Texas death row inmate Larry Swearingen has been requesting DNA testing on evidence in the 1998 murder of a 19-year-old college student, a student who was his friend and a student he was convicted of murdering.
Melissa Trotter disappeared on Dec. 8, 1998, finals week at Montgomery College where she was a student. Three days later, Swearingen, a suspect in her murder because he was one of the last people to see Trotter alive, was arrested on outstanding traffic warrants, and ever since that day, he’s been behind bars.
Evidence on Melissa Trotter’s body, along with circumstantial evidence, implicated Swearingen, and a jury convicted him of kidnapping, raping and killing the teenager and sentenced him to death in 2000.
The issue in this murder case is the condition of Trotter’s body when it was discovered approximately one month after her murder. According to Swearingen’s defense attorney and a team of medical experts, it is impossible for Trotter to have been dead for more than a few days when her body was found because of the decomposition status of the body. According to evidence provided to the defense in 2009, histological samples of Trotter’s heart, lung, and vascular tissue were more consistent with a person who had been dead for just days, not one month. If she had been dead for only a week or even two, Swearingen could not have been her killer as he had been behind bars for three weeks.
Swearingen’s lawyers have pleaded with the courts for years to review the science, but so far their efforts have failed. The defense team stated that the state’s circumstantial evidence pales when stacked against the mounds of scientific data, and added, “We’re talking of a setup in this case.”
The following crime scene evidence added to the scientific data, should, according to the defense team, be enough evidence to exonerate their client:
- Cigarette butts found by the suspect’s home were the same brand that Trotter smoked, but the DNA on them did not match hers.
- Trotter’s torn up papers showed up on the suspect’s street a week after he was incarcerated.
- The particular area of forest where Trotter’s body was found had been searched several times before.
- The DNA tests on blood found under Trotter’s fingernails did not match that of the suspect.
- The fibers and two strands of hair from the deceased found in Swearingen’s truck – circumstantial evidence – could have been left when the two had gone out on previous occasions.
Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a third stay of execution for the father of five and ordered a lower court to review his claims of actual innocence.
Swearingen’s attorneys see the stay as a huge victory, and hope now the lower court will now allow them to present their scientific evidence in court and exonerate their client.
Original story can be found here.