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Jeanette SWANSON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Parricide - Authorities have provided no motive
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: August 26, 2002
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1956
Victims profile: Her 10-year-old daughter, Louisa, and her 14-year-old son, Swen
Method of murder: Shooting (.38-caliber handgun)
Location: Lewis and Clark County, Montana, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty on October 17, 2002.  Sentenced to life commitment to the Montana State Hospital on January 2, 2003
 
 
 
 
 
 

Committed for life

By Carolynn Bright - Heleair.com

January 3, 2003

Jeanette Swanson to spend life in state mental hospital for killing her two children while they slept last August.

Mental health professionals who testified at Jeanette Swanson's sentencing hearing Thursday said the Augusta ranch wife's journey into grief over the murders of two of her children hasn't yet begun.

But the life commitment to the Montana State Hospital that District Court Judge Thomas Honzel handed her for shooting 14-year-old Swen, and 10-year-old Louisa as they slept in their beds last August, may set her feet on that path, they said.

"She knew that other people would think (murdering her children) was a crime," testified Dean Gregg, one of the professionals who evaluated Swanson following the shootings. "But in her own mind, she was doing it for a higher purpose."

Gregg said that after years of silently spiraling into mental illness, Swanson, 46, slipped into a depressed, delusional state last summer and allowed voices in her mind to convince her that her children were in imminent danger from unnamed people in the Augusta community.

Despite those fears, Swanson enrolled them in public school in Augusta because, fatigued and confused from lack of sleep and recurring hallucinations, she believed she couldn't continue to teach them at home a move that ultimately cost the children their lives.

Conflicted over her decision to send the children to school to learn, while at the same time opening them up to some unseen evil, Swanson's mental illness reached a flashpoint on the morning of Aug. 26, Gregg said.

Swanson took a revolver, squeezed off one bullet into the back of Swen's head, and then shot Louisa seven times, stopping once to reload.

She then changed from her pajamas to her clothes and called 911 to report that she had just shot her children. She was arrested soon after.

Swanson's husband, Gene, and Swanson's two other sons, ages 16 and 20, were not harmed in the incident.

"She perceived herself as saving them from future suffering," said Gregg, who explained that Swanson thought the only way to protect the children was to send them to heaven.

He added that she told him her original plan was to shoot herself after calling 911, but one of her surviving children intervened before she could carry it out.

Swanson pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide in October.

Gregg added that, prior to shooting her children, Swanson approached numerous service-related agencies in Helena and Great Falls, including the Friendship Center and Benefis Hospital, about several issues.

In fact, she was prescribed some medication for depression at Benefis and doctors there recommended follow-up counseling. However, Gregg said she never fully disclosed the depth of her symptoms to anyone.

Virginia Hill, a staff psychologist at the Montana State Hospital, said Thursday that Swanson still believes killing her children was the only option open to her.

"Her knowledge base was completely irrational," said Hill, adding that Swanson's mental state won't improve until doctors get her on the proper medications.

Even then, Hill described her prognosis for Swanson's successful treatment for her mental illness as "guarded."

She said the fact that Swanson's mental illness has been festering for a long period of time, combined with the harsh reality that she murdered her own children, may make breaking through the psychotic haze difficult.

"It will be years," Hill said, adding that Swanson's mental illness can be controlled, but not cured. "I believe it will be something she will deal with for the rest of her life."

According to Hill, a commitment to the hospital through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services means that Swanson will remain under the supervision of the hospital doctors on some level for the rest of her life.

However, should doctors decide at some point that no possibility of recovery exists, doctors could request that she be transferred from the hospital to the Women's Correctional Facility in Billings.

In order to assure that the court remains in the loop on any changes in Swanson's status, Honzel added a provision in his sentencing order that, before moving Swanson into a community setting or to prison, the court must be notified.

Also, in an effort to ensure public safety, Honzel said that should Swanson be moved to the women's prison, she would not be eligible for parole.

"Without successful treatment, she cannot be released into the community at large," he said.

The sentence was in line with what Swanson's public defender, Randi Hood, requested throughout the hearing.

Describing her client as "a gentle, compliant person," Hood asked that Swanson be committed to the mental hospital and provided the opportunity to attain a lower level of supervision should doctors determine that it is appropriate.

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher thought the sentence was appropriate given the facts of the case, although he said he would have liked to give the surviving family members a better sense of closure through a more definitive sentence.

Instead, due to the conditions surrounding Swanson's mental illness, the scab may be ripped off the family's emotional wounds in the future if potential changes in Swanson's status of supervision require court hearings.

"They don't want her to be on the street again, to be in a position where she could hurt anybody, ever," Gallagher said.

Swanson's husband and other two children did not attend Thursday's hearing.

 
 

Augusta woman pleads guilty to slaying children

BillingsGazette.com

October 17, 2002

HELENA (AP) - An Augusta woman pleaded guilty in District Court Thursday to shooting her son and daughter to death in their sleep.

"I shot my two children," Jeanette Swanson told District Judge Thomas Honzel.

Swanson, 46, was handcuffed after the brief hearing and returned to jail. Sentencing was set for Dec. 5. She faces between 10 and 100 years in prison on the two murder counts.

"There's no plea agreement here," said Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, who has not recommended a sentence yet.

"I guess I need to know more about her before I can make a recommendation," he said. "This is as serious an offense as there is."

Swanson was arrested Aug. 26, after calling 911 to say she had shot her 10-year-old daughter, Louisa, and her 14-year-old son, Swen.

Swanson's two older sons - ages 16 and 20 - and her husband, Gene, were not injured.

Louisa, a fourth-grader, and Swen, an eighth-grader, were attending public school for the first time this year. It was a point of contention between their parents, who had previously home-schooled their children, Sheriff Sam McCormick said at the time.

Authorities have provided no motive, although Swanson's family has said she sought treatment for depression a week before the killings.

Public defender Randi Hood twice asked for Swanson's arraignment to be postponed to allow for psychiatric evaluations, but could not immediately be reached for comment about her client's plea.

Coroner Mickey Nelson said the fatal bullet wounds were consistent with a .38-caliber handgun recovered at the ranch. He would not say how many times the children were shot.

 
 

Augusta mother appears in court for killing chidren

Missoulian.com

August 30, 2002

HELENA - Jeanette Swanson, the Augusta mother accused of killing two of her children in their sleep, made a brief initial appearance in District Court here Thursday.

Swanson, 46, answered "yes, your honor" to questions about whether her name was spelled correctly on the affidavit, if she knew she was entitled to a bail hearing, and if she understood the two counts of murder were both felonies.

She responded with a quieter, almost choked back "yes, your honor," when Judge Thomas Honzel asked if she understood she is charged with killing her son and daughter.

Autopsies showed that 10-year-old Louisa Ann Swanson and 14-year-old Swen Swanson were shot with a .38-caliber handgun that investigators recovered at the family's ranch house six miles outside Augusta on Monday.

Investigators said Swanson told deputies she shot the children while they slept that morning. Two older sons and her husband were unharmed.

Honzel set Swanson's arraignment for Sept. 19, after her attorney, Randi Hood, requested a three-week delay to give her time to follow up on evaluations Swanson underwent. At that time, Swanson will enter a plea.

Swanson's mother, Marjorie Linzbach of Great Falls, said Swanson had recently become meek and withdrawn and sought medical help for depression. Linzbach said Swanson was prescribed an antidepressant.

Honzel told Swanson that the possible punishment for murder ranges from 10 to 100 years in prison to the death penalty, although prosecutors have said earlier they do not believe the death penalty applies in this case.

Swanson was dressed in orange jail clothing, but wore no handcuffs. She walked in with her hands folded, shoulders hunched and her head down and sat next to her attorney. The two whispered briefly before the hearing began.

 
 

Augusta case may not meet death-penalty law

Associated Press

August 28, 2002

An Augusta woman who called 911 to say she shot 2 of her children to death in their sleep may not face the death penalty, Lewis and Clark County prosecutors said Tuesday.

Jeanette Swanson, 46, is jailed in Helena without bail on 2 counts of murder for the deaths of her 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son early Monday. She is under a suicide watch.

County officials said they expected Swanson would make an initial appearance before District Judge Thomas Honzel on Thursday afternoon.

Montana law requires prosecutors to identify one of several aggravating factors before seeking capital punishment, and officials said it did not appear any of those factors had been met.

"We're waiting for the autopsies, we're waiting for the information from the crime lab about the gun," Deputy County Attorney Carolyn Clemens said. "We certainly need to get more information about what the mother's situation was, based on what her mother said, and try to figure what and why."

Swanson's mother, Marjorie Linzbach of Great Falls, said her daughter was taken to the hospital last week for depression and chronic tiredness. Linzbach said Swanson was prescribed sleeping pills and an anti-depressant, then sent home.

"I noticed that she was tired, very passive and quiet," Linzbach said. "She was very, very meek. You couldn't help but notice that something was wrong."

She also said her daughter should have been hospitalized. "She was willing to go for help," Linzbach said.

Undersheriff Cheryl Liedle said a motive hasn't been fully developed on why a mom, who home-schooled her children and doted on them, would shoot two of them.

Authorities said a .38-caliber handgun was found at the scene.

Two other sons, ages 16 and 20, asleep in the home, were uninjured. Her husband, Gene, was sleeping in a camp trailer outside the residence.

Monday's slayings jolted residents of this small ranching community, where the area's fewer than 300 residents have not seen a murder in a dozen years.

"We spent most of our day (Monday) dealing with the students' grief and dealing with that kind of loss," school Superintendent Russ Bean said. "Even though they didn't know the kids well, it was an issue that they had to deal with."

 
 

Mom allegedly kills children

By Kim Skornogoski - GreatFallsTribune.com

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

An Augusta ranch wife was arrested and charged with killing her two youngest children while they slept early Monday morning.

Two sons and her husband sleeping nearby never were threatened or harmed, Lewis and Clark Undersheriff Cheryl Liedle said.

Jeanette Swanson, 46, was arrested quietly in her home on Elk Creek Road six miles southwest of Augusta around 6 a.m. Monday, after she called 9-1-1.

She told sheriff's investigators that she shot her 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, court documents said.

She was charged with two counts of deliberate homicide Monday and appeared before Justice of the Peace Wally Jewell via closed circuit video from the Lewis and Clark County jail. She is being held without bail pending a District Court hearing and is under a suicide watch, officials said.

Investigators and prosecutors are searching for clues to what led to the shooting.

Swanson's family took her to Benefis Healthcare last week, looking for treatment for her depression and chronic tiredness. According to her mother, Marjorie Linzbach of Great Falls, Swanson was prescribed sleeping pills and a mild anti-depressant and sent home.

The children were dead in their beds in separate rooms when officers and an Augusta ambulance crew arrived at 5:42 a.m.

Her husband, Gene Swanson, and their two oldest children, sons 16 and 20, woke up to the sound of gunshots. Gene Swanson was sleeping in a camp trailer outside the home.

Liedle said she doesn't know how the other two sons, asleep in their rooms, escaped injury.

The oldest son told the Lewis and Clark County sheriff's officials that his mother had a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, according to an affidavit filed in Helena.

Swanson didn't have the gun when officers arrived, but it was recovered at the scene, Lewis and Clark Deputy County Attorney Carolyn Clemens said.

The children's bodies were taken to the State Crime Lab in Missoula for an autopsy.

Little other information was released Monday as investigators tried to piece together what happened.

Jeanette Swanson's mother offered some clues, describing the changes she'd seen in her normally warm and social daughter.

"I noticed that she was tired, very passive and quiet," she said Monday evening. "She was very, very meek. You couldn't help but notice that something was wrong."

Jeanette Swanson had been seen by a nearby doctor within the last few weeks, and told her family that all reports indicated she was all right.

Not satisfied, Linzbach joined her daughter and son-in-law at a recent doctor visit in Great Falls. They hoped Jeanette Swanson would get a complete examination, fearing she had a deeper health problem or a chemical imbalance.

After talking to her, Great Falls doctors prescribed sleeping pills and the anti-depressant Paxil, which takes weeks to become effective, Linzbach said.

"She should have been hospitalized and not allowed to go home," she said. "She was willing to go for help. She was just very, very tired."

Swanson has ranched in the area with her husband for more than 15 years, prosecutors said. She raised her four children and was responsible for cleaning and cooking.

Linzbach said her daughter was dedicated to children, spending every minute of the day with them, as she was responsible for their homeschooling.

Recently, her daughter's behavior began to change dramatically.

"It just all of a sudden seemed like she couldn't do it anymore," Linzbach said. "She cared about her children's welfare. She was around them all the time.

"This is a triple tragedy, for her, for those children and for those who are still living."

Undersheriff Liedle said the older boys remained in Augusta with their father, where they had support from families and local counselors.

 
 


Jeanette Swanson listens to instructions from Public Defender Randi Hood just before the start of her initial appearance proceeding, in August 2002, in the courtroom of District Judge Thomas Honzel. (Photo by Jon Ebelt IR Staff)

 

Jeanette Swanson of Augusta is handcuffed by a Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Deputy as she leaves Disctrict Court Thrusday after pleading guilty to killing her two children. On the right is her attorney, Public Defender Randi Hood. (Associated Press photo)

 

 

 
 
 
 
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