HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut man who spent two decades in prison for a 1991 murder shouted “Freedom! Freedom!” as he walked out of a courthouse Thursday, after a judge dismissed his murder conviction and ordered a new trial based on new DNA testing.
Alfred Swinton, 68, was placed on home confinement and electronic monitoring after a judge released him on a promise to return to court on July 20. He also thanked lawyers with the Innocence Project in New York, who are representing him.
The decision by Judge Julia DiCocco Dewey in Hartford Superior Court angered relatives of Carla Terry, who was strangled during a night out in Hartford 26 years ago.
“It’s not right,” said Terry’s twin brother, Curtis Terry. “They let a killer get off.”
Terry’s sister, LaVerne Terry, said she was confident Swinton would be convicted again.
Swinton also has been investigated, but not charged, in four other 1990s killings, authorities said. He has denied killing anyone.
Swinton was convicted of murder in 2001 based, in part, on the testimony of a forensic dentist who said Swinton’s teeth matched bite marks on Terry’s body. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
But new DNA testing showed he wasn’t the source of the bite marks. And the dentist has recanted his testimony, citing new developments in the understanding of bite mark evidence.
The new testing also excluded Swinton from DNA found under Terry’s fingernails and in a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
A murder charge remains pending against Swinton, and Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy intends to retry him.
Hardy, who agreed that Swinton should get a new trial, asked that bail be set at $500,000, saying Swinton still is charged with murder and has made incriminating statements to police and other people implicating him in Terry’s death.
Hardy also said Swinton remains a suspect in the other homicides.
Referring to her agreeing to a new trial, Hardy said it was “not a statement from the state’s attorney that the defendant has been exonerated.”
Private attorneys and Innocence Project lawyers working for Swinton said that before the murder case, Swinton had no major criminal record. They also said he was not a flight risk and had the support of the “faith community.”
“There is no evidence to support this conviction,” said Maura Barry Grinalds, a lawyer for a New York law firm. “Mr. Swinton is actually innocent.”
Swinton will be staying with his sister, the Rev. Jessie White, at her home in Bloomfield. He is prohibited from leaving the home, except for court appearances, medical appointments and church.
“Awesome,” White said after the judge ruled. “It is tremendous that the truth has prevailed after 20 years.”
Terry was 28 when she was killed in January 1991 during an evening out in Hartford. She was seen with Swinton at one point during the night, according to court records. Her partially dressed body was found wrapped in a plastic bag in a snow bank early the next morning.
Swinton was charged later the same year with murdering Terry, but a judge ruled that prosecutors lacked probable cause.
A “cold case” investigative squad of the chief state’s attorney’s office reopened the Terry murder case, and he was arrested again in 1998. Prosecutors at the time said technological advances helped them link bite marks on Terry to Swinton.
John Massameno, the lead prosecutor in the trial, argued that Swinton killed Terry after she failed to follow through on promises of sex for cash.
But defense lawyer Norman Pattis contended the state just wanted to close a 10-year-old case and had the wrong man.