Suspect convicted in state park killing, sentenced to life

(AP) - Randy Swaney will spend the rest of his life in prison without a chance for parole in the death of a state park worker in 2001.

Swaney, 37, was sentenced Friday morning in Luverne after being convicted of all seven murder charges in the death of Carrie Nelson at Blue Mounds State Park.

Swaney addressed her family during the sentencing hearing and again proclaimed his innocence. He said there is "still a murderer out there."

Nelson's father, Stan Nelson, testified he will be haunted for the rest of his life by thoughts of his daughter's final terror-filled minutes.

Nelson's mother, Nan Karr Kaufenberg, said she retired early so she could move to another community with her husband to rebuild their lives.

"My security, happiness and trust that all will be well is gone," she said.

The jury deliberated for six hours before returning its verdict before dawn Friday. It convicted him on three counts of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder.

Swaney was sentenced a few hours later.

Authorities believe Nelson was beaten to death with a decorative rock during a robbery in the park office where she worked.

Swaney wasn't charged until May 2007. His trial began late last month in Rock County District Court. Jurors heard around two weeks of testimony before they were finally given the case shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday.

On the stand, Swaney discussed his criminal history, which includes convictions for auto theft, property damage, theft and burglary. He admitted to having a drinking problem earlier in life, and to spending more money gambling than he was making.

To explain how his fingerprints were found at the park, Swaney said may have stopped by the park outside of Luverne to check rates and see what there was for kids to do, as his family members are avid campers.

"After looking at everything, it looks like I had been there and just don't remember," he told the jury. "We are always looking for new parks to experience."

He also admitted to once owning a watch that may be similar to one found at the crime scene, but would not say for sure if he had ever lost a watch -- including that one in particular.

A DNA mixture from the watch turned up a hit when it was checked against a database in 2007 -- bringing up the names of Swaney and his wife.

After being retested with another known sample of Swaney's DNA, officials concluded there was a 99.998 percent chance the mixture contained his DNA.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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