Interview with Sherry Swiney,
Founder of the Patrick Crusade Organization
People Aligned to Replace Injustice & Cruelty with Knowledge - P.A.T.R.I.C.K
Sherry speaks about her husband’s wrongful incarceration and the corruption in Alabama's justice system. Founder and Director of The Patrick Crusade, a website concerning America's prison system, and human rights for all. Sherry's words are enlightening, and I think you will find her interview very much interesting.
Sherry Swiney was born in San Francisco, California, in 1944 and lived in many cities in that state before beginning her travels across the United States working as a civil engineer on major construction projects. She came to Alabama in 1996 to free her wrongly incarcerated husband. She is founder and Director of the Patrick Crusade Organization, a very popular website on the internet that receives, on average, over 600,000 hits every month.
Sherry, your husband is incarcerated in an Alabama prison. How long has he been there?
As of this date (June 13, 2008), my husband, Patrick Swiney, has been in the Alabama prison system for 19 years. He spent almost 13 years at Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama. That's in southern Alabama down by the Florida border. Then on November 30, 2001, he was suddenly transferred to Kilby prison in Mt. Meigs. A month later, they sent him to St. Clair prison in Springville. A year after that he was transferred to Donaldson prison in Bessemer, where he is living now. If people wish to write to him, here is his address:
154406 L20A, 100 Warrior Lane,
Bessemer, AL 35023.
He's not looking for pen pals but a card or note wishing him well is always welcome.
What was he convicted of, and how long of a sentence did he receive?
The short answer is that Patrick was convicted in 1989 of killing his wife and her ex-husband and he was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP). Forensic sciences however, show that Patrick could not have committed this crime.
Tell us something about Patrick Swiney, the man.
Ronald Patrick Swiney, known to his friends as Patrick, was born to Odelle and Leland Swiney on October 24, 1944 in Alabaster, Alabama. When Patrick was sixteen years old, a police officer stopped him in his father’s car and accused him of reckless driving and speeding. Patrick believed himself innocent of this alleged offense. The police officer did not arrest Patrick, but he cursed at him and spoke to him with complete distain and utter disrespect; in Patrick’s words, “He spoke to me like a dog”. It was that day that Patrick vowed he would one day become a police officer and devote the rest of his life to fighting actual crime while being respectful of the public at large he would swear himself to protect.
And indeed Patrick did become a police officer. He began his career with the Huntsville Police Department in 1965 after graduating from Thompson High School in Alabaster. In 1967, he graduated from the Alabama State Police Academy. In 1969, he transferred to the Vestavia PD in Vestavia Hills as a motorcycle cop, during which time he served as Vice-President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). In 1973 he was transferred to the Gulf Shores PD in Gulf Shores where, because of his commendable and unblemished career, he was soon given an undercover investigators assignment; his duty was to investigate what was suspected as being a large scale drug ring operating in the area.
What happened to him, and why?
It's a long story, one of crime and corruption as well as spirituality, healing, hope and miracles. As to what happened, he was framed for murder as "pay back" Alabama style. In the course of working that investigation Patrick uncovered compelling evidence showing that the suspected illegal drug ring was in fact being operated … by the head district attorney of Baldwin County, Jimmie Hendrix and the chief investigator for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department, Bobbie Stewart. As the direct result of the report Patrick compiled and forwarded to federal law enforcement officials, some 47,000 pounds of illegal drugs were recovered, both District Attorney Hendrix and Chief Investigator Stewart were indicted and arrested, following which they each pled guilty to federal criminal charges, resulting in them each being sentenced to prison.
It was then that Patrick’s problems began; shortly thereafter, he began receiving threats against his life and the life of his young daughter. In the first incident, he escaped unscathed. In the second incident, he was not so fortunate; three men attacked him, one bearing a knife, which cut his face so badly that he required several hundred stitches to prevent him from bleeding to death. In that incident, only one of the three assailants was arrested. Originally charged with the felony offense of first-degree assault with intent to murder, the Baldwin County Court judge assigned the case allowed the identified perpetrator to plead guilty to simple misdemeanor assault in exchange for a small fine, without notification to Patrick or the Gulf Shores Police Department for which he was then working. A third threat was made by three unknown men who threatened to kill his young daughter who was then living with her mother approximately 250 miles away. In that incident, it was made known to Patrick that they knew the color of the house in which she then lived, the number of other people living with her, and the phone number to the residence.
By 1977 Patrick had had enough of the pervasive corruption running rampant in the Alabama criminal justice system; he turned in his badge instead of agreeing to accept under-the-table payoffs to turn a blind eye toward what was going on around him. He then went to work in the private sector as an investigator for a well-known attorney.
In 1987, Patrick married Betty Snow, the daughter of Nell Snow, a well-heeled local who was sufficiently connected to the local politicians that she was actually able to get the State of Alabama to build an Interstate off-ramp to their business when there were no other businesses around for miles. Patrick’s new wife, Betty, was very close to then Shelby County District Attorney Mike Campbell; it was even widely rumored around the community that, unbeknownst to Patrick, the two of them were carrying on an extramarital affair while Betty was married to Patrick. And as it turned out, Betty was still romantically involved with her most recent ex-husband, Ronnie Pate.
Five months following Patrick’s marriage to Betty, she and her ex-husband Ronnie were murdered in the Swiney marital residence. It is for those murders that Patrick was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
What evidence of innocence does Patrick have?
Subsequent to Patrick’s conviction, significant technological advancements were made in the science of GSR (gunshot residue) and ballistics testing. It was thus that, in late 2002, the renowned Dr. Jon Nordby, Ph.D., was retained for the purpose of reconstructing the murder scene, according to the state’s evidence, to determine whether or not Patrick could have committed the murders as alleged. Dr. Nordby, specializing in death investigations and criminalistics forensic analysis, is widely considered as being the preeminent authority in his field.
In his detailed 207-page report dated July 2, 2003, complete with pictures of the testing procedures he developed and employed, Dr. Nordby concluded that the Charter Arms AR-7 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle – the alleged murder weapon -- spews copious amounts of GSR when firing any brand of ammunition, and that it would therefore be impossible for anyone to fire such a weapon in an enclosed area such as the living room where the murders occurred, without being literally covered with GSR. This report thus shows as clearly false the heavily-relied-upon Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) disclaimer stating that certain brands of .22 caliber ammunition do not contain the elements necessary to determine the presence of GSR and therefore proves as scientific evidence of innocence the negative GSR test result from the swabs of Patrick’s hands.
Dr. Nordby further concluded that, if indeed Pate had been shot at point blank range in the head as claimed, Patrick’s clothing would certainly have been covered with blood spatters, thus also proving as evidence of innocence the absence of blood from his coat, pants, shirt and shoes. And supporting Dr. Nordby’s findings were the mirroring conclusions thereafter reached by Dr. Glenn Larkin, MD, a highly regarded forensic pathologist and medical examiner considered one of the nation’s best practitioners of legal medicine. Dr. Larkin too painstakingly reviewed all the state’s evidence in this case. In his detailed 43-page report dated December 27, 2003, Dr. Larkin also concluded as impossible for Patrick to have shot his wife and her ex-husband eight times altogether without being literally covered with GSR. Moreover, Dr. Larkin’s report further shows that none of the bullets were fired through the window seized as evidence, as was alleged, that in any event, the recovered bullets were not fired from Patrick’s gun, and that it would be impossible for Betty to have suffered gunpowder burns to her alleged fully clothed body without her clothing also containing GSR at the point of bullet entrance.
Further, in the course of the investigation never before seen crime scene photographs were handed over by the current District Attorney showing there never were any bullet holes in any of the house windows, thus confirming Dr. Larkin’s conclusion that none of the bullets were fired through the window seized as evidence.
Patrick was the proverbial cop’s cop. He was committed completely to enforcing the laws he was sworn to uphold. And for doing so, he paid; indeed the catalyst for the murders of his wife and her former husband was his having developed evidence of a major illegal drug ring being operated by the head district attorney and chief investigator for the sheriff’s department of Baldwin County Alabama. And for those murders, Patrick was framed. He has since developed evidence of his actual innocence not available at the time of his trial. To be sure, not only have Doctors Nordby and Larkin – the preeminent authorities in their fields – formed the opinions that Patrick is innocent of the crimes for which he has now been imprisoned nineteen years, they have proven his innocence through scientific forensic examination. Yet no state or federal court will even consider such evidence of actual innocence on its merits. Instead they have shot him down at every turn on purely procedural grounds.
It cannot be said that Patrick has been afforded justice in any way in this case.
Didn't the courts see Patrick's evidence of innocence?
Indeed all of it was submitted to the courts. It didn't matter. The evidence was ignored. You know, maintaining the imprisonment of an innocent person by ignoring due process does not make the innocent person guilty; instead it impacts the safety of the whole of civilization and sets a dangerous precedent.
That the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Georgia didn't address any of the federal questions or publish a proper opinion on this brief is completely outrageous and contrary to the chartered purpose of the courts. The brief filed on Patrick's behalf was positively brilliant according to jurisprudence and for the 11th Circuit to treat it as they did could only have been carried out in an environment of secrecy. What I mean by that, and this is important, is that this "opinion" if you could even call it that, was contrary to American jurisprudence and could only occur in an environment where it falls under the radar. Clearly, the 11th Circuit counts on the majority of their opinions or orders falling under the radar and that's how they are able to keep up a semblance of proper jurisprudence! I mean, if it appears to be in accordance with the rule of law, then it must be so. But what I am saying is that appearances are deceiving.
Can you explain this further? I'm not sure I understand the legal analysis here.
Sure. The reason actions such as these on the part of the 11th Circuit are contrary to American jurisprudence is because of the separation of powers defined in the U.S. Constitution. The federal government is chartered (by the Constitution) with powers that have very distinct purposes. Those purposes cannot overlap, otherwise it is a Constitutional issue.
Understanding that a government's role is to protect individual rights, but acknowledging that governments have historically been the major violators of these rights, the measure of Separation of Powers was made part of the U.S. Constitution to prevent this likelihood.
The premise behind the separation of powers is that when a single person or group has a large amount of power, they can become dangerous to citizens. The Separation of Power is a method of removing the amount of power in any group's hands, making it more difficult to abuse. Clearly, our system of separated powers is not designed to maximize efficiency; it is designed to maximize freedom.
In this system there are three branches of government: (1) The Executive branch (President, Cabinet and all federal agencies) is chartered with leadership, protection through use of the military, and enforcing laws; (2) The Legislative branch (House and Senate, together called Congress) is chartered with defining legal statutes, writing laws, and appropriating funding to all branches of government; and (3) The Judicial branch (the Courts) is chartered to interpret the laws made by Congress. Each has equal but separate powers. If the courts truly do interpret the laws according to the intent of Congress, then there is no problem Constitutionally.
Now then, that interpretation charter is the basis of American jurisprudence. When the courts refuse to interpret the law, the Courts blur the line of power established by the Constitution. The courts are tasked to determine if a law has been broken. The 11th Circuit Court did not answer the federal questions presented in Patrick's case. Ok, still following?
I think so. Let me see if I have this right. Executive Branch enforces the laws. Legislative Branch makes the laws. Judicial Branch interprets the laws, and one branch isn't supposed to cross over the lines of authority of any other branch.
Yes, you've got it perfectly. Now, travel backward to 1996. In a knee-jerk reaction to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The intent of Congress in writing the AEDPA was to limit needless and baseless litigation by persons who were convicted and sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole also known as LWOP (i.e. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols). Remember that McVeigh got the death penalty and Nichols got LWOP. There is literally a HOST of legal writings about the intent of Congress in enacting the AEDPA including the Congressional record where members of Congress discussed the AEDPA before it was passed and what their intent was in passing it. From those writings it is easy to recognize that Congress did NOT intend to limit legitimate habeas corpus litigation (the process of presenting a convicted person before a court to determine whether the law has been violated in the conviction of that person). That brings us to federal court interpretation of the AEDPA remembering that the Courts only interpret Congressional intent.
Had Patrick's case gone to a liberal circuit court with all this evidence of innocence; with all the constitutional violations that occurred at trial, he would have been exonerated long ago.
You see, the liberal circuits courts interpret the AEDPA according to the Congressional intent that I just stated. The conservative circuits, including the 11th, interpreted the AEDPA much more strictly in the beginning and established a new common law of habeas corpus.