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US man's conviction in wife's scuba death overturned

David Swain, center, and his daughter Jennifer Swain Bloom speak with a prison guard after his release in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, on Thursday.Steven Melendez / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Rhode Island man convicted of killing his wife during a 1999 scuba diving trip was freed Thursday after the verdict was overturned.

A panel of three judges with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal found problems with the jury instructions read by a judge during the 2009 trial.

The appeals court also declined to order a new trial because of concerns about recalling defense witnesses given the amount of time that has passed since the death of Shelley Tyre.

"I feel elated," Swain told reporters as he walked away with his daughter, Jennifer Swain Bloom, who has long maintained her father's innocence.

Swain said he intends to "breathe a little free air, go for a walk, go home, pick up the pieces and go on."

His daughter praised the judges' decision.

"I have known the whole time he is innocent," she said. "I knew that the system would eventually agree."

David Swain said the two intend to return to Rhode Island "sooner rather than later."

J. Renn Olenn, a lawyer representing Tyre's parents, said Thursday at a news conference in Warwick, Rhode Island, that even though the conviction had been overturned, it didn't mean Swain was exonerated.

"No judicial body has declared him innocent, and two different juries have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Olenn told reporters.

He said that the pain of Tyre's death will "never go away" for her family and that even the now-overturned conviction did not "ease the wound."

$3.5 million civil award
A jury unanimously convicted Swain in October 2009 of murdering Tyre in what authorities described as a near-perfect crime. Swain was then ordered to serve at least 25 years of a mandatory life sentence.

Defense attorney J.S. Archibald had argued in part that the judge did not adequately advise the jury on how to handle evidence from a related U.S. civil suit that was mentioned at the criminal trial.

Authorities initially ruled Tyre's drowning near an isolated shipwreck at a depth of 80 feet (24 meters) as an accident, but they later charged Swain with murder following a 2006 civil trial in Rhode Island that found him responsible for her death.

The civil jury awarded Tyre's family $3.5 million, and Swain later filed for bankruptcy.

Prosecutors in the British Virgin Islands argued that Swain killed Tyre because he was in love with another woman and wanted to obtain his wife's money.

Their case rested largely on experts who said they believed Swain attacked his wife from behind, yanked off her scuba mask and cut off her air supply.

Authorities said her mask was damaged, the mouthpiece of her snorkel was missing, and her swim fin was found embedded in a sandbar.