A former Mercer County woman described by retired District Attorney James P. Epstein as a “dangerous criminal” will soon be freed from state prison.
But Linda J. Karlen, 59, won’t be allowed to live or travel through Mercer County as part of her release. She’ll also be prohibited from any contact with the victims or witnesses in her case, according to current District Attorney Robert G. Kochems.
“Ms. Karlen has by my calculations two years and two months to spend on parole,” Kochems said in an e-mail reacting to her imminent release.
She remains an inmate at the state prison in Cambridge Springs and is in the process of being released, according to state Board of Probation and Parole spokesman Leo Dunn.
“They have not started her release process,” Dunn said. “She’s going to be there for a while.”
On Oct. 18, the board granted Karlen’s parole because of an apparent change in her behavior since last year.
The board wrote favorably about Karlen’s participation in institutional programs, her “positive behavior … demonstrated motivation for success” and “acceptance of responsibility for the offenses committed.”
It’s a turn-around from a similar hearing last year, when Karlen’s request was denied in part because of “lack of remorse for the offenses committed” and “failure to demonstrate motivation for success.”
Prior to the parole hearing, Karlen had maintained her innocence in the case, which has faded from the memories of many but once was a part of local lore.
The former Hempfield Township and Sharon woman spent the last seven years imprisoned in Cambridge Springs for arson of a Greenville business and her home in Sharon. She was incarcerated in Ohio for 15 years before that on a kidnapping conviction involving the events that led to the June 17, 1988, murder of Roger “Butch” Pratt, a 22-year-old Thiel College graduate and Munhall native, who was beaten to death by his friend and college roommate Edward Swiger.
Swiger and Karlen were lovers, and Swiger’s brother Michael also played a role in Pratt’s slaying.
Edward Swiger is serving a life sentence on charges of aggravated murder and kidnapping. He is eligible for parole in 2029.
Michael Swiger was released in 2006 after 16 years in prison. He writes crime novels and is active in a Cleveland-area prison ministry.
When informed of Karlen’s pending release, Pratt’s mother Rose responded: “You’ve got to be kidding. She’s a witch.”
Karlen’s been described as a master manipulator by Epstein, who said both she and Edward Swiger were calculating criminals.
Epstein opposed parole for Karlen, but he and Kochems didn’t decry the parole board’s decision this time because it at least provides conditions for her release – something that would have been absent had she served until Jan. 17, 2015.
If she hadn’t been paroled, when she was released there would have been no “controls” placed on where she lived or whom she contacted.
The conditions of her early release include a ban on locating in Mercer County or contacting anyone associated with the case for more than two years as she adjusts to life in the free world.
“Ms. Karlen will now have over two years to develop a life and contacts away from Mercer County and the persons connected to her case,” Kochems said. “Hopefully at the end of her parole, she will have no reason to return.”
Karlen still has family living in Mercer and Crawford counties.
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