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Swain v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 2, 2015



James Law Firm, by: William O. " Bill" James, Jr., for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Karen Virginia Wallace, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

ROBIN F. WYNNE, Associate Justice. HART, J., joins. BAKER and HART, JJ., dissent.


ROBIN F. WYNNE, Associate Justice

Heather Swain appeals from her convictions on charges of accomplice to capital murder and accomplice to kidnapping, which resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. She argues on appeal that the introduction of certain portions of her interview with police violated her rights under

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the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We affirm.

Appellant was charged with accomplice to capital murder, accomplice to kidnapping, tampering with physical evidence, and engaging in violent criminal-group activity. Prior to trial, she filed a number of motions seeking to have certain evidence suppressed. Among these was a motion to suppress portions of her interview with police on the grounds that statements by officers during the interview constituted inadmissible hearsay and violated her rights under the Confrontation Clause. Included in these statements by police was information that the police claimed had been given to them by appellant's co-defendants, James Patton, Anthony Alan Swinford, and Timothy Swinford. All of appellant's pretrial motions were denied by the trial court.

At trial, Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Melancon testified that on December 27, 2012, at approximately 8:30 a.m., he responded to a welfare-check call on Four Corner Road in the far southwest portion of Washington County. As he pulled up, he could see a body on the ground with no shirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes. Deputy Melancon testified that it was apparent as soon as he touched the body with a gloved hand that the person was deceased. The deceased was subsequently identified as Ronnie Bradley. It was determined that Mr. Bradley had been killed by a combination of blunt-force trauma and strangulation.

The State contended at trial that appellant was an accomplice to the kidnapping and murder of Ronnie Bradley because she went with the co-defendants to pick up Ronnie at his home and subsequently drove her vehicle while James Patton, Tim Swinford, and Alan Swinford beat Ronnie both inside and outside the vehicle and choked him with one of the vehicle's seatbelts. The State produced evidence that blood was found in appellant's vehicle. The State also produced evidence that appellant was seen in her vehicle, along with Ronnie and her co-defendants, between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on December 26, 2012.

Detective Bret Hagan testified that he conducted a two-and-a-half-hour interview with appellant on December 27-28, 2012. Over appellant's objection, the recording of the interview was played for the jury. A transcript of the interview was also entered into evidence over appellant's objection. Before the recording was played, the trial court admonished the jury, stating,

Now, ladies and gentlemen, members of the jury, the State is about to play this interview and you're about to see the interview with the Defendant, Ms. Swain. A number of the questions asked by the officers conducting the interview are basically hearsay[1] and you're therefore not to consider those questions as the truth of the matter asserted, only as a means of interrogating a witness, more particularly Ms. Swain.

During the interview, appellant initially told the detectives that there had been an incident during which Alan and Tim Swinford had punched Ronnie while they were all in her vehicle. She then maintained that Ronnie got into the Swinfords' truck while Alan and Tim came into her home

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for a short time and that Ronnie, Alan, and Tim left together at about 5:00 p.m. When the detectives confronted her with information from the co-defendants and other witnesses, her subsequent statements changed and included more detail, including indications that Ronnie had begged her to go home, that she wanted to go home but was afraid of Alan and Tim, who refused to allow her to take him home, and that James had tried to stop Alan and Tim and that they had attacked James. She stated that Alan and Tim had " put [Ronnie] out on the road" and promised to go back and get him as opposed to leaving her house with Ronnie in their truck, as she had stated earlier. She also initially indicated that ...

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