Morley Safer revisits the Swans for 60 Minutes II and hears for the first time the perspective of the Swan child.The Swans' Case
The Swans' nightmare began one afternoon when Kathy Swan went to pick up her daughter from a daycare center to be met by a policeman.
"He said, 'She's been taken into custody. There have been allegations of abuse,'" Kathy Swan remembers.
"And I said, 'Well, has the daycare done something to her? Did something happen at the daycare? What's this all about?'" she adds.
"And he said, 'Well, no, nothing happened at the daycare. You and your husband are the chief suspects,'" she adds.
Eventually the Swans were sent to prison in the state of Washington to serve a four-year sentence.
"They never bothered to come out and talk to us, to talk to the family, to talk to anybody around us to try to find out what was going on," Bill Swan says.
"They grabbed our child and accused us right from the start," he says.
At that time Lisa Conradi had just been hired as a teacher at a daycare center in a Seattle suburb. She had no certification, not even a high school diploma.
"She was a certified preschool teacher as far as I knew at that time," says Cindi Bratvold, the preschool owner who hired Conradi.
The Swans' accuser, Lisa Conradi, had a history of making bizarre allegations of child abuse.
"I was so overwhelmed by what she told me that I needed to give somebody else the information," Bratvold explains. "So I called Children's Protective Services."
Two Children's Protective Services social workers couldn't get anything out of the child and left, but encouraged Bratvold to question the other little girl in their absence.
When 60 Minutes persisted with questions to Bratvold about how she and Conradi gathered the information that sent the Swans to prison, Bratvold exploded.
Bratvold's response "The reason I am here is for a little girl. A little girl stated, and I heard her words, that she was screwed by her parents, that they did sick, sick things to her."
The two children were called before a judge, who was to decide if they were competent to testify. The Swan child remained utterly silent while the other child had a vivid imagination. She told the judge she'd been in court 40 times before.
Subsequently, the judge ruled both children incompetent to testify. The jury heard the girls' stories through the social worker and the daycare workers.
What the children said or what was reported that they said was enough to convince the Children's Protective Services that the Swan child and her friend had been violently abused.
Kathy Swan, in 1992
And what about the other child's mother? 60 Minutes initially spoke to her by phone, as she didn't want her face shown to spare her daughter. She now tells 60 Minutes II she believes the Swans are innocent.
"I firmly believe that everything that was alleged was totally manufactured in the mind, first of all, of the daycare worker that supposedly discovered all this," she says.
"I don't think that they ever did anything to their daughter. I know that they never did anything to my daughter and that's firmly what I believe," the woman adds.
Though her child had an immediate gynecological exam that found no signs of abuse, the state decided not to have a doctor examine the Swan child. Instead the child was examined by Ted Ritter, a nurse with virtually no experience with children, who'd been sexually abused himself.
At the trial, the prosecutor used his notes, which implied that the 3-year-old child was no longer a virgin. But five years later, Dr. Richard Soderstrom performed a full-scale gynecological exam of the child that definitively concluded she was a virgin.
The courts refused to hear that evidence. And there was other evidence. Conradi, the accuser, had a history of making bizarre allegations of child abuse. She said she'd been a drug addict and an alcoholic and that she'd been abused by hundreds of men.
Conradi refused to talk to 60 Minutes, but shortly after the trial, she made an audio recording that stated the following:
"I'm telling you, there are more perverts out there than there are normal people or maybe it was just me. I don't know. I did not know until I was 22 years old that there was such a thing a adults not having sex with children," she said on tape.
The Swans were offered a plea bargain. They could serve nine months, take some therapy, be released and have their daughter back. They turned down the proposition.
The reasoning of Kathy Swan: "A plea bargain is a way for a guilty person to get out of serving the full sentence that they deserve if indeed they're guilty. I'm not guilty. I'm not bargaining."
And indeed the Swans did not bargain. It should be noted that they were arrested and charged at a time when there was a vigilante atmosphere in the country.
The notorious McMartin case, with its bizarre allegations, had just begun: It was a case that ultimately proved virtually groundless.
But in the late 1980s, Washington and other states pursued child abusers with an almost hysterical vengeance. The Swans were swept up in that environment.
Today they are out of prison after a three-year term, but wherever they move in the state, they must register with the police as sex offenders. They live in the Seattle area in fear that even a whiff of suspicion could send them to jail for life.
"I wouldn't address a child," Kathy Swan says. "And if a child addressed me, I would make darn good and sure that there were witnesses there if I responded. It's awkward."
Three years was really a life sentence for the Swans, condemned to live out their lives without their children. Just before Kathy Swan went to prison, she secretly gave birth to a second daughter, about whom the state knew nothing.
"They would have taken the baby as soon as it was born," says Bill Swan.
Bill and Kathy Swan rarely see their younger daughter, even today.
And what about the child that the state took away after the original allegations?
In 1992, 60 Minutes couldn't show her face. But now she wants to be recognized.
"When you meet my parents, you know thatÂ…these were mistakes," says Beth, now 17. "My parents were not capable of doing things like this."
"IÂ'm upset. I'm infuriated. I can't believe that so many mistakes were being made and that my family had to suffer from those mistakes," she says.
The child suffered, too, having been taken from er parents at 3. Then six years later, as she was about to be adopted, she was allowed one last visit.
Beth Swan, now 17, maintains her parents never abused her.
"But when I got to see Bill, you had to stand at the gate and wait for them to buzz you in," she adds.
"And there's so many bars...bars on windows, bars on doors, bars on even the soda machines. It was really oppressive," she says.
Just a few days before her interview, Beth read for the first time the trial transcript with the evidence that lost her both her parents. "I had waiting my whole life to read these transcripts," she says.
What did this irritated teen think of the record?
"Just shock," says Beth. "But then I knew to expect it. Because I had been told somewhat of what they were charged about. I was told a little bit. And when I read it, it was still shocking to see in plain text."
"These transcripts turn my parents, or my birth parents, into awful people," she continues.
"They turn them into awful people. And the Bill and Kathy that I know are very warm and loving and God-loving people," she adds.
"They still live in fear. And actually, my sister has to suffer from that, too," Beth explains.
"She knows that she can see them at pretty much any time. But she can't live with them. And that's because my parents are afraid that if HeatherÂ…comes to live with them, that my sister will be taken away, too," she adds.
After living in several homes, Beth was adopted by her aunt and uncle. She is a bright, confident honor student who plans to become an engineer. But, Bill and Kathy Swan worry that Beth might carry some burden of guilt.
"I had this memory of sitting there in the court case. And I don't know what I said. But I thought for a long time, 'I sat up there and testified against my parents.' And that memory, that one-second memory, has haunted me. And I do feel guilty for that," says Beth.
Nevertheless, BethÂ's feelings are unmistakable: "I have no doubt in my mind that they are innocent."