Cobb man's conviction cleared after CBS Atlanta investigation - CBS46 News

Cobb man's conviction cleared after CBS Atlanta investigation

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The Cobb County District Attorney's office will not retry a man convicted of violating the sex offender registry after a CBS Atlanta investigation exposed evidence jurors never got to hear.   

"I've finally been exonerated," said an elated Leonard Swanagan after learning his conviction had been cleared. "I want to put my life back in order and I want the prosecutors to answer for what they did to me."

Judge Jason Fincher granted Swanagan a new trial in August after his current attorney argued he had ineffective counsel during the July 2011 trial.

Swanagan was convicted after being arrested for living within a 1000 feet of a community pool.  Jurors were not told that Swanagan was supposed to have been removed from the registry years before his arrest for violating the residency regulations.

A CBS Atlanta investigation found Illinois State Police made a mistake and did not remove Swanagan from the list in 2004 as was required by law. 

Swanagan's troubles with the law began when he pleaded guilty to a sex crime in Ohio in 1994. When he moved to Illinois in 1996 he was required to register as a sex offender.

As a result, Swanagan had to register as a sex offender when he moved to Georgia in 2004.

The Cobb County Sheriff's Department arrested Swanagan in 2008 for living too close to a swimming pool. Georgia laws prevent registered sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of a swimming pool.

Swanagan was jailed for 14 months after failing to show for a court appearance and was convicted of violating the sex offender registry in 2011.

Swanagan said he turned down a dozen plea deals offered by the district attorney's office because he knew he was innocent.

"They wanted me to plea because of the fact that without the plea it was false imprisonment.  And you know if I didn't take a plea and I was found innocent I was locked up for nothing," Swanagan said.

Swanagan said he believes then assistant district attorney Bonnie Smith knew that Swanagan should have been removed from Illinois' sex offender registry years earlier. Swanagan said the information was never shared with the jury.

Meg Strickler, a criminal defense attorney, said the Cobb County District Attorney's office forgot the "human element of the case." Strickler said prosecutors initially failed to acknowledge that Swanagan wasn't supposed to be on the registry.

"That's the sad part of all of this. He was lost in the system and spent too much time in jail," Strickler said.  

Cobb County District Attorney Patrick Head denied that his office was overzealous in prosecuting Swanagan. Head said he decided not to retry because Swanagan is no longer on the sex offender registry. 

"We thought that the right thing to do is dismiss the case and be done with it," Head said.   

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