In an unexpectedly quick ruling, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has affirmed the convictions of Addam and Jonathan Swapp and John Timothy Singer in connection with the bombing of an LDS chapel.
Also, the court agreed with U.S. Attorney Dee Benson in a cross-appeal that five years without probation should be tacked on to ringleader Addam Swapp's 15-year prison sentence.The Swapps and Singer were convicted of the 1988 bombing of the Kamas Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Marion, Summit County. Vickie Singer, the mother of John Timothy Singer and mother-in-law of Addam and Jonathan Swapp, also was convicted but did not appeal.
Following the bombing, members of the Singer and Swapp families barricaded themselves inside their farmhouse in Marion and held off a small army of law enforcement officers for 13 days. The siege ended in a shootout that claimed the life of corrections officer Fred House.
During oral arguments on the appeals in Denver last month, Benson argued that U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce R. Jenkins was required by federal sentencing guidelines to add five years to Addam Swapp's sentence because he had used a bomb - which could be classified as a firearm - in the crime.
Addam Swapp argued that the additional sentence would violate the double jeopardy clause because the offenses were predicated on the same set of facts. The appeals court disagreed, saying Congress specifically mandated cumulative punishment for such offenses.
Addam Swapp contended in his appeal that his conviction should be reversed because the district court denied his motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct; denied him the right to interrogate a juror; and denied his motion for a new trial based on comments made by Vickie Singer's lawyer.
During the trial, one of the prosecutors commented on House's death while cross-examining Addam. The officer's death was not part of the case and lawyers had been admonished to avoid the subject.
Writing for the appeals court, Senior U.S. Judge James E. Barrett said the prosecutor's comment may have been argumentative and improper, but it did not prejudice the case.
"The totality of the government's evidence was strong," Barrett wrote. "Where the evidence against the accused is strong, the appellant must show that the prejudice he claims constitutes plain error."
Addam Swapp's complaint about questioning a juror involved an accusation that one or more jury members may have been exposed to extraneous and prejudicial material during their deliberations.
"No evidence or facts were proffered to support the motion," Barrett said, adding, "Something more than unverified conjecture is necessary to justify the grant of a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct where only potentially suspicious circumstances are shown."
Regarding Addam Swapp's third basis for appeal - that Vickie Singer's lawyer mentioned alleged acts of vandalism by Addam Swapp in Marion - Barrett said it was likely that the jury paid little attention to the comment.
Jonathan Swapp argued on appeal that the court should have ordered further psychological evaluation before declaring him competent to stand trial. He also said the court allowed prejudicial comments to be made during the trial.
The appeals court said the district court's finding of competence "was not clearly erroneous or arbitrary." And the extraneous comments were not extreme enough to warrant severing the trial of Jonathan from that of the others, the court ruled.
John Timothy Singer's appeal was based on the court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence of his confession to FBI agents while being transported from Marion to Salt Lake City. He was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a waiver before answering questions, the appeals court noted.
Barrett said there was sufficient evidence to show that "Timothy's confession was knowingly and voluntarily made with an understanding of the effect of the confession."
The court affirmed the convictions and remanded the case of Addam Swapp back to the circuit court level for further sentencing. The additional five-year sentence is to be served upon completion of his 15-year term.
In addition to the federal sentences, Addam Swapp, 29, and Singer, 24, face one-to-15 year state prison terms for manslaughter in connection with House's death. Jonathan Swapp, 24, was sentenced to up to one year for negligent homicide.
(Chart) Victorious appeal
- U.S. attorney: Five years without probation should be tacked on to Addam Swapp's 15-year prison sentence.
- Addam Swapp: prosecutorial misconduct, right to interrogate a juror and new trial based on comments made by Vickie Singer's lawyer.
- Jonathan Swapp: further psychological evaluation and prejudicial comments during trial.
- John Timothy Singer: motion to suppress his confession to FBI agents while being transported from Marion to Salt Lake City.