Ames man sentenced to life in prison after 2019 machete murder of roommate

Isabella Rosario
Ames Tribune

An Ames man convicted of murder in July was sentenced Friday to life in prison for killing his roommate in November 2019.

David Sean Hunter, 57, was convicted by a Story County jury in the death of 37-year-old Christopher Swalwell. Swalwell died at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center shortly after Hunter stabbed him multiple times at their west Ames apartment.

Hunter's attorney Christopher Kragnes said in court Friday that his client has always said he acted in self-defense.

"I do think there is a distinction. It may be a fine line, but it is a distinction," Kragnes said. "He's not denying that Mr. Swalwell died at his hands, he has just maintained that he was justified."

When Hunter was asked by Judge James Ellefson whether there was anything he would like to say, Hunter responded, "Only that Mr. Kragnes just said it, your honor." 

Related: Ames man found guilty of first-degree murder in 2019 stabbing of roommate

Victim's mother said in impact statement, 'He was butchered'

In a victim impact statement read on her behalf in court Friday, Swalwell's mother Nancy Croker said her son "was not murdered — he was butchered."

"A slab of meat in a processing plant is given more dignity in death than what my son received from this man," Croker's statement said. "As long as I live, I will never understand that level of inhumanity."

Through a representative, Croker said that during the July trial, she choked down vomit and wiped tears from her eyes, "all the while clutching $16." 

"Sixteen dollars that ended my son's life and forever altered the lives of countless others — sixteen miserable dollars," Croker's statement said.

During the trial, both the defense and the prosecution said that night's events started with a dispute over money for video games. Hunter had given Swalwell his credit card information in order to create an account for a game on Swalwell's Xbox, attorneys said. While Hunter thought the charge would be $1, the charge was actually $15.99.

Hunter was so angry over the $15.99 charge, assistant Story County attorney Tiffany Meredith said, that he went to confront Swalwell in his room. When Swalwell responded that he was sleeping, Meredith said that Hunter brought in a kukri machete and "picked a fight."

More: Jury hears closing arguments in homicide trial for 2019 roommate stabbing in Ames

Swalwell sustained around 40 hits from the knife, for a total of 27 wound complexes, according to the state medical examiner. 

Arguing that Hunter acted in self-defense, his attorneys said a yellowing bruise on their client's sternum that night was consistent with someone pressing down on his chest. 

Motion for new trial rejected; appeal to be filed

Hunter filed a motion for a new trial Monday, alleging the court abused its discretion by not allowing the admission of Swalwell's toxicology analysis and unfairly prejudiced the jury by admitting an "overly graphic quantity of autopsy photos." Judge Ellefson overruled the motion.

After he was sentenced, Hunter filed a notice of appeal. The State Appellate Defender was appointed to represent Hunter in future appellate proceedings Friday afternoon.

Swalwell was born in Ames on Jan. 7, 1982, and baptized at Peoria United Methodist Church, according to his obituary. He enjoyed playing video games, watching movies, fishing and drawing. He is survived by his mother, daughter, stepbrother, stepsister and step-niece.

Isabella Rosario is a public safety reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at or on Twitter at @irosarioc.