His first case left lasting impact on county judge

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

For a man of faith, Judge Edward Ewell Jr. had his put to the supreme test during his first case on the Wayne County Circuit Court bench in 2003.

The case revolved around a grisly double homicide that took place in Garden City during the early morning hours of July 6, 2002.

As a new judge, Ewell was facing the ultimate baptism under fire.

“I had never seen anything like it before and nor have I since,” said Judge Ewell of the brutal murders of a Garden City father, John Swinea, and his 7-year-old daughter. “It was horrifying what happened that night.”

The assailant was 19-year-old Steven C. Maier, who had spent much of the evening drinking with his friend Swinea while they were at a nearby strip club. When the pair returned to Swinea’s home around 2 a.m., Maier reportedly made repeated attempts to contact his girlfriend for a late-night hook-up.

“As I recall, phone records showed that he tried calling her 32 times without success,” Ewell said. “She knew where he had been that evening and also that he had been drinking heavily.”

After being rebuffed by his girlfriend, Maier then began a two-hour crime spree that would claim two lives, shatter another, and correspondingly shock a community.

According to court records, Maier attempted to sexually assault Swinea’s 12-year-old daughter, who was asleep in her bedroom. When she awoke and began screaming, Maier “left the room, obtained Swinea’s shotgun, and shot and killed Swinea and his younger daughter while they slept in their beds.”

Shortly thereafter, Maier began repeatedly raping the 12-year-old girl, eventually shooting her in the top of her head in what he thought was a fatal blow.

“Miraculously, she somehow survived the shooting and turned out to be the key witness at trial,” said Ewell. “In fact, she played ‘dead’ after being shot, which ultimately saved her life as he later kicked her to make sure that she was dead.”

Maier then made off with Swinea’s car in a failed attempt to kill himself, ramming the vehicle into an embankment at a speed approaching 90 mph, according to Ewell.

“He walked away from the crash without serious injuries. When questioned by a State Police officer, he admitted that he had just killed three people,” Ewell said.

Later that day, according to court records, Maier “admitted his guilt” to the deputy chief of the Garden City Police Department, stating that he “had been intoxicated, and that he remembered very little of the events because he had a blackout.”

Following his arrest, Maier and his attorney would move to suppress the admissions of guilt, eventually bringing a motion before Judge Ewell that was denied.

It would be just one of many legal twists and turns to the case that would be played out during a three-week trial that attracted heavy media attention.

“There were a lot of evidentiary and constitutional issues that were raised, and then there was the testimony from the girl who survived the shooting,” Ewell related. “There was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom during her testimony. It was so emotional and impactful. That girl showed such courage and strength to recount what happened that night.”

But, of course, as the judge, Ewell couldn’t show any emotion during the proceedings, otherwise it would be possible grounds for a new trial. Even though he, in effect, was living a three-week nightmare about the events of that fateful evening.

“What happened that night was so disturbing that even some of the police officers who testified had tears in their eyes,” Ewell said of the case that resulted in Maier’s conviction on two first-degree murder charges. “It was a case that I’ll never be able to forget.”


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