TN v. David Swift: Karen Swift Murder Trial

Posted at 7:42 AM, June 7, 2024

DYER COUNTY, Tenn. (Court TV) — After hours of deliberation over two days, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all of the charges against a man accused of murdering his wife more than 10 years ago.

A jury found David Swift not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, attempted first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder, but was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of voluntary manslaughter.

split screen of David and Karen Swift

David Swift is charged with the murder of his wife, Karen Swift, in 2011. (Dyer County Sheriff’s Office)

Swift was indicted on a charge of pre-meditated first-degree murder in 2022, 11 years after his wife, Karen Swift, disappeared. Karen’s body was later found in an abandoned cemetery.

Karen was reported missing to the Dyer County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 30, 2011. David was allegedly the last person to see her alive when she returned home from a Halloween party that night.

Investigators found her car with a shredded tire near her home, WMC reported. Six weeks later, on Dec. 10, her body was found in an abandoned cemetery. An autopsy report provided to Court TV said she died from “blunt force injury of the head.”

When he was arrested in 2022, David was remarried and living in Alabama. He was released on a $200,000 bond and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted.

David faces separate charges in Alabama, where he is accused of stalking his second wife, from whom he is divorced, reported.


DAY 8 – 6/6/24

DAY 7 – 6/5/24

DAY 6 – 6/4/24

  • The defense called witnesses at a steady clip Tuesday – six in total, including two of Karen and David Swift’s children – before signaling their intent to rest that afternoon. That brings the total number of defense witnesses to 12 (the State called 36).
  • David Swift informed Judge Hayes he would not be testifying.
  • The State declined to present any rebuttal evidence.
  • After a brief charge conference, jurors returned to the courtroom to be instructed on the law (including the above-referenced array of lesser-included offenses and their essential elements) by Judge Hayes.

DAY 5 – 6/3/24

  • The State rests after calling their last witness, special agent Joel Wade, the digital forensic examiner who testified about the defendant’s online activity in the hours after his wife was missing.
  • The judge denied the defense motion for a judgment of acquittal, saying that the prosecution had presented a sufficient amount of circumstantial evidence to send the case to a jury.
  • The defense called five witness Monday, including family friend Robin Alford.
  • WATCH: Karen Swift Murder Trial: Day 5 Recap

DAY 4 – 5/31/24

  • Prosecutors called neighbors of the Swifts to narrow the timeline that would make the defendant the only suspect who allegedly had the motive, means and opportunity to kill Karen Swift.
  • A tire technology expert opined that the screw found in Karen’s tire was manually inserted. The tire’s damage resulted from driving on the totally collapsed tire.
  • The victim’s lawyer said he filed a divorce petition on behalf of Karen Swift, asking for half the house, primary custody of the children, and child support. A few weeks after the petition was filed, Karen went missing.
  • Divorce Lawyer said Karen told him her husband wanted her to go out for dinner with him, but she told him, ‘No, it’s over.’
  • A neighbor who loaned the Swifts hay for a hayride testified that on October 29, David helped him move hay bales, each weighing about 65 pounds, without the use of crutches.
  • A physical therapist testified that he treated defendant for his knee injury and opined he had the physical ability to drag 125 pounds the distance of 75 feet (approx. distance from the road to the area where her body was found is about 20 feet).
  • A DNA Analyst testified that an examination of Karen Smith’s panties that were pulled down around her thighs showed no male DNA.
  • Another DNA Analyst testified no DNA other than her own were found in her fingernail clippings.
  • Two reporters testified they interviewed David Swift in the years since his wife’s murder and he told them he had hired a private investigator and discovered new facts but would not reveal what he learned.
  • WATCH: Karen Swift Murder Trial: Day 4 Recap

DAY 3 – 5/30/24

  • Friends of Karen Swift testified about the defendant’s controlling behavior which ranged from spying and stalking to calling and texting her incessantly–as many as 25 times within a 30-minute period. Prosecutors contend the defendant’s overbearing behavior culminated in the murder of his wife a few days after she filed for divorce.
  • Married couple Bill and Cathy Bona were friends of Karen, whom she visited frequently. The day before she disappeared, they accompanied the couple to a Halloween party. They said Karen joined them on a beach vacation because she did not want to be around when David was served with the paperwork for their divorce.
  • Bill and Cathy Bona did not want to spend any time with Bill because he made them uncomfortable. They described several incidents in which he intruded on them to ask about his wife and to get her back home.
  • David Swift believed his marriage was working until Karen started hanging around with Bill and Cathy Bona. He complained in a police interview that her friendship with them led Karen to excessive drinking and swinging with the couple.  He told police he caught Karen in bed with a naked Cathy and, on another occasion, found Karen in their home with nothing but a towel on, alone with Bill Bona, who he heard tried to rape her.
  • Bill and Cathy agreed that there were occasions when their friends went hot tubbing in the nude, but Bill denied he had tried to take advantage of Karen and, in fact, threw a towel over her when he found her naked. Cathy said she was in bed with her pajamas on when Karen came to lie down beside her because she was feeling light-headed. David came into the bedroom in a rage and yelled at Karen, insisting that she go home with him.
  • They testified that Karen wanted to divorce David but complained she did not have the money for a lawyer. The Bonas said they loaned her two thousand dollars and a spare phone so she could consult a lawyer.
  • Several other friends of Karen testified about their observations of David’s jealous, possessive behavior:
    • Jennifer Guerin, a neighbor, said whenever Karen came over, David eventually showed up at her house insisting that she go home with him.
    • Another time when they were having dinner at Applebee’s, David turned up uninvited.
    • Amanda MacArthur testified that one day after running an errand, Karen noticed David’s car in the parking lot. She said the behavior frightened her because she realized the things Karen confided in her were true.
    • Janie Helm, a neighbor of Bill and Cathy Bona, testified that David asked to access her yard so he could hear what was going on in Cathy and Bill’s house.
    • Helm described another time when David visited her at her store with his daughter.  He told her that he wanted to take Karen out for dinner, but she wanted to go to the Halloween party instead, the rejection upset him.
    • Elaine Slaughter, another of Karen’s friends, said she accompanied Karen to get a tattoo, which upset David because he told her he was supposed to have gone with her.
    • Jimmie Hancock worked with Swift and testified he often confided in him and told him Karen wanted a divorce. He said that Swift did not want a divorce and wanted to have the perfect family.
  • The Medical Examiner testified that Swift died as a result of blunt force trauma. The prosecutor seemed to suggest that she could have been strangled before she was stomped, causing a complex fracture that went from one side of her skull to the other.
  • WATCH: Karen Swift Murder Trial: Day 3 Recap

DAY 2 – 5/29/24

  • First responders testified that on the day Karen Swift was reported missing, they found her car about a quarter mile from her house with a flat tire and the doors locked. The responding officer obtained a key from the defendant and examined the car. He found some of her clothes in the car but no signs of violence. He said he was able to get his 6-foot -2 inch- frame into the car without having to push the seat back.
  • The police learned that the night before, Karen Swift had attended a Halloween party with friends and was planning to sleep at their house when her daughter, who was at a sleepover, called and wanted to go home. Karen picked up her daughter and returned home at around 2:00 AM.
  • Swift was not the first to call the police about his missing wife. He called after friends Cathy and Bill Bonna reported her missing. He said he woke up around 10:00 AM and saw that his wife was gone. He was cooperative with the police, allowing them to question him without a lawyer present. Still, he aroused police suspicion when he appeared to obsess over his wife’s lifestyle of boozing and partying.
  • David told police it was not unusual for his wife to ‘sneak’ out of the house at all hours and told police he caught his wife Karen meeting her friend Cathy Bonna when she was supposed to be at Walmart buying groceries. He rambled on about her excessive drinking and told them about affairs they had both had, but claimed the marriage was working until she became friends with the Bonnas.
  • David complained about his wife’s friendship with Cathy and Bill Bonna, who he blamed for supporting her efforts to leave him. He told police that he went looking for Karen one day- and found her intoxicated and naked in bed with Cathy and that someone had told him that Bill tried to rape Karen.
  • Brian and Shannon Lee, part of Karen’s circle of friends, recalled that she was at a party at the Bonnas’, where many of the guests, including Karen, got into the hot tub wearing only underwear.
  • They recalled David Swift not being at the party initially but then arriving and appearing upset with Karen. They also did not recall or deny some of the things that David said he saw going on in the hot tub.
  • John Hogshooter, who lived across from the Swifts, testified that he saw Swift talking to another neighbor. Swift was using crutches, but when the neighbor went inside, he stopped using them. He also testified that a few days after Karen was reported missing, there was a strong chemical smell emanating from the direction of the Swift home.
    • Hogshooter was arrested for animal cruelty for poisoning dogs in the neighborhood. The incident occurred a few weeks before Karen’s disappearance. It’s not clear if Karen’s dog also got into the poison that was in his yard.  The defense suggested that as a contractor, he had access to construction tools and was a suspect in Karen’s disappearance because of the conflict over the poisoning. Police eventually cleared Hogshooter of anything to do with Karen’s murder.
  • Police recovered Karen’s cell phones 4 to 500 feet from the home, and her body was recovered 40 days later, located near a local cemetery about 3 miles from the house.
  • Cell phone records suggest she was at home between 2:08 and 4:38 AM. At 5:04 AM, her phone left the house and was in the area of interest, and at 5:09, all activity stopped.
  • WATCH: Karen Swift Murder Trial: Day 2 Recap

DAY 1 – 5/28/24

  • In his opening statement, prosecutor Danny Goodman conceded that the jury would not hear any testimony about forensic evidence linking David Swift to the death of his wife but argued that his actions and his desire to control his wife linked him to her death.  They also point to lies they say he told the police about the night Karen disappeared and his actions while she was missing.
  • Defense attorney Daniel Taylor told jurors that David Swift did not kill his wife.  He said David Swift could not have physically killed her because he had a bad knee that he had re-injured in the days before Karen’s death.  Taylor also pointed to the lack of forensic evidence linking David to the crime, saying that if he had killed Karen in such a brutal way, there would be evidence left.  He also characterized Karen’s friendship with Cathy and Bill as risky behavior.
  • WATCH: Karen Swift Murder Trial: Day 1 Recap