State seeking death penalty in child death

May 22, 2013
Michael Swayngim, 25, could face the death penalty if found guilty of the first-degree murder of his four-year-old son.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the man accused of murdering his 4-year-old son last August.

Michael Swayngim turned 25 on March 30 in a high security jail cell at the Haywood County Detention Center. That’s where he’s been since the suspicious death of his young son, Jake, on Aug. 16, 2012.

Swayngim was in court Monday for a pre-trial conference that's required in capital cases.

Emergency workers were the first on the scene that day after Swayngim called 9-1-1 around 7 p.m. telling authorities that his son had stopped breathing. According to search warrants, EMS workers immediately noticed multiple bruises on the child’s face and body. Detectives on the scene noted that Jake “had clearly been abused,” according the warrant.

Emergency crews worked to revive the unconscious and limp child before he was airlifted to Mission Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

At first, Swayngim told authorities the child had fallen in the bathtub, then changed his story, saying he collapsed in the hallway after his bath. He then told a deputy that Jake was gasping for air and convulsing in bed after his bath.

He was initially arrested when detectives noticed firearms in the home. Swayngim was found guilty of charges related to a breaking and entering in 2009. As a convicted felon, he is not allowed to own or possess firearms.

His wife, Julia Swayngim, who was Jake’s step-mother and was also in the home at the time, does not face any charges.

An autopsy revealed the child died from blunt force trauma to the head caused by at least two traumatic brain injuries.

Swayngim was initially charged with felony child abuse and was later charged with murder.

He was indicted for his son's murder by a Haywood County grand jury in January but his rule 24 hearing, a pretrial conference in capital cases, was continued until Monday.

Swayngim appeared in Haywood County Superior Court Monday afternoon, with several family members supporting him in the audience.

Assistant District Attorney Rachael Groffsky made the motion on behalf of the state to proceed capitally.

“There is sufficient evidence to support at least one aggravating circumstance to prove the crime of first-degree murder was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel,” Groffsky said.

Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts approved the motion from the state and appointed Jack Stuart to assist Swayngim's lawyer, John T. Barrett.

Letts also revoked Swayngim’s $100,000 secured bond and ordered that he remain in custody without bond. Swayngim is expected back in court Aug. 26.

Swayngim’s family left the courtroom upset with the latest development in the case. They maintain the belief that he is innocent and that detectives aren’t looking at the full picture when it comes to the investigation.

Swayngim’s aunt, Stephanie Swayngim, said he was always kind to his children.

“I watched him every day come to the garden and play with those kids. He was always the one playing ball with them. He’s never spanked them or yelled at them. I’ve never even heard him raise his voice,” she said.

Swayngim’s mother, Tammy Swayngim, said there’s more that detectives need to consider while moving forward in the case.

“There’s always more to a story,” she said.