January 21, 2011 in City

Juror’s suspicion breaks case open

Women finds similarities to her own theft at trial
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane woman never imagined that serving on the jury of a prolific burglar would solve her burglary, as well.

“In all my time as a prosecutor, that’s the first time I had a juror solve her own case,” Deputy Prosecutor Bob Sargent said. “What are the odds of picking a jury and picking a gal who is a victim of the defendant but doesn’t know it? Then she gets a suspicion that is correct.”

The South Hill home of Shea Swoboda, 28, was pilfered on Aug. 16. Taken were jewelry, laptops, video recorders and other items. Since reporting the crime, she hadn’t heard from any investigators about progress in the case.

Then, earlier this month, Swoboda was picked to serve on the jury in the burglary trial of Gary D. McCabe, 45, who was charged with stealing more than $25,000 worth of gold and silver coins on Aug. 12 from a collector who had been gathering the coins for 60 years.

During jury selection, Swoboda indicated that she had been a crime victim, but said she could remain impartial.

In her burglary, nobody remembered seeing anyone matching McCabe’s description. Swoboda said she picked up on the close timing of her burglary and the date of the coin heist “but there wasn’t any other evidence that gave me any sort of feeling.”

On Wednesday last week, Sargent introduced evidence of a stolen laptop. Swoboda noticed that the computer of a different brand was using a Dell power cord, which was similar to one stolen from her home.

“That got me going about there was potential,” she said, “but there was no other evidence that specifically led me to believe it was him.”

Despite the lack of connection, Swoboda’s “gut feeling” compelled her to alert Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins, who separated Swoboda from the jury and had Sargent and defense attorney Doug Phelps question her.

“I felt, even at that time, that I could make the decision based on facts of the case,” she said.

But Tompkins ruled the trial could not continue. And since another juror had earlier been excused, Tompkins declared a mistrial.

After that decision, Sargent brought Swoboda a couple items found in McCabe’s possession, including a video recorder. Ironically, the camera had been sitting in a bag on the evidence table a few feet away from the jury box during the entire trial.

“As he pulled out the camera, I recognized it immediately,” she said. Sargent “asked me if I knew what was recorded on it. I said, ‘soccer games.’ ”

After exchanging a few laughs, Deputy Brandon Armstrong then led Swoboda to the property room, where Swoboda and her roommate were able to recover laptops, a portable DVD player, iPods and even her roommate’s state championship ring. Most of the items had serial numbers that matched the theft reports Swoboda and her roommate gave investigators in August.

All the items, according to court records, were recovered during a search at the home of McCabe, who has property crimes convictions dating back to when he was 12.

“I guess I’m still a little shocked,” Swoboda said. “It’s part humorous to me and part shocking. You have no idea who it was. So now there is a little peace of mind having an idea who it might be.”


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