Now that Silva and Joseph Swinton no longer have to worry about going back to prison, they can concentrate on reuniting their family.
On Thursday, Queens Supreme Court Judge Richard Buchter officially resentenced the couple, who had been convicted of assaulting their daughter Ice, for feeding her a strict vegan diet that left her dangerously malnourished. The judge gave the couple time served, allowing them to remain free.
In July, the New York Court of Appeals threw out first degree assault convictions against the couple and reduced the charges against them. Buchter set them free a week later, stating that the three years they had served in prison outweighed the charges against them.
But District Attorney Richard Brown submitted a request to reargue the case. It took four months for that case to be decided and allow Buchter to officially reduce the sentences.
“I’m just as ecstatic now as I was on July 18,” Silva Swinton said outside the courthouse shortly after noon on Thursday.
Although the Swintons have been free for several months, they are still separated from Ice, now 5, and her younger brother Ini, 3. Silva Swinton visits with her children two times a week, but Joseph is still barred from seeing the children.
Now that the criminal proceeding is over, the process of family reunification may move more swiftly. The Administration for Children’s Services has set the longterm goal of reuniting the children with their parents; they currently reside with their maternal grandmother. “We are trying to make it so we can all live together, but there are rules we have to follow,” Silva Swinton said. A parallel Family Court case resumed on Monday.
Swinton said she has taken an active role in her children’s lives since being released and plans on joining the Parent Teacher Association at their school. She said the children ask her every time they see her if “today is the day” she stays with them permanently.
Buchter’s ruling on Thursday marks the end of a case that caught the attention of children’s advocates, vegan activists and the national media. In 2001, the Swintons were charged with assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child after doctors at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park found Ice to be severely malnourished. The 16 month old had brittle bones, no teeth and weighed only 10 pounds, according to hospital records. The Swintons had fed Ice a strict vegan diet, removing meat, dairy and other animal products from her food intake.
After an emotional trial during which Silva Swinton and several family members disrupted the proceedings, an all white jury found the African American Swintons guilty on all charges. Buchter sentenced Silva Swinton to six years and Joseph to five years behind bars.
Brown declined to comment this week on the latest development, but after the initial reduction of the charges he said that the decision left “children with virtually no protection against severe maltreatment.” Despite the dogged prosecution by Brown and his staff, Silva insisted that she had “no harsh feelings” for the the district attorney.
“Looking back there are so many things I would do differently. Now we’re free to get on with our lives,” she added.