Man who killed parents tries to rebuild his life

March 08, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Lawrence J. Swartz, the model son who bludgeoned his adoptive parents to death nine years ago, is working and thinking about finishing his college education. He hopes to blend quietly back into society.

Mr. Swartz, now 26, was released Jan. 23 from a work-release center on the Eastern Shore after serving nine years of a 12-year sentence, according to Ronald Baradel, one of the attorneys who defended Mr. Swartz.

Mr. Swartz pleaded guilty in 1985 to the second-degree murders of his parents, Robert and Kathryn Swartz, in their Cape St. Claire home the year before.

Before he entered the work-release program about six months ago, Mr. Swartz had been at the House of Correction in Jessup. Before that, he was under psychiatric treatment at the Patuxent Institution, his attorney said.

Neither Mr. Baradel nor Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, knew details of Mr. Swartz's probation.

"He does not live in Anne Arundel County -- that's all I can say," Mr. Baradel said.

Both Mr. Baradel and Warren B. Duckett Jr., a former state's attorney who prosecuted the case, said they believe Mr. Swartz poses no threat to society.

"I don't think Larry is a threat," Mr. Baradel said. "You have to understand this was a kid who was never in trouble. I don't think he'll ever be in trouble the rest of his life. He's not a chronic offender of any kind. He had this one horrible incident in his life."

Mr. Swartz was 17 and described as a handsome, popular high school student when the murders occurred.

According to newspaper accounts, Mr. Swartz used a wood-splitting maul to strike his mother as she watched television. He stabbed his father with a steak knife 17 times.

Although the murders shocked the community, the incident compelled a team of defense attorneys and a prosecutor to salvage some good out of the tragedy.

"The system didn't want to be ruination of a third life -- at least not in my estimation," said Mr. Duckett, who is now an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge.

"What we saw was a very attractive young man who got caught in a bad system of adoption," Judge Duckett said. "I don't think his parents ever should have been allowed to adopt him. They never gave him consideration for anything. That's no excuse for what happened, but all that could have been changed."

Mr. Swartz's story became the subject of a best-selling book, "Sudden Fury," written by Leslie Walker, a former Evening Sun reporter who covered the case.

Since then, Mr. Swartz's adopted brother, Michael D. Swartz, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1990 stabbing death and robbery of a Crownsville man.

"Life inside the [Swartz] house was quite a bit different than it appeared to have been from outside," Mr. Baradel said. "They were well-intentioned, well-meaning people but they were particularly ill-equipped by personality to deal with the kind of problems these children were dealing with."

The boys had been in several foster homes before living with the Swartz couple.

"He has an awful lot of remorse for what happened," Mr. Baradel said. "He had this one horrible incident in his life. It was atypical of the kind of a person he is. He has paid his debt to society. He was a model prisoner while in prison."

In prison, Mr. Swartz finished his high school education and two years of college studies, Mr. Baradel said.

"Larry has accomplished something," Judge Duckett said. "Two very tragic murders occurred but you have to go from that point on. I think we will find him to be a good citizen."

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