Death Penalty

Texas Is Executing a Man Tonight for a Murder and Rape Experts Say He Didn't Commit

Forensic experts claim there is no way Larry Swearingen raped and killed Melissa Trotter. The state is still putting him to death.


[UPDATE, August 22: After the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal, Larry Swearingen was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital last night at 6:35 p.m. He took his final breath at 6:47.]

A little after 6 p.m., the state of Texas will execute Larry Swearingen for a crime experts believe he was unable to commit.

Journalist Andrew Purcell detailed the events leading to Swearingen's impending death in a thorough investigation.

A 19-year-old college student named Melissa Trotter disappeared from her Montgomery College campus, north of Houston, in December 1998. Police set their sights on Swearingen, an electrician who was witnessed having a conversation with Trotter in the college library. Montgomery County law enforcement also found a scrap of paper with the name "Larry" and his phone number in one of Trotter's books.

After a few days went by, officers tailed Swearingen in an unmarked car and eventually arrested him at his mother's house over unpaid speeding and parking tickets. His bail was set high. Though Swearingen was questioned about Trotter's whereabouts, he maintained that he saw her last on campus.

Three weeks later in January 1999, while Swearingen was sitting behind bars, Trotter's body was discovered in Sam Houston National Forest. Trotter had seemingly been strangled to death by one leg of pantyhose. With the discovery of the body, Swearingen was charged with murder.

A number of errors in Swearingen's trial doomed him to death row. At least two involving DNA sealed his fate.

The Washington Post reports that the second leg of pantyhose was discovered in Swearingen's trailer by a landlord, even though it was searched twice before by law enforcement. A Texas Department of Public Safety lab technician testified in court that it was "a unique physical match" to the pantyhose leg found on Trotter's body.

Since that time, the legs have been retested. Two experts have reported that the pantyhose don't match. A third expert has refuted the original technician's testimony.

The second major piece of convicting evidence was the timeline offered by medical examiner Joye Carter. When Carter performed Trotter's autopsy, she was able to cut samples of Trotter's internal organs. Carter later told the court that she estimated Trotter's death to be on the day she disappeared, about 25 days before her body was discovered. However, medical experts note that if Carter's assumption were true, a number of the organs she was able to cut would have already been liquified by the time the body was discovered. Pictures of the crime scene also show Trotter's body intact, not heavily decomposed.

Since Carter gave her testimony, seven different forensic pathologists have offered a new timeline. Trotter was missing for several weeks, and likely died within two weeks of her body being found—not the same day she disappeared.

The new timeline gives Swearingen a flawless alibi: he was behind bars at the time of death.

Determined to pin the case on him, the prosecution accused Swearingen of raping Trotter before she died, despite the absence of semen, defensive wounds, or any other indication that she was involved in a physical struggle. Lacking in the forensic evidence to tie Swearingen to the murder, the prosecution painted his odd behavior as the result of his obvious guilt.

The prosecution was not the only party at fault. The Innocence Project, which has spent years trying to save Swearingen from facing capital punishment, has spent years pushing for DNA testing that should have been performed by investigators. As The Intercept reported in 2017, the state didn't perform DNA testing on Trotter's clothes, swabs from her rape kit, cigarette butts found near her body, or even the pantyhose identified as the murder weapon.

Rather than grant Swearingen and the Innocence Project the DNA tests that could shed additional light on the case, Texas responded by scheduling his execution.

"They are going to execute someone that the legitimate forensic science has proven innocent," James Rytting, Swearingen's attorney, told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday. "And the execution is going through on the basis of other forensic science that is borderline quackery—in fact it is quackery."

Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, tells Reason "It is a sad day for justice in Texas. If his execution proceeds, Larry Swearingen will join several other individuals who were put to death by the state despite credible evidence of innocence."

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  1. So… is the accusation that he had some other random pantyhose leg in his trailer or that the evidence was planted?

    If the evidence was planted, why pretend that dna testing wouldn’t have been altered as well?

    1. The accusation is that the state had zero physical evidence connecting him to the crime and that he was sitting in jail when the victim was murdered.

      1. Well, not zero. They have the panty hose.

        The question is… where did it come from.

        And we have a state-employed tech who says.. yup, definitely the same pair.

        And an outside set of experts who say “No way”

        And another state tech who says the initial report was wrong.

        So what to do with that? 3 considered experts are saying that it isn’t related. The guy who is paid to say they are the same says they are the same.

        No way was it a random other panty hose… they searched the place twice. Any random panty hose would have been taken as evidence for testing. It either wasn’t there, or it was soooo well hidden that a small army of cops couldn’t find it.

        But the landlord did.

        That’s a story I’d like to hear. In detail.

        1. “And we have a state-employed tech who says.. yup, definitely the same pair.”

          If the Intercept story is to be believed, by relying on the super high-tech method of laying them out next to each other and looking at them.

          1. I’m pretty dubious about it appearing in an already searched (Twice!) room myself. (Does the landlord have an alibi?) But where a fibrous item has been torn in two, laying them out next to each other and looking at them (Under magnification, of course!) IS the gold standard for confirming they’re pieces of the same article.

          2. Obviously, the pantyhose had been separated into two pieces, two ‘legs’. Torn or cut, did they match-up when arrayed together? This article does not make sense.

        2. Lot of fascination with the pantyhose here. Not a fetish I share. I’m much more interested in the time of death which apparently happened when this guy was in jail. If true, the pantyhose are irrelevant.

          1. Exactly! Period

        3. You can find an expert witness to say pretty much anything you want. There are many expert witness that make big money working for either the prosecution or the defense.

      2. If one of the hijackers had just showed up in the ER with cutaneous anthrax, which would not be “skin irritation “ or a single lesion and not been diagnosed and aggressively treated he would probably have died………………… Read More

      3. The state had a TON of physical evidence linking him to the crime. Do a little research before you post uninformed comments.

        1. Like the skin under her fingernails that didn’t match his?

          You’d think law and order types would want to make sure the actual killer is in jail instead of just trying to close the case and call it a win.

    2. If the evidence was planted, why pretend that dna testing wouldn’t have been altered as well?

      So you know that the person who planted the pantyhose also had access to both Swearingen and Trotter’s body/DNA?!

      You know who did it don’t you? Confess!

    3. More seriously, the article is a bit misleading (Zuri *Shrug* Davis). The issue isn’t that the hose in his trailer wasn’t tested it’s that nothing has been tested.

      Your question is a false tautology: “If the evidence was planted, why pretend that dna testing wouldn’t have been altered as well?”

      If the evidence was planted, then you’re absolutely right, we don’t need to test the DNA. But the question isn’t if the evidence was planted. It seems pretty clear that either it was or the two police sweeps were completely inept.

      The DNA *could* be evidence that the pantyhose had been planted and *could* be evidence of whomever killed Trotter. Whomever the killer is, their DNA would have to be at both places (all 3 if you count her vagina separately) and if Swearingen’s DNA isn’t at both (3) places then it’s more likely he didn’t do it. If it turns up everywhere then…

      1. It seems pretty clear that either it was [the panty hose leg planted] or the two police sweeps were completely inept.

        The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    4. Another good reason to ditch the death penalty. As all reasonable people know, the government FUCKS EVERYTHING UP, and as such, they should NEVER be able to execute someone. Also, if it is truly proven that the criminal did what he was charged with, solitary confinement would actually be a BETTER sentence, as the creep would go slowly nuts and have a better punishment as a result.

    5. Really disappointed by Reason today. Just because the death penalty is a tool of an oppressive state does not make this guy innocent. There is zero “proof” that experts are pointing to that would clear him. The only real exculpatory issue is her date of death.. but if she died a WEEK after she went missing (last seen with the recently executed), why did she have the same clothes on that she wore when she went missing, and the same food in her stomach that she was eating at lunch WITH the killer.

      So much evidence against this guy, tiny bit of doubt… you guys were not on the jury and didn’t hear the evidence presented. Try to show some balance in your reporting!

      1. the burden of proof is on the prosecution, seems like they conned the jury without solid evidence

      2. It wasn’t an open and shut case… until they killed him. He may have been involved somehow, but it sounds like he wasn’t the actual killer. Now it’s in the state’s self interest to make sure this case never gets re-opened and solved properly.

  2. This seems to be an execution which needs to be stopped. A new trial can be held. I am wondering at the quality of the defense at the trial, as well.

    1. This SOB is guilty as hell. He might not have killed that young lady, but rest assured, he is guilty as hell.

      The world is now a measurably better place without him.

      1. That may be true but the people involved in making him guilt got away with it.

        There was no good reason to execute this guy yesterday instead of a year from now. The Innocence Project has a really great track record of getting convictions overturned based on DNA evidence. Maybe THAT is the problem. These jurisdictions that violate the Constitution and then get the bad convictions overturned dont want another conviction overturned.

        1. Better that one innocent man die that the State admit it fucked up was wrong.

      2. Atlas is an asshole. He excretes his comment, instead of using what little brains he has. Perhaps we ought to put him in solitary confinement along with the murderer.

      3. The law fortunately isn’t based on utilitarianism though, and you can’t just kill somebody for being a bad person.

  3. the prosecution accused Swearingen of raping Trotter before she died, despite the absence of semen, defensive wounds, or any other indication that she was involved in a physical struggle

    Not to cast shade on Swearingen or the Innocense Project, but a considerable point that is being overlooked in this case is that Trotter didn’t get tangled up in her own pantyhose in a National Park and choke to death all by herself. Not only is Swearingen overwhelmingly innocent but, even if you’re an unabashed fan of the death penalty, it seems very clear that there is someone who belongs in his place.

    1. That is one of the huge problems with these forensics / rush to judgement cases. They guarantee that a killer walks away scott free.

      So it is actually two miscarriages of justice, not one.

      And a guy like this killer is not likely a one-off killer. So if he’s innocent, they’ve doomed someone else. Maybe multiple someones.

  4. Larry “Ray” Swearingen. Everyone knows that guys with the middle name “Ray” 114% did it. “Earl” as a middle name is a close second.

    1. If you’ve got “Earl” and “Ray” in your name do two wrongs make a right?

      1. And James Earl Ray. He’s downright incorrigable.

    2. The extent of Billy Ray Cyrus and James Earl Jones’ body counts will never be fully known.

      1. Serious question: Was there a “James Earl” whom James Earl Ray, James Earl Jones, and James Earl Carter were all named for? I can’t find anything about such an individual. But if there was not such a person, why do so many people have the first and middle names of “James Earl”?

        1. James and Earl are both common names in the south. Sometimes they’ll be used together.

          1. “South” should be capitalized when referring to a place and not a direction

            1. Damnit! I left the period off the end of that sentence. My bad!

    3. Swearingens like to feed their victims to pigs.

    4. And the name Diane is most often connected with truly stupid broads.

  5. This is great coverage… one of the important things that I support Reason for. We should have been more up to date on this case though.

    I’d like to hear the other version of events. What say the prosecutors about these dueling forensics reports. It really should be irrefutable if there is a difference in time of death by 2 weeks. That’s long enough to go to things like insect evidence, in addition to decomposition. Was any of that collected?

    And the panty hose… that’s an odd one. From the landlord finding it to the disagreements on a match. How did the landlord know to look for it? Sounds like the police told him what they were searching for and he took it upon himself to make sure justice was done. Pretty hard to reconcile that one otherwise, absent another story… like he had evicted the guy and was clearing the place out…

    1. More details

      A biology teacher saw Trotter leaving campus with a man, but Swearingen has maintained it wasn’t him. And, though forensic evidence later showed the teen had been in his car, Swearingen said it wasn’t necessarily that day.

      During trial, the former electrician’s wife testified that she came home that evening to find their trailer a mess. In the middle of it all were Trotter’s lighter and a pack of her brand of cigarettes. The unexpected disarray could have been the sign of a struggle, but Swearingen chalked it up to a break-in, and later filed a police report saying his home had been burgled while he was gone.

      1. Trotter burgled Swearington’s trailer? This is a really complicated case.

    2. The Washington Post reports that the second leg of pantyhose was discovered in Swearingen’s trailer by a landlord, even though it was searched twice before by law enforcement.

      My concern here is shenanigans. But of course I should never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to incompetence.

    3. The landlord didn’t find the pantyhose. here is a good summary of ACTUAL facts in the case.

  6. Apparently SCOTUS has just declined to do anything, so it’s done

    1. It takes 4 justices to grant review.

      So much for the lie that Lefties are for Civil Rights.

  7. Habeas corpus denied in Swearingen v. Texas
    The Supreme Court this evening denied the application for stay of execution and petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Larry Swearingen in the capital case Swearingen v. Texas, 19-5640. Texas planned to execute Swearingen, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter, by lethal injection at 6 p.m. CDT.

    1. Katie Bart, Habeas corpus denied in Swearingen v. Texas, SCOTUSblog (Aug. 21, 2019, 7:10 PM),

  8. More really important details:

    In recent weeks, he filed appeals hoping to poke holes in the state’s testimony about the blood flecks found under Trotter’s fingernails. The crime lab determined years ago that the blood wasn’t Swearingen’s, a fact that could have helped point to another suspect. But an expert at trial explained that away, saying it could be contamination, thus negating its potentially exculpatory value.

    This year, the crime lab wrote a pair of letters clarifying that their expert should not have been so certain about the pantyhose match or the possibility of contamination regarding the blood flecks, admissions Rytting viewed as damaging to the state’s case. But those claims did not impress the prosecution, or the courts that turned down his appeals.

    1. Among the items not tested for DNA? Yeah, that supposed blood under her fingernails. State wouldn’t agree to it because it might just be contamination.

      All other tested articles came up negative for male DNA. cigarette butts from the woods, hair and some of the teen’s clothes.

      But not the blood under her fingernails? Can’t test that?

      I’d like to know how the defend that decision.

      1. “I’d like to know how the defend that decision.”

        Prosecution, cops, judges are all in bed together. That’s true everywhere.

      2. “I’d like to know how the defend that decision.”

        Fuck you, that’s why.

    2. I’m gonna get a job as an expert witness for hire. Anyone comes up with air-tight evidence, I’ll just take the stand and say “Nuh-uh, it might be t’other way ’round.”

    3. You’d think there would be a procedural rule that the prosecution does not get to play the police incompetence card.

  9. Unfortunately most people don’t care if a “few” innocent people die in the total scheme of the death penalty. I’ve had those conversations even with so-called liberals and it’s disheartening. There should at the very least be some evidentiary requirements.

    1. Can the legal system be improved? Do innocent people get punished? Certainly. But what does that have to do with the death penalty?

      You seem to live under the false assumption that if you lock someone up for a few decades and then say “oops, sorry, never mind, we were wrong”, that’s somehow less of a problem than executing them. On top of that, life sentences probably are less carefully reviewed than executions.

      1. It is less of a problem because if there still alive and found not to have done the crime at least you can give compensation. Not if they are dead.

      2. Yes, getting locked up wrongly for 20 years and then let go is somehow less of a problem than getting wrongly executed permanently.

  10. If these facts are what was presented to SCOTUS, I’m surprised they didn’t grant a stay. Maybe this is not the whole story.

    1. There were more facts on the guilty side than they let on.

      She was in his vehicle at some point per forensics. He admits it but says it wasn’t the same day. Someone saw the victim leave with a man shortly after the librarian saw them together. He says it wasn’t him.

      and this

      During trial, the former electrician’s wife testified that she came home that evening to find their trailer a mess. In the middle of it all were Trotter’s lighter and a pack of her brand of cigarettes. The unexpected disarray could have been the sign of a struggle, but Swearingen chalked it up to a break-in, and later filed a police report saying his home had been burgled while he was gone.

      and then there’s the disputed panty hose.


      1. There’s also a cell phone call supposedly on the way back from where the body was.

        Defense team disputes that this is what is shown… but that one seems weak either way. But it don’t point to innocence.

      2. The disputed panty hose is explained at this link provided by BobF above.

        Apparently after Swearington was arrested his wife gave notice to the landlord that they would be moving, and returned the keys. The landlord cleaned out the trailer in preparation for re-renting it. The police subsequently found the 1/2 pantyhose in the trash outside the trailer.

        The real mystery is why anyone would take the time to cut a pair of panty hose in half before strangling someone – unless they were extremely thrifty and were saving the unused half for the next time they needed to strangle someone.

    2. SCOTUS does not rule on the facts of the case but whether legal procedures for the trial were adhered to.

  11. In the end the time of death is the only ace in the hole. I’d like to see some hard evidence on that one. The science on that is pretty good. They should have been able to nail down a difference of two weeks or 4 weeks.

    Also, not testing the blood under the fingernails is inexcusable. If they thought he was actually guilty, there’s no way they wouldn’t go for it. It would end the case. No explaining away blood under her fingernails. And if it is another dude’s DNA? Well, he’d better have a damn good alibi.

    Unless the innocence project’s experts are full of crap, that difference of opinion on time of death should be resolvable in an ironclad manner.

    The forensics community should take it’s profession seriously. There’s no way they should just sit there with their hands in their pockets in a case like this. If there really is enough wiggle room for experts to disagree about time of death by more than 100%, then I don’t think you have a science.

    1. The forensics community should take it’s profession seriously

      As far as I can tell, there are a lot of charlatans in the profession.

      1. Anyone using “Bite Mark Analysis” for example.

  12. It is done.

    6:55 p.m.

    Texas has executed a man who maintained his innocence in the abduction, rape and murder of a suburban Houston community college student more than 20 years ago.

    Larry Swearingen received a lethal injection Wednesday at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

    The 48-year-old Swearingen was condemned for the December 1998 killing of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. Her body was found nearly a month after she was last seen leaving her community college in Conroe.

    1. Christ, what a bunch of assholes.

      1. Don’t malign assholes like that. Assholes are necessary, without them, we would all be full of shit.

    2. Jesus fucking christ.

    3. This is bullshit. The Innocence Project has a really good track record of clearing Defendants.

      The fact that they took this case should have gotten the delay in execution.

  13. The doubt in this case is a big reason many oppose the death penalty. Even those whose ideology is predicated at least in part on the need to limit state power seem to want to overlook fallibility in the criminal justice system. Years of freedom can’t be returned when an innocent person is freed from wrongful incarceration. A life ended can’t be returned at all.

  14. A lot of discussion about the quality of the original investigation, and the credibility of additional investigation. It’s a worthy discussion, no doubt, but the very fact that there is a debate should be enough to not execute people.
    No investigation is fool proof. The entire legal process is filled with people prone to making mistakes. Every sentence takes away something it can’t give back, in case the accused is later proved innocent. Ten years in jail can’t be given back, but at least freedom can be returned. However, death is the ultimate sentence. So it takes an impossible amount of certainty in the legal process to be OK with death penalty.

    1. I agree with all of that.

      I still go with this argument:

      Killing is wrong.

      I know. Not all that persuasive. But that’s the ultimate right answer.

      As they say, deserve’s got nuthin’ to do with it. Plenty of people deserve a lot worse than killin’. If I went around meting out punishments that people actually deserve…. well, the woodchipper comes to mind.

      I say killing diminishes me. So don’t kill in my name unless there is no decent alternative.

      And please, should anyone commit a capital crime against any of my loved ones, catch them before I do. Don’t make me chose between principles and giving them what they deserve.

  15. Texas has relatively few redeeming qualities.

    Its prosecutors and “experts” are not among them.

    1. Ahh. In a case fraught with diasagreement over science, philosophy, and the limits of State Power, the dumbass invokes regional bigotry. While claiming the honorific “Reverend”. Some people have no shame.

      1. The troll’s schtick is tired and boring, but wouldn’t you say that if there is disagreement over the forensics, the execution should at least have been stayed?

        1. According to the presentation by Reason, yes, a stay should have been granted. But the report by Reason was in no way comprehensive. Philosophically, I agree with the death penalty; the problem is that the state is executing people who are no longer a threat, and of course, it’s irreversible in case of a wrongful conviction.

          1. According to the presentation by Reason

            If there’s honest disagreement as to a major fact of the case (like time of death here), shouldn’t that be enough? I know the presentation here makes him more sympathetic than he perhaps should be, but even with a reading favorable to the prosecution, I wonder what would make the disagreements here moot.

            1. Thats why we have trials, by a jury of one’s peers.

            2. “Honest disagreement” is worthless. Human beings are notorious for motivated reasoning; experts who oppose the death penalty will always be able to come up with a reason to honestly disagree.

    2. You should be executed for being an insufferable douchebag. Preferably by repeating beatings.

  16. This time of death thing really points out what a sham forensics is.

    The person performing the autopsy should not have been told the date that the victim disappeared. That lack of blinding completely invalidates the conclusions.

    I get why they don’t do it that way. It would suck as a prosecutor if your forensics expert said that the definitive time of death was two days before the person disappeared. But that just means the forensics has to be better. Instead of coming up with the exact day she disappeared, they should have a window of probability, which I am certain is what the Body Farm team actually has.

    So instead of 28 days ago, the time of death would be “between 18 and 33 days ago, with a 90% probability of being 26-29 days ago”

    Less clean. Less certain. But more honest.

    There are things that could have nailed this one down iron clad.

    Certain beetle larvae and fly larvae only arrive after a certain point. Their development takes exactly a certain amount of time. So a pupated fly larvae of a certain species would indicated that the corpse had been out there for no less than 4 weeks, etc. With proper training and professional standards of performance, this kind of evidence would never be missed.

    Even one little bug of the correct type would have proved that the innocence project was full of crap.

    I have nothing but contempt for the forensics profession. They should never allow this sort of thing to happen. If you call in 10 pathologists to look at a slide from a mole biopsy, all 10 are going to agree as to whether it shows a melanoma or not.

    You shouldn’t be able to call in 3 different forensic pathologists and get 3 different answers. And you definitely know you have a problem if the answer depends on who is cutting the check.

    1. They shouldn’t have any information about the victim whatsoever, other than what they need to establish their findings.

  17. After reading the reason writeup of the innocence project, I was pretty convinced. They are preaching to the choir and all.

    But after reading the Houston coverage of the case, I don’t think it is a slam-dunk innocence case. Not even a slam dunk for reasonable doubt.

    On the guilt side we have his association with the girl, she was in his car, his place was trashed the day she disappeared, her lighter was in the mess as was a pack of her brand of cigarettes, he was definitely with her earlier that day, and a witness saw her leave with a man, maybe him. He says not.

    On the disputed front:

    He made a cell phone call. Prosecutors say it was on the way from dumping the body. Defense says maybe the evidence doesn’t show that.
    Other half of panty hose. Suspicious find, but now we have dueling experts saying it is or isn’t a match. Is the truth that it is a maybe match? I bet if you showed me the actual evidence that you were using to draw those conclusions I could judge for myself pretty easily.

    DNA…. nothing tested showed any male DNA. Not exculpatory. Not terribly surprising, sitting in the woods for a month. But the state wouldn’t test the blood under her fingernails. I find that very fishy.

    None of that is enough to really cast too much doubt on the whole thing. It isn’t a slam dunk, but the panty hose auger for guilt, given the rest of it – unless the landlord is completely unbelievable. You’d have to hear his story to know. It should be easy-ish to tell if he planted them from an interview.

    So it is a pretty decent circumstantial case. Not great. Not necessarily a conviction. But her lighter in his place that just got trashed? He really doesn’t have a good explanation for all of that.

    But what of his alibi. If he was in jail when she was murdered and the body dumped, there is no case at all.

    So why is the state so certain of their time of death?

    And why are the innocence project guys so certain of their time?

    That’s the missing piece. Which one is right.

    My instincts are telling me that it is the state that is right on this one. His story doesn’t ring true.

    The innocence projects forensics experts should be bolstered by the top team from the body farm. Someone should come in as a disinterested defender of the profession and have a team look over everything and give a real report, warts and all. What is the minimum time that body was there? What is the maximum?

    And the state should allow testing of the blood under the fingernails. That would shut everyone up, either way. Unless it isn’t blood.

    1. It’s moot. By now,he’s dead.

      1. Yeah, that was my post execution writeup.

        I don’t think this one is going to be the poster child for “they executed an innocent man”. If you only list the innocence project version of events it looks pretty awful. But the fuller set of information makes it much less obvious that he’s factually innocent.

        So whether to stay or execute is moot. But what we learn from it isn’t.

        1. The criminal justice system is very broken as most of us on here are aware.

          I am not against capital punishment per se but the Death Penalty needs to be suspended until major fixes are accomplished with our criminal justice system.

          1. Everyone gets non-excessive bail (8th Amendment).
          2. Defendants should get funds for defense equal to what the prosecution spends.
          3. Prosecute all perjury by police and forensic personnel
          4. Effective Assistance of counsel. Most public defenders are garbage attorneys who are plea hounds not trial attorneys.
          5. Actual unbiased review on appeal. Appellate court judges rarely actually review and almost never overturn convictions as evidenced by all the appellate judges who pass the buck on Innocence Project wins.
          6. Those agendas to start.

    2. “My instincts are telling me that it is the state that is right on this one. His story doesn’t ring true.”

      The state’s witnesses, the former Harris County Medical Examiner, has revised her opinion to support the defense and the Chief Medical Examiner for Galveston County also submitted a sworn statement in his defense. Those seem like unlikely candidates for hired gun defense experts.

      From the Purcel Article:

      “Over the course of Swearingen’s appeal, nine forensic scientists have testified for the defence, either in sworn statements, on the witness stand, or both. The estimates of post-mortem interval that they arrived at range from two days to a fortnight – well short of the twenty-two-day interval between Swearingen’s arrest and the discovery of Trotter’s body.

      In other words, according to these nine witnesses, by the time Trotter was killed, Swearingen was behind bars – unless, as one entomologist speculated, Trotter’s body had been ‘frozen’ for a time before being dumped in the forest by an accomplice. Barring such an improbable scenario, the clear implication of the testimony was that Trotter must have been killed by someone else, at least ten days after her disappearance.

      During the first stage of the appeal, Swearingen’s attorneys focused on entomological evidence that suggested Trotter’s body was colonised by insects for the first time on 18 December, 1998. The species of blow fly collected at autopsy, C Cadaverina, typically begins to colonize exposed corpses in warm weather within hours of death.

      In 2007, the former Harris County Medical Examiner Joye Carter, who had testified at trial that Trotter had been killed on the day she went missing, revised her opinion in a sworn statement. Based on the data she collected herself at autopsy, this time including the condition of Trotter’s internal organs, she concluded that Melissa’s corpse had been in the forest for less than two weeks when it was discovered. In a brief to the court the same year, pathologist Glenn Larkin described how quickly the pancreas and spleen liquefy after death and estimated that Trotter had been dead for three or four days when her body was found.

      The Chief Medical Examiner for Galveston County, Dr Stephen Pustilnik, submitted a sworn statement in Swearingen’s defence two years later, based on his histological examination of the tissue samples taken from Trotter’s organs. ‘Nuclear and cytoplasmic details of the tissue and other supportive elements such as lung tissue, myocardium, adipose tissue, blood vessels, blood elements and connective tissue are all in remarkably good shape,’ he wrote. ‘Without prior refrigeration, the deceased was killed within reasonable certainty between five or seven days prior to her discovery.’”

    3. “his place was trashed the day she disappeared”

      “[B]ut there was no semen, nor any lacerations or defensive wounds on Trotter’s body to indicate a struggle,” so it seems unlikely the place was trashed as a result of a fight. I guess it’s possible he trashed the place afterwards in an attempt to cover up evidence, but killing someone in your trailer, trashing it, then calling the police to report you’ve been burglarized seems pretty stupid (granted, there is no shortage of really stupid criminals).

  18. They are on to another case

    This guy says he had a hookup with a girl who was later murdered. State forensics put time of death at when they were together.

    After he hits death row, they recant that analysis. Other experts say time of death was after he was somewhere else.

    Interestingly, her fiance is a sex offender. And he gave police contradictory statements as to where he was that night. One answer was that he was out drinking and got home after midnight, putting him at the scene of the murder at the time of the murder.

    So here we are with time of death again.

    And once again there is disputed DNA testing. The state is fighting tooth and nail to prevent the murder weapon from being tested for DNA. And they are winning. This guy is slated for execution on Nov. 9.

    Why the fight over testing the murder weapon? It isn’t gonna auger against their case, unless it wasn’t the fiance or the accused. If the fiance’s DNA is on the knife, so what? It is his knife in his house. If it is the defendant… he’s in trouble.

    So why fight it? I don’t get that at all.

    And the forensics profession has to get their crap together. Stop allowing your people to be told the facts of the case. If you are determining time of death, they can’t tell you when they need the time of death to be. And if you are looking for a fiber match, they can’t tell you what is supposed to match or not match. In fact, proper technique would have dummy evidence included to ensure objectivity and competence.

    1. The state is fighting tooth and nail to prevent the murder weapon from being tested for DNA.

      How is this even legitimate? Why should only the state get to choose what evidence is investigated? I realize that’s not your argument, but still, it’s really striking to me.

      1. Actually, that is one of my arguments. I just plain don’t understand it.

        The state is supposed to be on the side of justice. That’s what the officers of the court swear fealty to. Not to seeking and winning convictions.

        Yet they invariably fight any testing that might prove the convicted innocent. This should never be a dispute.

        It has to be something deeply ingrained in human nature. Nobody wants to believe that they are a party to doing a great injustice. So rather than acknowledge the possibility, they tie themselves in mental knots to avoid even thinking about it.

        One of the best examples for a prosecutor was the guy who had “his man” proven innocent in a child rape/murder by DNA testing of the semen. His argument? That semen could have gotten there at any time. No, really… an 8 year old girl raped and murdered, and the semen on her panties wasn’t his. But he still fought on, seeking to exclude that evidence and to keep the guy in jail. It is just delusional. And I don’t mean that entirely pejoratively. I mean, there has to be an innate pathology that makes us think that way. You don’t go through law school and become a DA without at least a room temperature IQ. And even a 7th grade special needs student would know that his explanation was beyond stupid. But there he was, right out in public making that argument.

        On the judicial side, nothing is likely to top the Mississippi supreme court with their ruling against retrial after proof that their forensics guys were absolute frauds. They actually held that just because he was wrong before is no reason to believe he’s wrong this time. (the actual quote is a little more nuanced and a little worse – but I’m to lazy to look it up)

        Now, that’s just willfully ignoring reality. And that wasn’t just one guy speaking. That was a whole panel of judges with time to sit back and review the totality of the evidence.

        No, there’s a reason that they always fight against anything that would prove someone innocent. And it is deep seated, whatever it is. Because very few can resist the urge to go all-in on the defense of the system.

        1. Ironically, in trying to forget about being party to an injustice, they are party to an even larger one.

          No, there’s a reason that they always fight against anything that would prove someone innocent. And it is deep seated, whatever it is. Because very few can resist the urge to go all-in on the defense of the system.

          Yeah, I agree with this, because it doesn’t seem like there are many other incentives to behave this way, yet it happens so often.

    2. “This guy says he had a hookup with a girl who was later murdered. State forensics put time of death at when they were together. After he hits death row, they recant that analysis. Other experts say time of death was after he was somewhere else.
      Interestingly, her fiance is a sex offender. And he gave police contradictory statements as to where he was that night. One answer was that he was out drinking and got home after midnight, putting him at the scene of the murder at the time of the murder.

      I live in Texas and donate regularly to the IP. I’m opposed to the DP in large part because it’s clear to me that Texas has executed at least four innocent people – now five if you count Swearingen. Not sure what I think about Swearingen, but it’s clear that there was enough doubt that he shouldn’t have been executed.

      All that said, I’ve researched the Reed case extensively on my own, even to the point of reading the trial and appeal transcripts. Reed killed that girl. There was no “hookup”. The girl had a job at a grocery store in Reed’s town and she had to drive to work from the apartment she shared with her fiancée at 4 am. She was hijacked and murdered. Her vehicle was found a few blocks from Reed’s house. There was no relationship claimed until Reed’s DNA popped on a check several months after the rape/murder. His DNA – which was all over the victim and her truck – was in the system because of a prior rape he’d been accused of in which he claimed an after-the-fact relationship with the victim. For you to believe that his DNA being on her was due to the relationship that only Reed claimed, you have to accept that she didn’t shower for something like 3 days prior to the murder because her time was accounted for by witnesses back that far.

      The fiancé’s crime didn’t happen until several years after the Reed murder. Initially, the authorities went after the fiancé hard, since they frequently start with the “close to the victim” angle. At the time of the murder the fiancé was stuck at home with no means of transportation and the crime happened 30 miles away from where they lived. The murder victim was driving the fiancé’s vehicle to work. The only other vehicle to which the victim and the fiancé had occasional access was a car that didn’t run consistently owned by the victim’s mother, which is why the victim typically drove her fiancée’s truck to work. The mother testified initially and has maintained to this day that the keys to her vehicle were in her possession on the night of the murder, locked with her inside her apartment where the fiancée would not be able to get to them.

      Not all innocence claims are true – you have to look at the facts of the case and draw your own conclusion. Even though I’m extremely partial to the so-called “innocence movement” and recognize that the cops and prosecutors fuck up regularly, in this case it looks like they got it right………

      1. Thanks for the summary.

        And this is why we have to build a better forensics system. What we have now is closer to witchcraft. If there isn’t proper blinding, and if there aren’t proper standards and repeatable methods, then this kind of thing with dueling experts will keep happening. And it cuts both ways. You can have innocent people going to the chair because the state has a guy who is good on the stand, but wrong, and his attorney has a guy who isn’t so good at testifying, but is right. Or it can be the other way around, with the rich guy paying slick professional experts to come in and talk about EDTA being out of date (one of my favorite laugh out loud moments from the OJ Simpson trial).

        Unless we have someone following this beat, it is hard for us to figure out what is happening. Reason has been missing this part of the liberty battle since Balko left. And fixing forensics science is a big part of criminal justice reform that was on the table before #BLM, but it has disappeared from view ever since.

        1. “And this is why we have to build a better forensics system.”

          No doubt. Too frequently the forensics people see themselves as being on Team Prosecution rather than Team Science.

          The Swearingen trial is a case in point. The medical examiner testified to a time of death that probably wasn’t consistent with the condition of the body, and the lab tech testified that the panty hose were a certain match and the blood under the victim’s fingernails was a result of contamination. Years after the trial the medical examiner admitted she was wrong and the head guy at the lab wrote a letter saying “the tech shouldn’t have said that” but at that point the damage is done and is very difficult – in this case impossible – to undo.

      2. The other thing is that cops can fuck up in a case involving a guilty man. Just because the cops fucked up doesn’t necessarily mean the guy is innocent.

        1. Just because the cops fucked up doesn’t necessarily mean the guy is innocent.

          They fucked up. He’s a scumbag but unless the wife at the time has an alibi more solid than sitting in jail at the time Trotter was murdered she did it, IMO. She came home and found either Trotter or Trotter’s lighter and cigarettes and trashed the place, maybe incapacitated, and subsequently killed Trotter.

          Swearingen and Trotter were in a sexual relationship. I fail to see how he gets her pantyhose off, murders her, and drags her out to the woods without leaving any DNA.

  19. You can present as many cases like these as you want to death penalty supporters and they will not change their minds, if anything, it will just make them double down on their support. The state should not be in any position to take a life unless there is an imminent threat to life or in cases of self defense, but few share this view.

  20. The execution had to be carried out to preserve the integrity of the process. Or the people’s confidence in the process. Or something. Either is a fancy way of saying: because The State Does Not Make Mistakes.

  21. Eliminate the death penalty.

    The government should never have the power to execute.

  22. The death penalty should really be only applied to mass murderers and serial killers, of which there is no doubt.

  23. Can we execute David Hogg for being a douche?

    1. Enjoy that FBI visit, Klompus.

  24. This article is very misleading in the fact that it only presents the evidence for which it wants to provide an excuse for. In reality, there were MANY more pieces of evidence against this piece of crap. I suggest you dig deeper into this case by searching the internet for more articles about this turd. You will probably need to find articles that originated out of Texas. A simple Google search is going to bring up mostly liberal/pacifist articles such as this one.

  25. Does Swearingen’s former wife have an alibi?

    Seems like they didn’t find any male DNA on the victim and his former wife can’t be ruled out at any/all scenes.

    I mean, I’d love to just trust the police to have investigated such an angle but they went through his trailer twice and didn’t find half of the alleged murder weapon that was there pantyhose.

    1. Terry Kendrick, Swearingen’s wife at the time of his arrest, also testified. She told jurors that when she was heavily pregnant, he put her in a choke hold and slammed her against the wall, and that he threw a hot dog at her during an argument on the day Trotter went missing, after she found the bedclothes messed up when she arrived home.

      An arson charge against Kendrick in Waller County was dismissed shortly before the trial. Although she filed for divorce after Swearingen was charged with murder, she also wrote to him in prison: ‘I am so afraid of everything. Of being alone. Of losing us. I’ve been stuck at home for so long I’ve even forgotten how to live.

      Yeah, not exactly sure how the pregnancy and arson line up with Trotter’s disappearance and Swearingen certainly I’d put even money on Kendrick and Swearingen.

  26. [Assistant District Attorney] Diepraam argued that the circumstantial evidence against Swearingen is compelling enough that even if DNA on Trotter’s clothes matched a violent offender in the law enforcement database, it would be insufficient to establish his innocence. ‘The other independent evidence of his guilt is so overwhelming that it wouldn’t make a difference what the DNA results were even if it all came back to other profiles,’ he said.

    Holy Fuck!

    1. Also, as an aside:

      Todd Raglind [who’s father found the body] had his own reasons to scour the woods. Some time between Christmas and New Year, he had lost his rifle and his pistol there, after spending a night disoriented, supposedly due to an allergic reaction to prescription anti-depressants. On January 2, 1999 he put together a search party, including his father and a number of friends, to find the guns.


  27. He does not look like a criminal.. I hope everything becomes clear ASAP

  28. One very important detail they’ve either left out, or have made WAY TOO VAGUE: panty hose are in one piece. There are 2 legs, and, like a pair of pants, they have a mid-section so you can simply pull them up. Stockings, on the other hand, are 2 separate pieces. Also made of nylon, but they are put on and taken off 1 leg at a time. Although pantyhose can easily get snagged, thereby creating a “run,” they are pretty difficult to just rip into separate pieces. You would need scissors or any sharp tool. So to have 1 leg on Melissa Trotter and the other leg found during a THIRD search by the landlord AFTER 2 initial searches by police is sketchy in itself. It would be pretty easy to find something so out of place in a mans trailer or residence where no woman lives or frequents. And again, if you were to cut each leg off of a pair of pantyhose, and one is found with the victim, and the other “found” in Swearingen’s trailer…where is the remaining piece (the mid-section) of the pantyhose?
    Either this isn’t specific enough; referring to stockings as pantyhose (2 different things) or the prosecution was just happy to have SOMEONE, ANYONE, convicted. The intricate nylon threads most likely couldn’t have been properly compared if all they had were 2 legs from the pantyhose and no midsection, but the nylon threads from the legs could have been compared to decipher if they had both come from the exact same manufacturer, fabric lot, shipped from the same location to the same location, etc. None of those details are given. You can’t just look at something and concur that they are identical; it requires intricate inspection of every infinitesimal detail; not able to be seen by the naked eye.
    …and NO DNA TESTING?! THIS is just ONE of the reasons I would never trust my fate to a jury of my peers. The majority of us are laypersons.

    1. They were pantyhose, if you look at other stories you can see pictures of them. They look like a perfect match to me, and I find the images presumably showing they don’t match unconvincing.

      What I also find unconvincing, however, is the link to the executed man. It seems extremely odd that the police didn’t find them, but then his landlord did

  29. From the Texas Tribune:

    “Swearingen also wrote an anonymous letter in Spanish with details of the crime scene to pull suspicion away from him. Swearingen later admitted to writing the letter, claiming the details came from an autopsy report he read. Blackburn [Montgomery County DA’s office trial bureau chief] said Tuesday some of the details were only known by police at the time.”

    Listen to Swearingen:

    This guy is honest about being a liar. And yet, he doesn’t deny the pantyhose found in the trailer belonged to his wife. Is his wife missing a leg? Given their house was trashed, might not his wife have been an accomplice, or even the actual killer in a jealous rage?

    “He [Blackburn] said the temperature was below 30 degrees for 12 of the days she was missing.”

    Suspicious claim. Minimum temperature at all four NOAA stations within and around the Sam Houston NF never fell below 30 degrees for more than 6 mornings during that period. Daytime highs ranged from 37 to 83 degrees.

    It appears no one is telling the truth.


  30. This is why we have 12 peers make these decisions. If I were falsely accused of a serious crime, wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the witness stand.

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