Wichita — A Wichita man who spent more than a decade protesting his conviction for attempted murder has been freed from prison after a judge ruled that prosecutors didn’t act quickly enough when he was granted a new trial.
The state Court of Appeals ruled last spring that Nathaniel Swenson, 32, didn’t get an adequate defense from his trial lawyer and reversed his conviction. Then last month, Sedgwick County District Judge Ben Burgess ruled that prosecutors denied Swenson his constitutional right to due process by neglecting to bring him back to court for 72 days and dismissed the case.
“It took so long to be able to get someone to hear my word,” Swenson, who spent 11 years in prison, told The Wichita Eagle after he left prison late last month.
District Attorney Nola Foulston said her office did not cause a delay in the trial. She said the court clerk’s office puts cases back on the docket when they are sent back from appeals courts.
“We don’t understand why it was dismissed, when it appears to be a court clerk error,” she said.
Swenson was convicted in 2000 of shooting Freddie Hooks Jr. The trial included Hooks pointing to Swenson as the man who shot him in the shoulder and buttocks on Sept. 3, 1999.
But the jury did not hear from another witness, Robert Turner, who said Hooks admitted it wasn’t Swenson who shot him. Turner said he and Hooks were in prison together at Ellsworth Correctional Facility when Hooks confided he wrongly accused Swenson.
Before the trial, Turner wrote Swenson’s attorney and told police that he was willing to testify.
Swenson’s attorney, Michael Barbara, didn’t call Turner to the stand.
“Once my trial lawyer didn’t do what I asked him to do, I pretty much knew I was going up the boat with no life preserver,” Swenson said. He was sentenced to 17 years.
Barbara said this week that he didn’t believe Turner’s story. Barbara also said putting a convict on the stand would have provided an easy target to discredit Turner on cross-examination.
“I thought the story he told was so incredible nobody would believe him,” Barbara said.
Swenson lost his first appeal in 2002. But a year later, he filed his own post-conviction motion claiming ineffective assistance of his legal counsel. The appeals court agreed.