A jury convicted a U.S. man of murder Tuesday in the drowning of his wife during a scuba-diving excursion a decade ago, dashing what prosecutors called a bid to get away with a nearly perfect crime.
Former dive shop owner David Swain, 53, of Jamestown, Rhode
Island, dressed in a tan suit and tie, looked straight ahead as the
unanimous verdict was read following a sensational trial that heard
accusations he killed Shelley Tyre to pursue a romance with another
woman and get his hands on his wife's money.
Tyre's drowning near an isolated shipwreck at a depth of 80 feet
was initially ruled an accident, but authorities in the British
Virgin Islands charged Swain with murder after a 2006 civil trial
in Rhode Island found him responsible for his wife's death. That
jury awarded Tyre's family $3.5 million, but Swain filed for
bankruptcy and has not paid the sum.
A judge expects to sentence Swain on Nov. 4. He faces life in
prison in the sweltering hilltop prison in Tortola, where he has
been held for about two years.
After obtaining permission from the judge following the verdict,
the murdered woman's father, Richard Tyre, walked to the witness
box and clutched a microphone with a trembling hand.
"We're old, we're in our 80s, and when Shelley was killed, our
life pretty much ended," he said in a broken voice.
Minutes later, he gave another emotional statement to reporters
outside the court, where children in their school uniforms watched
and chickens pecked at the dirt. Tyre said he felt "extremely good
that people like David Swain won't be able to hurt any more
The nine jurors had four hours to produce a verdict under local
law. Although only a seven-vote majority was required, Supreme
Court Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles urged the seven women and
two men to issue a unanimous verdict after giving a three-hour
summation of the case, and they did.
Defense attorney Timothy Bradl, of the Boston-based firm Denner
Pellegrino, said the verdict would be appealed to the Eastern
Caribbean Supreme Court. He said the defense team noted several
problems during the judge's summation, but did not give any
Swain's two adult children, who attended each day of the
three-week trial, breathed heavily after the verdict was read and
quietly embraced their gaunt father before he was escorted out.
"My father is an innocent man," son Jeremy Swain later told
reporters from U.S. TV networks, his voice thick with emotion.
Swain's children expressed frustration with the trial and the
Prosecutors accused Swain of drowning his petite wife on the
last day of their March 1999 Caribbean vacation so he could pursue
a romance with a Rhode Island chiropractor as well as gain his
wife's inheritance estimated at $630,000. They said Tyre's drowning
in the deep was almost a perfect murder.
The prosecution presented experts who testified they believed
Swain wrestled his wife from behind, tore off her scuba mask and
shut off her air supply while they swam near the shipwreck. Her
mask was damaged, the mouthpiece of her snorkel was missing, and
her fin found embedded in a sandbar - which prosecution witnesses
testified were clear signs of a violent struggle.
Swain, a former emergency medical technician, testified he tried
to revive his wife in what he insisted was a mysterious accident.
But he acknowledged that he quit giving CPR after two or three
Defense attorneys maintained the poorly done autopsy report
could not rule out medical reasons for Tyre's death, including the
possibility that she suffered a heart attack or stroke during what
they say was an accidental drowning.
The defense called it a weak case that lacked physical evidence
and was built on speculative theories and circumstantial evidence
they argued was designed to roil the emotions of the jury. No
eyewitnesses or DNA evidence linked Swain to the murder.
The trial, which attracted TV shows including "Dateline NBC,"
was one of the most sensational trials in the history of this tiny
British Caribbean territory, where violence is relatively rare.
Its cast of characters included several diving experts and the
Rhode Island chiropractor who Swain had called his "soul mate."
He apparently began pursuing a relationship with her two weeks
after his wife's drowning and admitted kissing her one evening when
Tyre was still alive.
Some witnesses testified Swain did not appear to be sincere in
his subdued grief after Tyre drowned. The prosecutor described his
manner as "arrogant," and defense lawyer Hayden St. Clair-Douglas
urged the jury to discard any feelings of "dislike" they might
have toward Swain.
For Tyre's parents, the verdict was a long-delayed victory but
it was clear her death broke their hearts.
"Nothing will bring her back," Richard Tyre said from the
witness box after the verdict was read.
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