Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Prosecutor Reflects on Swan Case
January 21, 2014 by Cassandra Shofar | No Comments

"You got a 17-year-old kid who was at a graduation party and these guys just randomly come upon him and brutally murder him." – Prosecutor Jim Flaiz

As Dustin Plottke’s murder trial approaches and the dust settles in the wake of Matthew Boone’s sentence of 15 years to life in prison, Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz delves into what it’s been like covering the Daniel Swan murder case.

“Obviously, the Chardon shooting case is in a category by itself, but the Boone sentencing I think, from an emotional standpoint, was the most emotional sentencing that I’ve had to go through since I’ve been prosecutor,” Flaiz said, sitting in Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fuhry’s courtroom last week.

“I think the part of what made it tough was … they didn’t even know the kid. You got a 17-year-old kid who was at a graduation party and these guys just randomly come upon him and brutally murder him.

“And then … they don’t have answers for three years, his parents, so I think all of that kind of came to a head at court at the sentencing. It was just something that, I was almost in tears myself, it was really that emotional, I think, for everybody in there.”

Boone, 23, of Rome, Ohio, plead guilty to complicity to murder and tampering with evidence­ Nov. 4, 2013, in connection with the 2010 death of Daniel Swan, 17, a Ledgemont High School graduate who was found in the middle of Sidley Road with multiple injuries to his head July 25 of that year.

The Thompson Township teen never regained consciousness and passed away three weeks later.

Swan’s death went unsolved until a random investigation during a July 2012 burglary in Montville Township gave Geauga County Sheriff’s Office detectives a break in the case.

That investigation led detectives to charge Boone and Plottke, 26, also of Rome, Ohio, in connection with Swan’s death. They were both indicted on the third anniversary of the incident.

During Boone’s Dec. 20 sentencing in Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Forrest Burt’s courtroom, Boone’s brother, Mitchal Boone, showed up as well as his father.

Mitchal has been “a concern” for law enforcement officials for some time, Flaiz said.

“I was surprised he showed up, but I had talked to the sheriff about it extensively and Lt. (Scott) Niehus — because of their concerns about the Boone family and just in general, some of the characters that they’ve hung around with over the years — these guys, this crew, the lieutenant put together a security plan and we not only had a strong showing in the courtroom, but we also had several other law enforcement officers stationed around the courthouse,” Flaiz said. “That was concerning. Obviously, I’ve had to deal with some pretty bad people this past year, but that part was a little unsettling … the deputies felt strong enough that they had to walk me back to my office — you know, that’s unsettling.”

Other than the Chardon shooting case, this one has required the “highest security” they’ve had in the courthouse in the last year, he said.

“I was surprised that Boone’s father and his brother did come to court. And there’s some real concerns in this case, we’ve had some witness intimidation, we’ve had witness intimidation through the (Geauga County) Maple Leaf’s Facebook page,” Flaiz said. “And then there was another incident where one of the witnesses was intimidated, who lives out of county, that we’re still investigating that was a pretty significant incident. So, there’s some real concern there.”

Officers of the court were not immune to what might have been.

He added, “It was interesting because, that’s the first time I’ve ever had to have deputies escort myself and (assistant county Prosecutor Nick Burling) across the street because Boone’s brother was driving around the courthouse after the sentencing.”

In addition to the perceived dangers surrounding the case, it had been cold with no concrete leads for three years before ultimately unveiling there was no known relationship between Boone, Plottke and Swan, Flaiz said. That fact alone makes the situation harder in some ways.

“It’s interesting because, I think, I know from talking to (Swan’s parents, Christina and Bill), in one sense, there’s some satisfaction, at least knowing what happened. I mean, losing your son that way and having no idea what happened … but with them, they don’t like the word ‘closure’ and I really understand their perspective because they now have this piece of the puzzle, but the fact is it was this random, senseless killing,” Flaiz explained. “It’s almost like, finding that out, I think, in a way, is worse for them than even the unknown. To not know who killed your son is one thing, but then to find out that he was just randomly and senselessly taken from you. I can’t even imagine how they feel.”

Before Burt sentenced Boone to 15 years to life in prison and 36 months for tampering with evidence — which was filed because Boone admitted to disposing of the truck and pipe shortly after the incident — he gave Boone a chance to make a statement to the Swan family.

“I would just like to apologize for what I’ve done, taking Dan’s life, and if I wouldn’t have been out that night, Dan would still be here with us today,” Boone said, according to the court transcript.

Christina — who, along with her husband and family, has described her son as having a dry sense of humor and being “kind-hearted and compassionate” — talked about how he made her breakfast in the morning, how he wanted to pursue a career in which he hoped to help people, and how honest he was.

“People talk about closure. And according to the Webster dictionary, it might mean a feeling that a bad experience such as a divorce or death of family member has ended and you can start to live again in a calm and normal way. The thought that someone who would do such a cruel and senseless, cowardly thing to another person, that they’re now off the streets where they can’t hurt others, is a small relief. But closure is an illusion. The loss never ends,” she said. “It’s amazing that people can go on when they feel that there’s a huge hole in the center of your body. Our family will always be missing a vital part of who made us, us. Daniel will never toast his brother’s wedding or add his marvelous sense of humor at family Thanksgiving. He’ll never get to go to Ireland as he’d hoped. We’ll never see him graduate from college or be a father. He won’t get to make fun of us as we get old. His ashes sit on our mantel.”

Right before pleading guilty last year, Boone described that night through his eyes.

“We were just driving around and, all of a sudden, we’re going on Sidley Road and then Dustin and everything was like, ‘Oh, there he is.’ He opens up the door, hits the kid with the door … I was driving the truck,” he said. “The kid goes … into the ditch. And then after, Dustin told me, ‘Turn around, turn around,’ and I told him, ‘No, I’m gonna keep on going.’ And he was like, ‘It’d be in your best interest.’

“So I turn around, go back and then I stopped probably like 300 yards ahead of the kid and then that’s when Dustin got out of my truck and grabbed a piece of pipe in the back of the bed and went up and struck the kid in the head with it.”

Boone admitted to Burt he had seen the first strike and then he had turned away as Plottke reportedly kept swinging.

Christina said Boone seems to diminish his role by saying he didn’t want to turn the truck around and he looked away as her son was hit in the head “for no reason.”

“There was no reason. But you’ve chosen a lifestyle of intimidating and assaulting people as entertainment. You chose this. You lived on for three years,” she said. “You slept and ate and went to work knowing that you killed my son. I think you have a tattoo that says only God can judge you. And ultimately, I believe that’s true. I’m glad to leave you in his hands if only to bow before him and plead for his mercy in this life or be cut off from it for all eternity in the next, and that choice is yours.”

She added, “While every good memory is now touched with a sharp twist of pain, my choice is to always be proud to say that Daniel was my son, grateful that God sent him to us and grateful that, through God’s great mercy, I know where he is now and I will see him again. I long for one of his huge hugs and to hear him say again, ‘Hello, Mother.’”

Plottke is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 3 on charges of aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault.

As part of Boone’s plea, he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Plottke’s trial and he is currently being housed in a separate prison from Plottke for safety reasons.

Prior to Boone’s sentencing, Burt called his and Plottke’s actions “cold blooded” and “evil.”

“It wasn’t anger at somebody, who supposedly wronged you. It wasn’t somebody trying to commit a crime and got carried away. Just a night in Geauga County on Sidley Road and to turn around and come back and stand by …,” Burt said. “Life’s full of choices. And you’ve had any number of times that you could have made choices. And how you can stand by and allow somebody, somebody who then you spent time with later, to say you were terrified of this person, you were afraid. You continued to hang out with these people. This was your crowd.”

Burt expressed his condolences to the Swan family, echoing what Flaiz conveyed about the case in general.

“I’ve never had to stand in front of the court and express how terrible it is to lose a son,” he said. “I cannot imagine how hard it is for you. I can put people in prison, but I can’t bring your son back.”

As one chapter is closed and another approaches, the Swans declined further comment, wanting to wait until Plottke’s trial is over.

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