with my eyes open."
"That improbable testimony kind of cinched it, I think, for the jury," Booker said.
The defense attorney said his client doesn't know who killed Ojedo because he was in a bedroom with the door shut when he heard the gunshot.