Cape County prosecutor to take federal job

Thursday, November 8, 2012
Prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle speaks at a press conference announcing charges have been filed in five unsolved Cape Girardeau, Mo. murders against Timothy W. Krajcir on Monday, December 10, 2007 at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Morley Swingle, who became known as a strong trial lawyer with an astute legal mind, announced Wednesday he is stepping down as Cape Girardeau County's prosecuting attorney by the end of the month after accepting a job as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office.

Swingle, 57, made the news public Wednesday, a day after the man who will appoint his successor won re-election. With two years left on Swingle's term, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, will appoint someone to replace the Republican who was the county prosecutor longer than anyone else.

While it seems a political mismatch, Swingle said he trusts Nixon, a former attorney general, to find a suitable lawyer to hold the seat until voters can decide in 2014.

In this file photo, prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle presents photo evidence during Clay Waller's preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, July 25, 2012 at the Jackson Courthouse. (Laura Simon)

"He's a lawyer, we went to law school together," Swingle said. "He knows how important this job is, so I trust that he will make the right call."

A spokesman for Nixon's office said Wednesday he would be unable to answer questions until today about Nixon's thinking on the matter. Typically, governors in the past have asked party chairs from county central committees to make recommendations and then the interim office holder is drawn from that pool. While it doesn't always happen this way, governors tend to pick appointees from their party.

Swingle says he worries about his successor and wants a quality candidate, but he also is looking forward to a change of pace.

"I do feel ready for some new challenges," Swingle said. "When I got here, I thought I'd be here a year and then I'd try to get a judgeship with the appellate courts. Then I blink and it's 25 years later."

When, after a few years in private practice, Swingle took a job as an assistant under then chief prosecutor Larry Ferrell, he learned about prosecuting offenses from the man who is now a federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office and will soon be Swingle's colleague again.

Swingle is looking forward to Ferrell becoming a teacher to him again, this time about the differences between federal and state courts.

Also eager for Swingle to begin his new job, set to start next month, is his new boss, something Swingle hasn't had -- unless you count voters -- since his early days as a lawyer with Spradling and Spradling.

U.S. Attorney Richard G. Callahan, also a former county prosecutor, called Swingle a "top-notch attorney" with good judgment and excellent skills as a jurist.

"Quite frankly," Callahan said, "he would be an asset to any legal organization. I spent 30 years as a state prosecutor, so I guess I understand there comes a time when some slight change in your profession, some challenges that are needed to keep you engaged."

There may be little left for Swingle to learn about a criminal code that he literally helped write. Now 57 and a quarter-century as the prosecuting attorney, Swingle came to the office as an assistant in December 1982.

Swingle was elected the county's 30th prosecutor in 1986 and has served longer than any other prosecutor in the county's history. During his tenure, Swingle has prosecuted thousands of cases, from misdemeanors to capital murder cases. He has prosecuted more than 128 jury trials and more than 70 homicide cases. He also has handled 29 cases at the appellate level.

Swingle is a recognized expert in criminal law, both locally and nationally, according to Eric Zahnd, Swingle's prosecutorial counterpart in Platte County. Zahnd, also president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said that the state has been lucky to have Swingle as a colleague for 25 years.

Zahnd's regret, he said, is that he never got to see Swingle in action before a jury.

"I guess I'm just glad we're not losing him as a prosecutor altogether," Zahnd said.

As the news caught fire among the local lawyers, Swingle was described as a fair prosecutor and a sharp opponent. Judge William Syler has presided over many of Swingle's cases.

"I feel good for him and bad for us," Syler said. "He's a professional and he runs a professional office. That's not always true with outstate Missouri. ... He's very highly regarded by the bench."

Some of the most glowing words came from those who had faced him in court.

Malcolm Montgomery, a defense attorney in Cape Girardeau since 1978, said Swingle always was at the top of his game. Swingle, he said, always tried to do the right thing and was sincere in his pursuit of justice.

"He knows how to try a case in an excellent fashion," Montgomery said. "He's been here for a long time. He is so highly respected, by the defense bar, law enforcement agencies, the judges. It really is a true loss for Cape Girardeau County."


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