Defense in Swanson murder granted additional funding

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are making sure a Priest River man’s constitutional rights are being protected while being prosecuted for killing his wife and their unborn child.

Commissioners unanimously agreed on Tuesday to give Jeremy Keith Swanson’s defense counsel access to up to $10,000 in public funds for investigative and other purposes, including evaluations.

Swanson, 27, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder for stabbing his wife, Jennifer, repeatedly as she lay in bed last December. The deadly blitz caused the death of their unborn child that was estimated to be between 15- to 18-weeks old, according to charging documents.

Swanson remains held at the Bonner County Jail without bail.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for March 27.

Swanson, according to probable cause hearing testimony, confessed to stabbing his wife with a kitchen knife and an ice pick after arguing with her. Jennifer Swanson was stabbed as many as 39 times in her head, chest and back.

The offenses qualify Swanson for the death penalty or lifelong imprisonment. The state has 60 days after Swanson’s arraignment in 1st District Court to notify the defense if the death penalty will be sought.

“With a case of this severity, all of us at the county have to make sure that this man’s rights are protected,” Swanson’s attorney, Chief Public Defender Isabella Robertson, told commissioners.

Commission Chairman Cary Kelly and fellow commissioners Joyce Broadsword and Mike Nielsen agreed.

“I find that this is appropriate,” said Commissioner Mike Nielsen.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a defendant a fair trial, a process for obtaining witnesses in their favor and the assistance of counsel in all criminal proceedings.

A question which appears to loom large in the case is Swanson’s fitness to proceed.

Swanson did not appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol after the Dec. 18, 2012, killings. He has no prior criminal record.

A preliminary hearing set for last month was postponed so Swanson could undergo a neuropsychological evaluation. Robertson said evaluations could also determine if a plea bargain can be reached in the case.

“There is a plea bargain ... potentially,” said Robertson.

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