Swaim trial: Jury selected

Swaim Trial Day 1
Chelan County Prosecutor Doug Shae
Accused of murder Bernard Swaim in the court for Day 1
Accused of first degree murder, Bernard Swaim as he appeared in Chelan Superior Court on Tuesday, August 29. Photo by Gary Bégin/NCW Media
Defense Attorney Nick Yedinak

WENATCHEE - A 14-person jury was selected Tuesday, August 29 in the first degree murder trial of 60-year-old Bernard Swaim of Sultan. Swaim is alleged to have killed 30-year-old Stephen Smith of Cashmere in 1982. Smith's body has never been recovered.
The jury consists of nine women and five men. At the end of the trial 12 will be deciding Swaim's fate, while two jurors will be selected as alternates in case one or two of the 12 is not available at the expected last day to rule on the case, which as of now is Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Chelan County Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan is hearing the case taking place in Superior Court #1 here. Attorney for the defense is Nick Yedinak. Prosecuting Attorney is Doug Shae. The trial is expected to take six days, lasting until next Wednesday, because of the Labor Day holiday next Monday, Sept. 4. At least a half dozen witnesses are expected to take the stand for the prosecution.
More than 80 jurors responded to the call for jury duty with several being excused from the overflow courtroom based on various personal hardships and several more excused because of admitted bias against the defendant.
Many other jurors admitted having friends or relatives in law enforcement or that know the victim's family or have knowledge of the case or the primary actors in the case which may cause prejudice and so were also dismissed.
Yedinak at one point asked the assembled potential jurors who among them wanted to be on the jury and then asked each individual respondent why. Ironically, almost none of them made the final cut.
Jurors appearing in the fifth floor courtroom came from the towns of Chelan, Malaga, Monitor, Cashmere, Leavenworth, Manson and Wenatchee, thus representing nearly every town in Chelan County.
Educational demographics ranged from high school diplomas to bachelor's degrees in a variety of subjects.
Many of the jurors were retired, some were in management and some were hourly employees. One person was dismissed from serving because his English was too poor to understand the proceedings, being a native Spanish speaker.
Age-wise, jurors appeared to be mostly middle-aged and older, but one juror said he wasn't even born yet when the disappearance of Smith took place in 1982.
During one phase of jury suitability questioning, Yedinak asked potential jurors if they agreed that when couples divorced sometimes lies and harsh statements were used against one another especially when child custody was involved. Everyone agreed that type of scenario does indeed take place and several potential jurors commented on personal experiences regarding same.
Yedinak appeared to be laying the groundwork for the defense's counter to the expected incriminating testimony of Swaim's ex-wife and former co-defendant, 58-year-old Dawn Soles of Leavenworth.
Chelan County Sheriff's Office Detective Josh Mathena sat next to Shae during jury selection, which lasted the entire day until about 4:30 p.m. when the 14 were finally selected after a back and forth negotiating process between the defense and prosecuting attorneys as to which jurors were deemed acceptable to both sides.
Mathena started working on the 1982 Stephen E. Smith disappearance case on Jan. 5 at the request of surviving Smith family members. He elicited a confession last March from Soles, that Smith was killed by her then husband Swaim after getting Smith drunk.
Soles has since become a witness for the state against Swaim in a plea bargain accomplished last week.
Opening statements took place earlier this morning, Wednesday, August 30. Soles is expected to be the prosecution's star witness against her former husband.
The crux of the case is that allegedly Soles was angry she only had supervised visitation rights to her 2-year-old daughter Crystal one weekend a month and allegedly convinced Swaim to kill Crystal's father, Stephen E. Smith of Cashmere.
Smith’s 1966 Pontiac Tempest was found abandoned on Dead Man’s Hill Road near Dryden several days after he was reported missing by his sister Gail Lee.
At one point during jury questioning, both the defense and prosecution lawyers mentioned the Natalee Holloway case, a graduated Alabama high school student who disappeared in 2005 during a jaunt in Aruba and whose body was never found.
All prospective jurors agreed that finding Smith's body would be important so that the family could achieve closure.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett has put together a team to continue the search for Smith's remains and is hopeful his whereabouts will be revealed during the trial or soon thereafter.
More than three years ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a capital punishment moratorium. Since capital punishment cases no longer exist, a first degree murder finding of guilt will at worst, cause Swaim to spend the rest of his life in state prison without parole.
It is unknown as to what Soles is receiving in return for her testimony against Swaim. In most cases, a reduced sentence is usually the reward for helping the state make its case, especially if the former co-defendant is found to have not physically played a part in the actual murder itself or the disposal of the body.
Be sure to keep reading the Cashmere Valley Record and the Leavenworth Echo for future updates on the Bernard Swaim murder trial.
Gary Bégin can be reached at: gary@ncwmedia.net.

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