A U.S. man faces life in a sweltering Caribbean prison after a jury convicted him of drowning his wife during a scuba-diving trip a decade ago in what prosecutors called a near perfect murder.
When dive shop owner David Swain was led out of a British Virgin Islands court and into an armored car Tuesday evening — his sallow face lit by camera flashes — it closed a chapter in a mystery that began in March 1999 when his wife's body was found floating in the turquoise waters off the British Virgin Islands.
Police at first wrote off Shelley Tyre's drowning as a tragic accident, a strange but otherwise unremarkable death of an experienced diver on a romantic getaway to one of the hemisphere's premier dive spots. Swain, of Jamestown, Rhode Island, testified he tried to revive his petite, 46-year-old wife using CPR following a mysterious accident.
But Tyre's parents suspected that Swain, 53, had killed her and wouldn't let it drop, pursuing a murder trial.
Authorities in this British territory eventually charged Swain with murder after a 2006 civil trial in Rhode Island found him responsible for his wife's death. That jury awarded Tyre's family $3.5 million, but Swain filed for bankruptcy and has not paid the sum.
Ten years later, a nine-member British Virgin Islands jury delivered a unanimous guilty verdict following a sensational trial that heard expert testimony indicating Swain wrestled his wife from behind underwater, tore off her scuba mask and shut off her air supply while they swam near an underwater shipwreck.
Prosecutors accused Swain of drowning his wife on the last day of their Caribbean vacation so he could pursue a romance with a Rhode Island chiropractor as well as gain his wife's inheritance estimated at $630,000. They said Tyre's drowning in the deep was almost a perfect murder.
After obtaining permission from the judge following the verdict, the victim's father, Richard Tyre, walked to the witness box and clutched a microphone with a trembling hand.
"We're old, we're in our 80s, and when Shelley was killed, our life pretty much ended," he said in a broken voice.
Minutes later, he gave another emotional statement to reporters outside the court, telling them he felt "extremely good that people like David Swain won't be able to hurt any more women."
Swain, dressed in a tan suit and tie, looked straight ahead as the verdict was announced.
A judge expects to sentence him on Nov. 4. He faces life in prison in the hilltop prison in Tortola, where he has been held for about two years.
Defense attorney Timothy Bradl, of the Boston-based firm Denner Pellegrino, said the verdict would be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. He said the defense team noted several problems during the judge's summation, but did not give any specifics.
Swain's two adult children, who attended each day of the three-week trial, breathed heavily after the verdict was read and quietly embraced their gaunt father before he was escorted out.
"My father is an innocent man," son Jeremy Swain later told reporters from U.S. TV networks, his voice thick with emotion. Swain's children expressed frustration with the trial.
The nine jurors had four hours to produce a verdict under local law. Although only a seven-vote majority was required, Supreme Court Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles urged the seven women and two men to issue a unanimous verdict after giving a three-hour summation of the case, and they did.
Tyre's mask was damaged, the mouthpiece of her snorkel was missing, and her fin found embedded in a sandbar — evidence that prosecution witnesses testified were clear signs of a violent struggle.
But defense attorneys maintained the poorly done autopsy report could not rule out medical reasons for Tyre's death, including the possibility that she suffered a heart attack or stroke during what they say was an accidental drowning.
The defense called it a weak case that lacked physical evidence and was built on speculative theories and circumstantial evidence they argued was designed to roil the emotions of the jury. No eyewitnesses or DNA evidence linked Swain to the murder.
The trial, which attracted TV shows including "Dateline NBC," was one of the most sensational trials in the history of this tiny British Caribbean territory, where violence is relatively rare.
Its cast of characters included several diving experts and the Rhode Island chiropractor who Swain had called his "soul mate." He apparently began pursuing a relationship with her two weeks after his wife's drowning and admitted kissing her one evening when Tyre was still alive.
Some witnesses testified Swain did not appear to be sincere in his subdued grief after Tyre drowned. The prosecutor described his manner as "arrogant," and defense lawyer Hayden St. Clair-Douglas urged the jury to discard any feelings of "dislike" they might have toward Swain.
For Tyre's parents, the verdict was a long-delayed victory but it was clear her death broke their hearts.
"Nothing will bring her back," Richard Tyre said from the witness box after the verdict was read.