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 onto 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 of 1993 Brandon Jones and Leroy Spruill were new friends. Brandon was new in town, having moved north while doing farm work. The two spent a lot of time together with Dana “Niki” Maybin, Brandon’s girlfriend for a short time, at Big Ed’s Bar. The night of December 18, the three were dancing and drinking with friends all night at Big Ed’s Bar. While they were at Big Ed’s, across town a man named Frank Swain was murdered in his home. The murder was brutal and bloody. His throat was slashed, 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.
The case against Brandon and Leroy was based on testimony from Dana Maybin, whose story changed multiple times over the course of her involvement with police. Ms. Maybin repeatedly claimed, both before and after the trial of Wallace Brandon Jones, that she knew nothing about the crime. Ms. Maybin testified at trial that she was there during the crime, witnessed the murder, and that she stole money off the victim’s body. No physical evidence has ever implicated Brandon, Leroy, or Ms. Maybin in this 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. Leroy took and passed a polygraph exam.
The State stressed the nature of the crime scene at Brandon’s trial. Blood, hair, and 18 sets of fingerprints were collected, but no physical evidence connected Brandon, Leroy, or Ms. Maybin.
On September 29, 1995, the jury found Brandon guilty of both crimes and sentenced 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 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.
Brandon and Leroy both applied with the Center in 2001. After years of investigation, with contributions from UNC and Duke Law Innocence Projects, and in-depth investigation as part of a Wrongful Convictions class at UNC School of Law, the Center referred the cases to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in November of 2009. After having the case for 9 years and using its statutory powers to obtain files, evidence, and testing, the Innocence Inquiry Commission’s 8-member panel heard Brandon and Leroy’s case in October 2018. After a week-long hearing, the 8-member panel unanimously 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 three-judge hearing.