Accused of killing a newborn son, Angelica Swartout took the witness stand Tuesday and demonstrated for jurors how she allegedly pushed out her belly to simulate advancing pregnancy i
n order to continue receiving support and attention from her large adoptive family.
The 24-year-old hotel clerk testified that she got so “trapped into the story” she’d allegedly concocted after an apparent miscarriage that she “didn’t know how to get out of it.”
Swartout spoke only vaguely about a videotaped December 2010 police interrogation in which she tearfully confessed to delivering and smothering a baby boy in a workplace employee bathroom on Oct. 18, 2010.
“My mind wasn’t processing what was going on at that time. … I didn’t realize at the time I was setting myself up for an aggravated murder charge,” she said in a Lane County courtroom.
She said she didn’t “tell the truth” even when police confronted her because doing so would mean “telling my family I lied to them.”
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Bob Lane, she acknowledged agreeing when police suggested that she delivered a child in the employee bathroom, that the baby was squeaking and gasping for air, and that she wrapped it up so tightly that it couldn’t breathe, then put it in a trash bin.
“I felt they already decided what happened, so I just kept agreeing with them,”
she said, later adding: “I felt that even if I told them the truth, I wouldn’t be believed.”
Swartout also told Lane that she didn’t recall telling a co-worker the night of the alleged infanticide that she’d had a miscarriage. The hotel laundry worker testified last week that Swartout offered that explanation after the co-worker found plastic bags that appeared to be spattered with blood and urine in a restroom trash can.
Swartout also appeared to struggle to answer Lane’s questions about why she waited until the summer of 2011 to tell her defense team that she’d faked a pregnancy and never delivered a child.
Under follow-up questioning by defense attorney Gordon Mallon, Swartout said she didn’t want to admit to her family that she’d lied about the pregnancy, and had expected that a police investigation would turn up evidence — such as a negative pregnancy test at a local clinic in March 2010 — that she never had a child. She said “reality kicked in” when she went to a summer 2011 court proceeding and learned that she faced a possible death sentence. The state has since decided not to seek the ultimate punishment if Swartout is convicted.
She began her testimony Tuesday by telling jurors she was “very scared.”
“This is the only chance I have to tell the truth,” she said. “I’m scared that if I’m not believed, I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison.”
But she looked directly at the jury as she responded to Mallon’s request that she “tell the jury how this all got started.”
“I lied. I lied to my family and friends,” she said.
Swartout said she initially told them truthfully that she’d had a positive home pregnancy test while living out of state in early 2010. Feeling “scared and unsure,” she contacted one of her older adoptive sisters, Jewel Sward, and accepted Sward’s invitation to come home to Springfield, Swartout said.
“For the first time in my life since I was a kid, I felt a sense of belonging,” she told the jury. “I mattered to my family all the sudden. ... They thought I was going to have a baby. Babies are big in our family.”
Then, that February, she had some vaginal bleeding. She’d read that such bleeding was possible even during pregnancy, Swartout said, telling jurors: “I didn’t want to think about the other possibility that it could have been a miscarriage.”
After the negative pregnancy test, that “denial” ended, she said. But she pretended the gestation was progressing, she said, because “I was just so into the way I was being treated by my family,” including regular phone calls from her adoptive mother. The acceptance stood in contrast to her teen years, she said, when she was “cast as kind of the black sheep.”
She said she lied about doctor appointments and about having an ultrasound showing she was having a boy. Swartout disputed reports by prosecution witnesses that her belly grew steadily larger with pregnancy in the spring, summer and fall of 2010. She testified that a local mother-child nutrition program recorded her weight as 181 pounds in April 2010, and 180 pounds in June of that year. She said she now weighs about 170 pounds.
She told the panel of eight women and four men that she carried out the ruse by wearing baggy clothing — “I actually wore a fleece (jacket) all summer” — and pushing out her stomach. At Mallon’s suggestion, she stood in the witness stand and struck the same pose as in a July 28, 2010, photo that her sister provided the state as evidence of her advancing pregnancy.
She said she falsely told friends and family that she delivered a stillborn son at a local hospital on Oct. 18, 2010, “because I was supposed to be having a kid.”