On December 18, 1993, notorious drug dealer Frank Swain was found murdered in his Washington County, North Carolina home. Almost one year later, on December 13, 1994, Brandon Jones and Leroy Spruill were arrested for his murder.
Leroy Spruill was born and raised in North Carolina. 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; he 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 got his start in construction working for his brother-in-law for many years before moving on to another construction company.
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 took him to North Carolina.
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 “Nikki” Maybin, Brandon’s girlfriend for a short time. On December 18, the three were dancing and drinking with friends all night at Big Ed’s Bar. While they were at Big Ed’s, Frank Swain was murdered across town. His throat was slashed and both the jugular veins and the carotid artery were severed. He suffered at least 12 blows to the head with a tire iron and 14 knife wounds.
One year later Brandon and Leroy were both arrested for the murder.
In September of 1994, shortly after her release from prison, Sonja Day, who was Frank Swain’s girlfriend at the time of his death, was also found murdered in her home. Her throat was slashed in a similar manner as Mr. Swain’s. Her murder remains unsolved.
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. A number of witnesses confirmed their alibis and Leroy took and passed a polygraph examination. Blood, hair, and 18 sets of fingerprints were collected, but no physical evidence connected Brandon, Leroy, or Ms. Maybin.
The case against Brandon and Leroy was based largely on testimony from Dana Maybin, whose story changed multiple times over the course of her interactions with police. During her meetings with police, she was threatened with the death penalty if she didn’t cooperate as a “witness.” Contrary to her testimony, Ms. Maybin repeatedly claimed, both before and after Brandon Jones’ trial, that she knew nothing about the murder. However, at trial, Ms. Maybin testified that she was there during the murder and that she stole money out of the victim’s pocket.
The State stressed the gruesome nature of the crime at Brandon’s trial. On September 29, 1995, the 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 plead no contest. He did so 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 was denied, in 2000. Among other things Brandon’s Motion for Appropriate Relief claimed 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.
The Center has represented both Brandon and Leroy for years. In October 2018, the Innocence Inquiry Commission’s 8-member panel considered new evidence in Brandon and Leroy’s case. After a week-long hearing, the panel unanimously found there was sufficient evidence of innocence to merit judicial review and referred the case to the 3-judge panel to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence of innocence.
The Center will represent both men at the 3-judge hearing. We are confident that both men are innocent and hope they will be able to come home after more than 26 years of wrongful incarceration. The hearing was originally scheduled for October 28, 2019. However, when Dana Maybin could not be found just weeks before the start of the hearing, both parties agreed that it needed to be continued. The hearing is now scheduled for November 2021.