Family Fights To Keep Man Behind Bars

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The family of a Pennsylvania man who was kidnapped, beaten and then buried in a shallow grave by college friends has begun a second campaign to keep a man involved in the slaying from getting parole.

The family of Butch Pratt, 22, has mailed hundreds of petitions across the country, asking people to write Ohio corrections officials and ask them to block Michael A. Swiger's second attempt to be paroled from an Ohio prison in September.

"Butch was the only brother I have, and if the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure he would have done this for me," said Michael Pratt, 39, who lives in Warren, Ohio.

"We miss him. What happened to him was so unfair. These people did this to him. I think they need to serve their punishment for what they did," Pratt said.

So far, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has received 341 letters or signatures opposing Swiger's early release and 110 in support. Authorities said the letters will be considered during Swiger's parole hearing on Sept. 26 or Sept. 27.

Swiger, 34, of Euclid, Ohio, is serving a 21- to 53-year sentence for helping his older brother Edward Swiger Jr., 36, abduct and then kill Pratt in eastern Ohio in June 1988.

Prosecutors said the brothers feared Pratt would turn them in for setting a warehouse on fire and burglarizing two fraternity houses at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa.

Pratt and Edward Swiger were in the same fraternity at the college.

Edward Swiger, who roomed with Pratt in a fraternity house, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of aggravated murder and kidnapping. Michael Swiger was convicted of kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors said the brothers lured Pratt to Akron, Ohio, on June 17, 1988 under the pretense of visiting a friend who picked him up at a bus station, but then left him on the side of the road in Hudson, Ohio, 12 miles away, where they were waiting.

The brothers then handcuffed and beat Pratt, breaking every bone in his head, before driving to Pennsylvania and dumping his body in a shallow grave on a Crawford County farm.

Michael Swiger's attorney, Mark Stanton of Cleveland, said his client was remorseful and had a "sterling record" in prison. Stanton also said there was little evidence Swiger killed Pratt.

"Mike (Swiger) was involved in the cover-up. He has been punished. He has been punished severely for a bad crime, a violent crime. He was not part of the violence," Stanton said.

Pratt's mother, Rose Pratt, 62, of Munhall, Pa., has challenged claims that Swiger was manipulated by his brother and did not participate in the killing.

"He has a mind of his own. He had free will to do whatever he wanted to do. As far as I'm concerned, he made the wrong decision," Rose Pratt said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)