Prosecutors refile child abuse counts against man accused of branding girls

Wednesday, September 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) -- Rogers County prosecutors have refiled three counts of child abuse against a self-proclaimed medicine man, who allegedly branded two teen-age girls as part of a neo-pagan religion.

Richard Elwood Swinney, 48, is accused of grabbing the buttocks of a then 15-year-old girl and branding two 16-year-old girls on their breasts with a piece of hot metal as part of the ritual for the ancient religion, Wicca.

The amended charge was filed Monday following an Aug. 28 preliminary hearing. Swinney, who remains free on bail, was initially charged in April.

District Judge Joe Smith suggested that prosecutors file an amended petition to conform to the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. He found that evidence showed that the 15-year-old girl had been grabbed but not fondled, as was originally alleged by the state.

The amended document reflects changes in wording only, but the charges remain the same, Assistant District Attorney Ray Hasselman said.

Tim Norris, a Claremore police investigator, said Swinney befriended the girls while working as an aide at Claremore's Alternative Learning School.

He allegedly seized on the girls' interest in witchcraft and Wicca by passing himself off as an authority on the ancient religion, Norris said. Swinney allegedly also convinced the girls that he could tell their future.

According to information Norris found on the religion, Wicca is neither a cult nor synonymous with Satanism. The Wiccan belief is that if you do good for others, good will come to you, he said.

Wicca is a form of polytheistic nature worship and has the Wiccan Rede as its core ethical statement. It states that if "it harm none, do what you will."

Touting knowledge of the religion, Swinney allegedly encouraged the girls to meet with him at his home after school hours. Norris said some of the things Swinney allegedly required of his followers was that they have a notebook bound with red thread and that the first page of the book be signed with his blood.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, one of the girls told authorities that she and another girl were at Swinney's house when he and the other girl started talking about Wicca.

Shortly thereafter, Swinney and the other girl left the room, the affidavit stated. When they returned, they asked her if she wanted to get branded. The girl stated that she allowed Swinney to brand her even though she didn't want to.

She said that in the bathroom, "Rick asked her to take off her shirt and close her eyes," the affidavit said. "When she took off her shirt she saw Rick heating the metal thing with a candle. When she shut her eyes Rick began chanting. Then he branded her. When he was finished he told the two girls that they were his now."

Norris said Swinney is accused of using a piece of wire that was about the thickness of a paper clip and bent into a U shape.

Swinney heated the wire to a "beet red" before branding the girls, Norris said.

One of the girls who became suspicious when Swinney kept changing the rules for new members, researched Wicca and found that Swinney was not following the Wicca way, Norris said.

Authorities found out about Swinney's branding practices after the mother of one of the girls saw the brand and contacted school officials, Norris said.

During a search of Swinney's apartment in April, police seized candles and books with titles such as "Words Talking Spiritual Life," "Navaho Witchcraft," and "Reading Tea Leaves."