Cold Case Convictions: Detroit

This week in our Cold Case Convictions series, where we highlight cases in which the testing of rape kits years later helps bring perpetrators to justice, we turn to Detroit.

An untested rape kit from 1988 was recently tested in Detroit, leading to the arrest and conviction of serial offender Michael Eugene Swygart. Twenty-five years after the rape took place, Swygart has been sentenced to 40-75 years in prison on charges of criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping.

Swygart’s criminal history spans two decades and includes stealing vehicles, robbery, larceny and sexual assault. He was previously convicted of raping another woman in 1994 and was granted parole after serving nine years.

Swygart has also been linked to two rapes that occurred in 2009. In early February of that year, a 26-year-old woman reported to the Detroit Police that a man with whom she went on a date had raped her. She went to the hospital and had a rape kit collected, but like so many others, this kit sat on a shelf for over four years. In the meantime, a mere seven weeks later, Swygart attacked a young mother in Detroit. Like the other two victims, this woman underwent a rape kit exam, and like the other two victims, her kit sat on a shelf.

Because Swygart served time in prison, his DNA profile had been entered into CODIS, the national DNA database; however, as the rape kits went untested, the DNA evidence contained in them was not analyzed or compared to DNA profiles already in the system until 2013. This delay allowed him to remain free to commit several additional crimes. Now 43 years old, he is finally facing a hefty sentence for one of his numerous rapes.

Detroit is currently in the process of testing every untested rape kit in its backlog. Under the leadership of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, about 2,000 of the 11,341 backlogged kits have been tested, resulting in approximately 760 DNA matches and the identification of 188 potential serial rapists. We applaud Detroit for their efforts to ensure justice for all victims, and for reaffirming the powerful value of testing all rape kits in a timely manner. 

- By Vivian Long and Sophia Schrager, November 26th, 2014

ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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