On December 18, 1993, Frank Swain was found murdered in his Washington County, North Carolina home. A year later, on December 13, 1994, Brandon Jones and Leroy Spruill were arrested for his murder.
Brandon and Leroy
Leroy Spruill was born and raised in Washington County. He grew up with a large and loving family, including three sisters and a brother. His childhood was every bit the all-American childhood experience. Leroy went to Church Camp every summer for a decade and was a cub scout and a boy scout. He was a high school athlete on the softball, basketball, and football teams. He was a volunteer firefighter for years. After high school he worked in construction. He was always described as a fun-loving, gentle giant.
Wallace Brandon Jones was raised in Tennessee and was a bit of a wanderer. Brandon struggled to find himself as a young man. He worked construction in Texas, Alabama, and finally Florida before getting a job working in farming. It was this farming work that brought him to North Carolina in September 1993 at the young age of 20. That proved to be a move that would take 27 years of his freedom.
In December 1993, Brandon and Leroy were new friends in Washington County, NC. Brandon had recently arrived in town and the two spent time together, along with Dana Maybin, Brandon’s girlfriend of less than a month.
On December 18, 1993, Brandon, Leroy and Dana were dancing and drinking with friends all night at the bar called Big Ed’s Bar in Roper, NC. While they were at Big Ed’s, Frank Swain was murdered in his mobile home across town.
Frank suffered 12 blows to the head with a tire iron and 14 knife wounds before his throat was slashed. Whoever attacked him, clearly wanted him dead. The crime scene was very bloody and there was evidence of a struggle, including a number of defensive cuts on the victim’s hands. There was no evidence of forced entry. Latent fingerprint lifts were taken from the crime scene and blood and hair samples were collected. Car mats on the front porch had visible droppings of blood, indicating a likely second bleeder, yet were never collected by law enforcement.
Both Leroy and Brandon were offered plea deals to turn on the other, but neither has ever changed their story – they were together all night and are both innocent. Witnesses at trial corroborated their alibi. Leroy passed two polygraphs.
The State’s theory at trial was that Brandon and Leroy went to steal drugs and money from Frank and ended up killing him, with Dana as a witness. On several occasions before the trial Dana claimed to know nothing of the crime. These statements were made in diary entries, letters, and in a recorded interview with Maynard Harrell, Leroy’s attorney. She said she originally implicated Brandon to spite him and to get the reward money and, when she tried to recant, she was told she’d be left holding the bag for the murder if she did not testify. Dana originally also implicated Curtis Furlough, who was later eliminated as a suspect and never charged.
Dana was questioned by law enforcement for the first time 4 months after the murder. Investigators said she knew details of the crime that only someone present would know. Dana said she was shown crime scene photos, was given information about the crime by law enforcement, and read about the case in the newspaper. Her statements were internally inconsistent, as well as inconsistent with known facts and the physical evidence. As examples:
- She said she saw Frank through the crack in the door, but the layout of the trailer makes that impossible;
- She said she pushed the trailer door open, but the door opens outward, not inward;
- She said Frank reached out and pleaded for help right before his throat was cut, however the medical examiner testified that Frank would have been unconscious from the blows to the head;
- She said Brandon tasked her with removing the money from Frank’s pockets, but money was still in his pockets when law enforcement arrived on the scene; and
- She said she removed a baggie of drugs from Frank’s pockets, but Frank was known to keep his drugs in a lifesaver container.
Lynn Rogers, a bartender at Big Ed’s, first spoke to law enforcement a year and a half after Frank’s murder. She claimed to overhear a conversation between Leroy and Brandon that gave her the impression Leroy had killed a black man and the two men were coming up with an alibi for him. She also claimed to see Leroy and Brandon leave the bar the night of the murder and return later wearing different clothing and spending money they didn’t have earlier in the evening. Three days later, she told law enforcement it was all “hearsay”, but that never came out at trial. When she testified, her story changed to include facts that inculpated Brandon more than her original statement.
Nine months after Frank’s death, on September 26, 1994, Sonja Day, Frank’s fiancée who was incarcerated when he was murdered, was found murdered in her apartment. Her throat was slashed in a similar manner to Frank’s. Brandon was in Tennessee when Sonja was killed, and Leroy was never a suspect. Her murder remains unsolved and the Center believes the two cases are connected.
On September 29, 1995, a jury found Brandon guilty of both crimes sentencing him to life plus 40 years. After Brandon was found guilty, and with the State still considering the death penalty, Leroy’s attorneys advised him to take a deal. On October 5, 1995, Leroy accepted an Alford plea, maintaining his innocence, and was also sentenced to life plus 40 years.
The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld Brandon’s conviction in 1997. He filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief, which included claims that there was significant evidence of the attempted use of a jailhouse snitch that had been withheld from the defense, that the State never disclosed that a key witness had changed her story, and that Brandon’s trial counsel had a conflict of interest, failed to make appropriate objections, and failed to call key witnesses or introduce evidence of Sonja Day’s murder. Leroy filed a petition for clemency in 2001. All filings were denied.
None of the crime scene evidence has ever matched Brandon, Leroy, or Dana. Luminol tests were done on the truck Brandon and Leroy allegedly drove to and from the scene, but no potential traces of blood were identified. Post-conviction DNA testing of the tire iron revealed a mixture of Frank’s DNA and an unknown individual. Post-conviction DNA testing has also revealed mixture profiles in Frank’s pants’ pockets that included Frank and other unknown profiles. Dana was excluded from those mixtures, despite her claim that she reached into Frank’s pocket to remove money and drugs. Brandon and Leroy were also excluded from the DNA in the pockets. The major male profile found, that was consistent in both pockets, was not Frank’s and the contributor remains unknown.
The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence began investigating Brandon and Leroy’s case in 2001. In 2009, unable to obtain access to the law enforcement files and physical evidence in the case, the Center referred the case to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission so they could use their statutory authority to search for and test evidence. Nine years later, in October 2018, the Commission’s eight-member panel unanimously found that there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence in their cases to merit judicial review.
The Attorney General’s office contacted Dana Maybin in December 2018 to schedule a meeting with her. In response, she said, “Yeah, you’ll probably have to remind me of stuff.” She has gone completely off the grid since that call and cannot be located.
Release from Prison
On November 9, 2021, after nearly 27 years in prison for a crime they did not commit and hearing delays due to the pandemic, Brandon Jones and Leroy Spruill needed to go home. They walked to freedom after making the difficult decision to accept an Alford plea that allowed them to be released with time served. They have always maintained their innocence and continue to do so. The Center is convinced of Brandon and Leroy’s innocence and will continue to fight for them as they help them to rebuild their lives.
If you would like to donate to a GoFundMe set up to help Brandon and Leroy, please click here.
If you have any information about the murders of Frank Swain or Sonja Day, please contact the Center at (919) 489-3268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.