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Mother of two’s murderer gets 19 years to life

Mother of two’s murderer gets 19 years to life

Photo submitted Denise Swanner, pictured her with her daughter, was gunned down in Turlock in 2006 at the age of 20. Matthew Black, pled no contest to her murder and was sentenced to 19 years to li...

POSTED February 9, 2010 11:35 p.m.
For three and a half years the family of murder victim Denise Swanner has been waiting for justice. The sentencing hearing of Matthew Black on Tuesday to 19 years to life in prison left them with mixed feelings.
“It is a relief that it’s finally over, but 19 years doesn’t seem like enough,” said Misty Ferreira, Swanner’s cousin. “We lost a life.”
Black was convicted of second degree murder in the 2006 death of Swanner. He was sentenced by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff to 15 years to life for the second degree murder charge and an additional four years for a gun enhancement charge. Black agreed to plea no contest to the charges after a judge ruled he was competent to stand trial, said Deputy District Attorney Elaine Casillas.
The death of Swanner, who was a 20-year-old mother of two, shocked the community with its sheer violence.
On Oct. 4, 2006, Swanner went to an apartment complex at 1144 Pioneer Avenue to check on friends and she brought along a firearm that had been given to her for protection.
Black was staying at the same residence and at some point during Swanner’s visit, he took the handgun and walked out of the apartment. According to the police report, Swanner ran out after Black, at which point he turned and fired several shots at her. Witnesses said they saw Swanner fall to the ground and scream for her children — two girls who were just toddlers at the time and who were present when their mother was shot.
Swanner died en route to the hospital. According to the autopsy report, she was shot twice, once in the chest and once through the back.
“My sister suffered one of the most horrifying deaths imaginable,” said Shauna Swanner.
After his arrest, Black’s family told investigators he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia during a prior prison confinement and that on that day he had been having paranoid delusions of someone following him.
At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing several of Swanner’s family members donned pink and black ribbons in her honor and spoke about lives that had been stilted by grief and loss.
“The whole family has been in a deep, dark hole with no way back to the top,” said Janelle Martinez, one of Swanner’s sisters.
They also spoke of the cherished memories they hold of Swanner — her love for swimming and camping and her complete aversion to bugs. Her father Sean Swanner remembered a daughter who liked to discuss the Bible with him and talk about her day, and who would clutch his arm when she went rollerblading.
“To laugh with my daughter was the greatest thing,” he said.
Perhaps the greatest frustration for Sean Swanner is why Black was even in Turlock on that day.
Black had been picked up by Merced County Sheriff’s deputies earlier that day because he was acting irrational and trying to flag down cars. Black told the deputies he lived in Turlock and they gave him a ride to Lander Avenue, near Highway 99. From there, Black phoned the Turlock Police Department claiming he was being followed by two men in a dark vehicle. The responding officers spoke with Black, who did not want to go to the Behavioral Health Center. Instead, he requested he be taken to the Pioneer Avenue apartment, where his sister resided. If Black was not posing a threat to himself or others at the time, he could not forcibly be taken into a mental health facility.
“This has disturbed me for three and a half years,” Swanner said. “They relinquished their responsibility to society. If they had done their job, my daughter would be alive today.”
Black will have to serve 19 years before he is eligible for parole. Swanner’s family said they plan on being at every parole hearing to give a voice to the crime.
“I will spend the rest of my life speaking for my daughter,” Sean Swanner said.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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