SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-five years ago this week, Utah Department of Corrections Lt. Fred House was shot and killed during one of the most infamous standoffs in Utah history.
Addam Swapp, the man responsible for the events that led to the standoff, may soon be released after serving 2 ½ decades behind bars. During his latest parole hearing, Utah Board of Pardons and Parole member Jesse Gallegos told him he would likely recommend to the full board that Swapp be allowed to leave prison.
The most compelling factor for his recommendation came from a letter written by House's widow, Ann House.
"In essence, she has come to a point where she feels that you have served enough time. She doesn't go on to say that she thinks you should be released, but that's certainly the implication or the read I have of it," Gallegos told Swapp. "She now accepts your apology and feels enough time has been spent behind solid walls. And that had a great impact on me. I will probably recommend a release; I just don't know when."
But while that hearing occurred more than four months ago on Sept. 27, the full parole board has not yet made any decision about releasing Swapp.
Swapp, now 51, has been in custody since 1988. He spent 17 years in federal prison for the Jan. 16, 1988, bombing of the stake center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Marion, Summit County. After serving time for that federal conviction, he has spent the past five years of a one-to-15-year sentence for a state manslaughter conviction.
Swapp is being held in an Arizona prison instead of the Utah State Prison, where some of House's relatives and colleagues still work.
The Singer-Swapp saga, as it was known, began in 1979 when polygamist John Singer was shot and killed by police officers serving a warrant. Police say Singer resisted arrest and pulled a gun on them. Swapp, who was in high school at the time, admitted that the shooting had a great impact on him. He ended up becoming part of the family and took two of Singer's daughters as his polygamous wives.
It was during this time that Swapp admitted he developed "very, very strong religious beliefs" and thought that somehow Singer was guiding him. After an issue with water rights arose, Swapp planted 18 sticks of dynamite in the LDS meetinghouse. The bombing — on the ninth anniversary of Singer's death — was intended to spark a confrontation that would lead to Singer's resurrection. Instead, it launched a 13-day standoff with police at the Singer-Swapp clan's compound in Marion. It ended on Jan. 28, 1988, following a shootout that left Fred House dead and Swapp injured.
John Timothy Singer, John Singer's son, was the one who actually shot and killed House. But Swapp today said he accepts that the lion's share of the blame was rightfully placed on him.
"Because I set the things in motion," he said during the latest parole hearing. "Now I never told Timothy to shoot, but the whole thing was set in motion because of my actions. Therefore, I'm responsible."
John Timothy Singer was paroled in 2006 after serving federal time and nearly 10 years of a manslaughter conviction. The matriarch of the clan, Vickie Singer, was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years of probation for helping orchestrate the event.
Before he was sentenced in 1988, Swapp told the court that God had revealed to him that he would not actually serve any time in prison and that Americans would be destroyed if they didn't repent.
"Something moves within me very strongly — I need to call the people of the state of Utah to repent," he said at the time. He also called the country to repentance and said, "If they do not, they will be destroyed.
"I know I will be delivered from the court. Whatever your sentence will be today is nothing to me. … I stand unshaken. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.''
25 years later
In September, Swapp still spoke with religious overtones during his one-hour parole hearing. But instead of speaking from a standpoint of God causing destruction upon the world, Swapp spoke in the tone similar to a born-again Christian.
"It is important for you to know that I have fully embraced, adopted my core belief, (the) very center of my belief is in the person of Jesus Christ and through his word the New Testament. That's the pebble dropped into the pot. I try to have my actions governed by that. When I read (Romans 13:1-4) and it tells me to be subject unto higher powers and principalities unto the government that be, I have to subject myself, I have to humble myself, and recognize that this is what God wants," he said.
Swapp spoke of being born again during a previous parole hearing in 2007. He also offered an apology to Ann House.
Swapp frequently used the words "ashamed" and "embarrassed" during his 2012 hearing. He read from a letter he had prepared and, during his long speech, apologized to many people and asked for their forgiveness — including the House family, his own family, the Singer family, the LDS Church and the town of Marion.
"I'm so sorry for all the pain I've caused so many people, most especially to the House family. To the House family, I want to say publicly, I'm so very sorry for having caused Fred's death. I'm so very sorry for having caused your family deep grief and pain for all these many years," Swapp said in tears.
"If I could, I'd like to tell you, Fred, publicly, I'm so sorry for causing your death. I was so wrong with what I did, by blowing up the church and resisting arrest. I know now that you only wanted a peaceful end to the standoff. I'm sorry that I've caused you to miss out in the life of your family … especially in the lives of your children and the love and companionship with your wife. I hope somehow on the other side, God will let you hear these words from my heart. Dear Fred, I am so very very sorry for causing your death."
Living his life by following Christ's example was another frequent theme during Swapp's parole hearing.
"I am not the same person I was when I came to prison. My core beliefs have completely changed. I am completely opposed to the violent acts that I committed that got me sent to prison," he said.
"I am fully determined to live a life of peace, to be a blessing to my fellow man. When I finally am buried and people reflect upon my life, I want it not to be what happened to me in 1988, but the man that I've become since I got out of prison so I can be a blessing to my fellow man. And that when people talk about me it will be with love in their hearts, not as some radical, not as some fanatic. But as someone who truly reflected the teachings of Christ."
When Gallegos asked Swapp if he believes he is still a risk to society, he replied, "No, I am not."
Changes in prison
When asked what was different now than from 25 years ago, Swapp said being incarcerated has exposed him to many people with different beliefs and cultures.
"I can say with an honest heart, I am thankful that I came to prison. I would not be the man I am today without the experiences I've had in prison. That being said, it pains me for all the pain I've caused my family, for not being there for them. But I don't think there could have been any other way to reach my heart than going through this experience," Swapp said.
He also said that in 1988, he had what he called an "Old Testament mindset."
"I did not know fully how Jesus' followers should act and react. What I've come to learn is that how I acted was completely wrong. I should not have done what I did."
When asked what he would do if he were faced today with a similar situation as in 1988, Swapp said he would simply pack up and move.
Gallegos warned Swapp and his family in attendance that if he were to be released, "It's going to take a tremendous effort to get Addam back into society."
He said he would likely also recommend continuing mental health treatment once Swapp is released, particularly for treatment of radical theories and beliefs.
"Addam, whatever happens in your life, you do not want to start up with those type of deep held and radical thoughts. Because Addam, I'm here to tell you, if that starts again, you will be remembered as the guy from 1988," he said.
Swapp said he would likely move back to the Fairview area where he still has many family members.
A decision by the full parole board on Swapp's release is expected in the coming weeks.