COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A Cobb County man said he's not bitter after spending more than a year in jail on a sex-offender registry violation when he wasn't even supposed to be on the registry.
Leonard Swanagan said he's been homeless at times during the ordeal, sometimes living in his van.
His lawyer says it's frightening he wound up with a home in the
jail, though key people in the system have now stepped up to make it right.
"You know how the movie — 'Waiting to Exhale.' Finally able to exhale and just say, 'Wow. Thank you God, it's finally over,'" Swanagan said.
His new lawyer said Swanagan was not supposed to be on the sex offender registry when he was arrested for violating the sex offender registry law in 2008.
But that fact didn't register with the criminal justice system until this year and he did 14 months in jail as a result.
"What gave you the strength to get through all this?" Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne asked Swanagan.
"Knowing that I was innocent. Knowing I was innocent and trusting in God," Swanagan said.
"He should never have spent a single day in jail," attorney Ashleigh Merchant said.
Merchant said Swanagan had a 1994 misdemeanor in another state that required he register until 2004. But an officer mistakenly told him he had to remain on the registry beyond that.
"It's absolutely terrifying the system doesn't catch this until so far down the line," Merchant said.
Merchant said though Swanagan had a letter from the state where he got the misdemeanor, the jury never heard he didn't need to be on the registry and he was convicted of breaking the registry law.
"Seem like everything just broke inside of me. Because I never thought that I would be found guilty with all of the evidence," Swanagan said.
Merchant said when she got on the case after Swanagan was convicted, she brought the issue to Cobb County Senior Assistant D.A. Anna Cross, who quickly grasped what had happened, spoke to the D.A. and agreed to void the conviction.
"It's not often that we get to undo a wrong like that, and to be able to tell your client that this nightmare's over finally is a really good feeling," Merchant said.
Merchant said the original misdemeanor involved an inappropriate-touching allegation.
She said the retired GBI in-house counsel, Mark Jackson, who for years played a key role with the sex offender registry, played a key role as an expert in establishing that Swanagan had been done wrong.
Merchant said Jackson deserves credit too.
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