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Plea deal offered in mother's killing

With less than a week left before his murder trial, James R. Swinney is considering a deal in which he would plead guilty to strangling his mother and avoid the death penalty, his lawyer said Tuesday. Swinney, 34, would receive life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years in exchange for his plea.

Swinney hasn't accepted the offer, but the deal is still open, said Assistant Public Defender Paul Firmani.

"Obviously, it's always good when you can spare your client the possibility of the death penalty," Firmani said. Swinney will decide by Monday, he said, the day the trial is scheduled to begin.

Swinney confessed to the murder in March, one day after his mother, Carolyn Swinney, was found dead in her south Tampa townhouse, with an electrical cord around her neck, police said.

Detectives said robbery was the motive for the murder. Swinney was a drifter, a high school dropout, who switched from odd job to odd job without finding steady work. He told police he stole his mother's gold chains, a videocassette recorder and her 1985 Thunderbird after killing her.

Relatives said he often depended on his mother for money.

"That's the surprising part," said Daniel Ryan, Mrs. Swinney's father. "She did more for him than anyone."

Mrs. Swinney taught at James Monroe Junior High School for nearly two decades and her ex-husband described her as a woman who "slept and dreamed school, teaching and kids."

_ RACHEL L. SWARNS

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