Norell Montrail Swain, 31, is currently serving life in prison without possibility of parole. The state did not seek the death penalty in this case at the request of Swain’s surviving family members.
Swain murdered his parents, Bobby Joe Swain, 63, and Mattie Swain, 53, as well as his nine-month-old niece, Kiana Drisdom, by shooting them each in the head with a .40 caliber handgun while they were sleeping on Aug. 16 or 17, 2002. At trial, the defense countered that someone else actually committed the crime.
Swain had told a cousin he planned to kill his parents about a week before the shootings, according to the cousin’s testimony. “I’m tired of being treated like an outcast,” his cousin said Swain told him. I’m going to kill them. Lots of people don’t think I will, but I’m going to show them.”
On Aug. 16, 2002, a Friday, Bobby Swain was paid $600 cash for some work he had done with his brother, E.J. Swain, at a house in the Knoxville Community. The defendant had recently undergone foot surgery, and was living at home. He was unemployed, and although he owned a car, it was not operable at the time of the shooting. Swain himself admitted that he had a history of drug use, and that he had taken a .40 caliber handgun that was normally kept in the glove compartment of his parents’ Ford Explorer the week before the murders. He claimed to have replaced, but according to the state’s theory, put forward in the first closing by assistant district attorney Christina Kilgore, he still had it the night of the shooting.
On Aug. 16, Swain drove into Talladega with a neighbor, and stopped to visit his cousin at his job. When Swain asked the cousin to buy him some transmission fluid for his car, the cousin said he would have to wait until the following day, when he could cash his check.
“There is no tomorrow,” the cousin said Swain told him.
Swain and the neighbor then met a female acquaintance, and made arrangements for her to braid their hair the next day. While giving the acquaintance a ride to Curry Court, Swain first expressed interest in meeting a woman, then asked if she knew anyone who could sell him crack cocaine. She said she introduced him to a second woman who might be able to sell him crack.
According to testimony, the neighbor then drove Swain home sometime shortly after 11 p.m., just ahead of the midnight curfew his parents had imposed on him.
In the master bedroom of the house on Zellwood Circle in Alpine where the Swains lived, seven shots from a .40 caliber handgun similar to the one that was normally kept in the truck were fired into the three victims. Four struck Bobby Joe Swain in the head, and two hit his wife, also in the head. The final shot struck the baby in the head.
According to evidence presented at trial, Swain then used the gun to break out the window of the Explorer, cutting his hand afterward. He then smashed a glass storm door in front of the house’s front door, leaving a cast-off blood spatter pattern on the door and door jamb.
He then took a Jeep Wrangler, parked under the carport next to the Explorer, leaving blood on the steering wheel.
One of the key pieces of evidence for the state was the fact that there was glass from the Explorer window under the tires of the Wrangler, indicating that it had been moved after the window glass was broken. Swain denied driving the vehicle, but could not explain why the glass was under the tires or why two witnesses saw condensation from the air conditioner dripping into a puddle at the front of the vehicle.
Pieces of glass from the door and the Explorer window were found inside a basketball shoe that Swain, by his own admission, had not worn onto the front porch. A small quantity of crack cocaine was found in the Jeep the next morning, and cocaine residue was found on a pair of tweezers in Swain’s room. Another piece of window glass was found under several of Swain’s papers laid out on his bed.
Swain’s case will now be appealed to the state Supreme Court.