Richland investigator recalls tracking 'very violent' SC inmate after first escape
Jack Swerling remembers the fear he felt 15 years ago when two armed men bound him and his family in their Spring Valley home. The ring of a phone Wednesday would bring back the terror.
“That was a call that sent a chill up and down my spine – just disbelief,” Swerling said Thursday of the moment he learned that Jimmy Causey had escaped yet again from a state maximum-security prison. Causey, 46, got out this time while serving life sentences for the 2002 home invasion of Swerling, his wife and their daughter.
The well-know attorney said he and his family were out of town Wednesday when they got word and will postpone their return until Causey is picked up.
Causey first escaped Columbia’s Broad River Correctional Institution on a trash truck in 2005, a plot carried out with another inmate who helped Causey make human-like dummies of clothes and toilet paper to dupe prison guards into thinking the prisoners were in their cell.
Wednesday’s escape from Lieber Correctional Institution in Dorchester County also stunned one of the investigators who worked on the 2002 home invasion at the Swerling home.
“I would have thought after the first escape attempt he would be locked down pretty tight,” said Capt. Scott McDonald of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. “To hear he escaped again, I was just in shock and concerned for the Swerlings and the citizens here in Richland County, if he ever were to return this way.”
Causey, who authorities say is dangerous, remained free as of dusk Thursday.
How he got away from another maximum-security prison remains under investigation.
Starting down the wrong path
The road that led Causey to accumulate an eight-page rapsheet started in 1989 just after he turned 19. Swerling became his lawyer when Causey was charged with second-degree burglary, the attorney said.
At that point, Causey had the potential to lead a decent life.
“He had an accomplished career,” said McDonald, now a Sheriff’s Department captain. “He cut down trees and was very, very good at it from what we learned. He could have made a very good living doing that.
“But somewhere – and I’m not sure where – he took the turn toward crime. Trouble just seemed to follow him,” the captain said.
Swerling knew Causey’s grandfather and family before he knew Causey, but can’t recall exactly how he came to represent the then-teenager in 1989.
“It’s an upstanding family,” Swerling said. “His grandfather would apologize to me at the sentencing (for the home invasion). He could not believe his grandson had done that to me.”
Causey faced up to 15 years for the burglary charge in 1989, but Swerling said he got Causey “what everybody considered a pretty good deal” under South Carolina’s Youthful Offender Act.
After Causey was charged a second time for burglary, Swerling got prosecutors to agree to a conviction for nonviolent burglary. Not only did that allow Causey to be eligible for parole much sooner, it kept him from having a conviction for a violent offense, The State newspaper reported at the time.
Crimes pile up
Misdemeanor charges and convictions peppered Causey’s criminal record throughout the 1990s, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
In 2003, Causey was convicted of eight “most serious” violent offenses in a bank robbery that occurred near the entrance of the subdivision where the Swerlings lived, records show. That crime happened about three months after the attack on the Swerlings.
State law allows prosecutors to seek a life-without-parole sentence when a defendant has a prior “most serious” offense.
McDonald investigated the bank robbery and the Swerling break-in.
“I knew his propensity for violence after that,” McDonald said of the bank robbery. “He went in there with guns, ordered people down. The threat for violence was very real. . . . There’s not a doubt in my mind he’s a very violent individual.”
Causey was sentenced in 2004 to five life terms for the crime against the Swerlings. He refused to stay in the courtroom when the verdict and sentenced were announced, prompting Swerling to call Causey a coward, the newspaper reported at the time.
“He thought I was sitting on a bunch of cash at my house, which turned out to be a bad rumor,” Swerling said Thursday of Causey’s motive. The intruders got a small amount of cash and a Palm Pilot.
“That was a hell of a price to pay for what he thought he was gonna get,” the attorney said. “He got life in prison for just a few bucks. But he took the risk.”
After Causey’s first escape in 2005, McDonald said Richland County deputies and SLED agents talked with Causey’s former girlfriend, who led them to Jasper County – about 70 miles from the prison he escaped from Wednesday.
Causey and the second inmate were caught two days later at a motel in Ridgeland after a pizza delivery woman recognized them and called police.
Judie Trainer, who was the manager of the store that delivered the pizza, told The State in November 2005 that she was suspicious from the beginning because few people ordered pizza from the motel. Her uneasiness grew when the men in the room would not let her get a clear view of their faces.
The bizarre delivery made Trainer uneasy to the point that she told her husband, who called police, she recounted to The State 12 years ago.
While Causey remains on the loose again, Swerling said he and his family are safe. He commended Bryan Sterling, director of the state Department of Corrections, who he said has been keeping them abreast of developments.
“Law enforcement has us fully protected, and I feel confident about that,” Swerling said. “I’m also protecting myself as well in case something were to happen. ... He’d be a fool to try and come near me.”
Still, Swerling said he realizes Causey has everything to lose if he’s caught again.
“We’re just staying where we are,” the attorney said without divulging the family’s location. “I’m looking forward to getting a call that he was caught.”