Day three of Shane Bailey’s trial on a murder charge in connection with the death of his long-time girlfriend Sarah Swaim revolved around the experts. Jurors heard from Texas Ranger Brad Oliver, the state of Texas’ answer to an expert peace officer, several forensic specialists and the medical examiner who examined Ms. Swaim’s body.
Bailey reported Ms. Swaim as missing to police on Feb. 7, saying that she had left their home after a night of drinking shots led to an argument over finances. He said he called police when she had not returned home by 2 p.m. the next day. She was found one day later wrapped in a carpet and plastic bags at a burn pile used by Bailey’s sometimes employer.
Jurors Wednesday spent a good portion of the day looking at photos what appeared to be a violent death. Judge Jim Fallon warned the jurors a couple of times that what they were about to see would be rough. Through photos from nearly every conceivable angle, jurors followed Ms. Swaim’s path from the point where prosecutors say her boyfriend dumped her body through the end of the autopsy. Prosecutors said the evidence in those photos proves that Bailey killed the mother of his two youngest children. They told jurors there is every indication that the death occurred at the home the couple shared while their 2-year-old daughter was in the home.
Medical Examiner Lynn Salzburger testified that Ms. Swaim likely died either from blunt force trauma or from being strangled. Salzburger said, while she could give the jury the manner and cause of Ms. Swaim’s death, she can’t tell them the exact time of her demise.
Salzburger said, “There are just too many variables … no set rule that always works.” She said the best she could do was to say that Ms. Swaim died sometime between the last time she was seen alive and the time her body was found.
Authorities contend the last person besides Bailey to see Ms. Swaim alive was a Court Appointed Special Advocate who stopped by to check on the couple’s progress in their effort to regain custody of their youngest child.
After two days of keeping a flat demeanor, Bailey reached for a box of tissue and dabbed at his face before dropping his head into his hands as Salzburger described a photo of Ms. Swaim’s dissected neck in an effort to show jurors the extent of her injuries.
The first photo Salzburger discussed with the jury showed Ms. Swaim’s face completely covered in blood. The M.E. said a great deal of that blood likely came from injuries Ms. Swaim sustained inside of her mouth where she’d suffered a tear in the skin inside of her lower lip.
She also sustained injuries to her nose, her ear and horrific looking injuries to her tongue. Salzburger said the severe bruising to Ms. Swaim’s tongue is a strong indicator that she was strangled. Salzburger said people very often bite down on their own tongues when they are fighting for their lives. Salzburger showed photos of Ms. Swaim’s tongue after it had been removed and sliced “like a you would a loaf of bread” in an effort to show how deep the bruises were.
Those were not the only bruises the jury saw. Ms. Swaim’s body was painted with them. Some of them Salzburger said, were new, while others showed signs of age and healing. Some were so deep they left impressions on her body’s infrastructure. In addition, Ms. Swaim suffered broken ribs and deep contusions to her head. Salzburger pealed back Ms. Swaim’s scalp to photograph those injuries. She also suffered a tear in her liver like those Salzburger said she most often sees in victims of car crashes or long falls.
Salzburger will be back on the stand again when the case resumes Thursday in the 15th state District Court. Other experts who testified Wednesday won’t need to return, including the DNA expert who went over the plethora of places Ms. Swaim’s DNA was found inside the home she shared with Bailey. Her DNA was found in the stain on the door of the clothes dryer in the home and on items inside the dryer including the a comforter and other items found inside a plastic bag along with the clothes Bailey told police Ms. Swaim was wearing when she left the house. Ms. Swaim’s DNA also appeared in smears taken from stains on the wall in the couple’s bedroom, and on the mattress they shared. Her DNA was also found in stains on the underwear Bailey was wearing when he was interviewed by the police.
The first group of photos jurors saw Wednesday showed the burn pile where Bailey’s boss and a co-worker found Ms. Swaim’s body on Feb. 8. Oliver walked the jury through the photos explaining that the first one was of the rolled up carpet that was pulled back so one could see what appeared to be a body wrapped in black bags. Another photo showed the bag pulled back and a part of Ms. Swaim’s body revealed.
Oliver said law enforcement officers decided the best way to preserve any evidence left on her would be to leave her in the black trash bags while she was transported to Dallas for an autopsy. For that reason, he said, they simply placed her already wrapped body on a white sheet and wrapped it up again. They then put the 22-year-old woman’s body in a body bag for transportation.
Once that happened, Oliver said, the law enforcement officers processed the scene at a piece of rural property just outside of Denison. That included, he said, taking a sampling of light carpet left at the scene and all of the reddish orange carpet in which Ms. Swaim’s body was covered back to the police station.
Findings at that scene, he said, led Sherman police to execute another search warrant at the home Ms. Swaim shared with Bailey. They were searching for and found, he said, black bags that resembled the ones wrapped around Ms. Swaim’s body. Police felt sure those bags would be there because they had used similar bags from the home when they were trying to darken windows in the bedroom where police say Ms. Swaim was likely killed.
The need for the black bags was another topic covered in Wednesday morning’s session. Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab Forensics specialist Nicole Mullins testified that some of the stains police sent to the lab failed to test positive for blood in a presumptive blood test. Grayson County Assistant District Attorney Kerye Ashmore asked her if that could have something to do with the fact that the samples had been sprayed with a substance called Blue Star or another one called Lueco Crystal Violet to help officers see and record stains they thought might be blood. Mullins said those products do have a tendency to dilute stains and dilution could be one reason that a stain did not test positive as blood. She said she was not in charge of doing DNA testing on the samples.
Only one sample from the wall in the bedroom came back with a presumptive positive for blood. None of the stains on the mattress were presumptive positive for blood. Wipes that were found in a bag in the dryer in the Bailey-Swaim home also came back as presumptive positive for blood, as did the underwear Bailey was wearing at the time he was questioned by police. The comforter that came out of the dryer with the bag also tested positive for blood.