BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) - A judge ordered a new trial for Lorinda Swain, who has steadfastly maintained her innocence since being accused of a sex crime with her son.
Judge Conrad Sindt ordered the new trial after hearing two days of testimony that included new witnesses and her son, who recanted his original statement.
No new trial date has been set.
In 2002, Swain was convicted of performing oral sex on her then 13-year-old son, Ronnie. She always has maintained her innocence, and Ronnie almost immediately recanted his story.
He said he lied to protect himself after he inappropriately touched his niece.
"I don't think he had any idea the consequences of his lie," said George Johnson, Swain's father and Ronnie's grandfather.
On June 30, new witnesses presented new information in the first day of her motion for a new trial, including the school bus driver for both Ronnie, now 21, and his brother Cody. Both boys also testified.
The University of Michigan law school's Innocence Clinic took up the case, bringing new testimony that wasn't revealed initially.
"We read (Swain's) application to the clinic, we did our own thorough investigation, and at the end of the investigation, we had to decide two things in her favor," said Bridget McCormack, of the Innocence Clinic. "We had to decide that she was actually innocent, meaning she didn't do anything related to this crime. And we believe there was something we could do about it legally."
Swain's appeal was based on her initial attorney's failure to call two witnesses at her trial, both of whom had evidence suggesting Swain's innocence.
One of those witnesses - Tanya Winterburn - drove the school bus that picked up Ronald Swain and his little brother, Cody. She testified in a recent hearing that Ronald and Cody always waited for the school bus together. This is significant because Ronald told the jury at trial that Lorinda Swain molested him every morning in their home after sending his brother outside to wait for the school bus alone.
Swain's initial attorney also failed to call a second potentially significant defense witness. William Risk was a friend and neighbor of the Swains. Risk, 10 or 11 years old at the time of the alleged incidents, confirms Winterburn's account that the Swain boys always waited at the bus stop together.
In his ruling released Thursday morning, Judge Sindt wrote: "The only evidence against the Defendant at her trial was the testimony of her son, the complainant Ronald Swain. He was not entirely cooperative with the prosecution in testifying against his mother at the trial.... There was no physical evidence or cirumstantial evidence offered and no other witness was offered who testified to any knowledge of the crime...
"The tesitimony of Ms. Winterburn and Mr. Risk would clearly have been important to the jury's consideration of Ronald Swain's credibility. 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," wrote Circuit Court Judge Conrad Sindt in his ruling ordering a new trial. "And there testimony would have completely contradicted his testimony about the alleged sexual assaults...
"This court finds, considering the testimony of Ms. Winterburn and Mr. Risk, that there is a 'significant possibility'... that the Defendant is innocent of all the offenses with which she was charged."
Swain has served eight years in prison.