DNA expert links defendant to McKinney quadruple murder scene
A DNA expert linked the defendant in a 2004 quadruple murder to items
found at the McKinney crime scene.
Raul Cortez is a possible contributor to DNA found on pieces latex gloves
caught on duct tape used to bind victim Rosa Barbosa, Dr. Rick Staub told
the Collin County jury Wednesday.
Cortez and Eddie Ray Williams, 26, are charged in the March 12, 2004,
shooting deaths of Rosa Barbosa, 46; her nephew, Mark Barbosa, 25; and his
friends Matthew Self, 17, and Austin York, 18. The killings occurred
inside Rosa Barbosa's home.
Both defendants are charged with 5 counts of capital murder 1 count for
each of the 4 victims, and an additional charge for more than 1 murder
occurring during the same incident.
Williams told a Collin County jury on Tuesday how he and Cortez gunned
down a McKinney woman during a botched robbery, then killed the 3 young
men who walked in on the crime.
Williams told the jury that Javier Cortez, Raul's brother, came up with
the plan to rob Rosa Barbosa, who worked at a McKinney check-cashing
business. Javier had been watching her and thought she took money home to
"cash checks for Mexicans who don't have green cards," Williams testified.
He told the jury that he agreed to participate in the robbery but that his
accomplices "didn't say anything about killing her."
Williams testified that on the night of the crime, he knocked on Rosa
Barbosa's door and asked her if she'd seen his lost puppy. "Raul and
Javier ran around me and pushed the woman to the ground," he told the
The Cortez brothers couldn't find any money in the home, so they forced
the bound woman to give them the key and alarm code to the check-cashing
"Then Raul disappeared and I heard a pop," Williams testified, describing
how Rosa Barbosa was killed.
About that time, the other 3 victims walked into the home. "When they came
in, Raul just opened fire," Williams testified.
The barrage of bullets didn't kill the youths, and one of the young men
tried to run out the door but was caught by Raul Cortez, Williams
All 3 young men were herded into Mark Barbosa's bedroom. "Raul gave me the
.25 and told me to shoot them," Williams testified. "I shot Mark once and
the other one twice."
He told the jury that Raul Cortez killed the 4th victim.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
URGENT ACTION APPEAL – From Amnesty International USA
21 January 2009
UA 17/09 – Death penalty / Legal concern
USA (Texas) Larry Ray Swearingen (m), white, aged 37
Larry Swearingen is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 27 January. He
was sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder of Melissa Trotter in 1998.
He maintains his innocence of the murder. Several forensic experts have
provided statements and testimony supportive of his claim.
Melissa Trotter went missing on 8 December 1998. Larry Swearingen was
arrested three days later, and has been incarcerated ever since. The body
of Melissa Trotter was found in a forest on 2 January 1999. Larry
Swearingen was tried for her murder, and sentenced to death.
On 14 January 2009, Larry Swearingen's lawyers filed an appeal in the US
Supreme Court to stay his execution on grounds of innocence. The petition
argues that "the State's only theory of guilt, which was that Mr.
Swearingen killed the victim and left her body in the forest on December
8, 1998, twenty-five (25) days before the corpse was recovered on January
2, 1999, is not just implausible, it is utterly impossible." The Supreme
Court has not yet ruled on the motion for a stay of execution.
In support of this innocence claim, the petition cites the opinions of
three current or former Chief Medical Examiners and another forensic
pathologist. One of these experts, Dr Joye Carter, is the former Chief
Medical Examiner of Harris County in Texas who performed the autopsy of
Melissa Trotter and testified at Larry Swearingen's trial. At the trial
she had testified that in her opinion, Melissa Trotter's death had
occurred 25 days before her body was found. In an affidavit signed in
2007, Dr Carter stated that she had looked again at the case and changed
her opinion. She stated that she had reviewed the autopsy report and
photographs and also "several pieces of forensically important information
that, to the best of my recollection, were not made available to [me]
during trial or pretrial proceedings." This information included video
footage of the crime scene taken on the day Melissa Trotter was found,
medical records giving Melissa Trotter's weight immediately prior to her
disappearance, and the temperature data for the area in which she was
found for the period 8 December 1998 to 2 January 1999.
In her affidavit, Dr Carter concluded that Melissa Trotter's body had been
left in the forest within two weeks of it being found. If accurate, this
would mean that the body was dumped at a time when Larry Swearingen was
already in custody. Another forensic pathologist, and former Chief Medical
Examiner for Nueces County, Texas, Dr Lloyd White, has given a written
statement that he supports Dr Carter's conclusions based on her 2007
re-evaluation of the evidence. He also agrees with Dr Gerald Larkin,
another forensic expert, who concluded that "Ms Trotter's body was exposed
in the wood for several days only, and not for two or three weeks". Dr
White states that there is strong support for the conclusion that the body
was left in the woods "at least one week after Mr. Swearingen was
incarcerated on December 11, 1998, and probably more than two weeks
The petition to the Supreme Court argues that the post-conviction expert
evidence amounts to "uncontested forensic pathology showing that Mr.
Swearingen could not possibly have been the person who killed the victim.
The only way to convict would be for the jury to conclude that Mr.
Swearingen had an accomplice who stored the body so it would not decompose
and disposed of it later. That, however, is speculation so rank that the
State has never even proposed it. Indeed, it collides with the States
insistence at all stages of proceedings that no one but Mr. Swearingen
killed the victim and threw her into the woods".
Larry Swearingen has repeatedly sought full DNA testing of crime scene
evidence. According to the appeal before the US Supreme Court, "the DNA
analysis that the State has conducted so far is compelling evidence that
Mr. Swearingen is innocent. State examiners found male blood under the
victim's fingernails. Testing excluded Mr. Swearingen as the donor." The
petition also notes that at an evidentiary hearing in 2008, a co-worker of
Melissa Trotter had testified that, only weeks before her disappearance,
another man had "made serious threats to rape and strangle the victim".
Texas continues to account for a large number of the USA's executions. Of
the 1,138 people put to death nationwide since 1977 when executions
resumed in the USA, 424 have been in Texas. There have been two executions
in the USA so far this year: one in Texas, one in Alabama.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases,
unconditionally. To end the death penalty is to abandon a destructive,
diversionary and divisive public policy that is not consistent with widely
held values. It not only runs the risk of irrevocable error, it is also
costly, to the public purse as well as in social and psychological terms.
It has not been proved to have a special deterrent effect. It tends to be
applied in a discriminatory way, on grounds of race and class. It denies
the possibility of reconciliation and rehabilitation. It promotes
simplistic responses to complex human problems, rather than pursuing
explanations that could inform positive strategies. It prolongs the
suffering of the murder victims family, and extends that suffering to the
loved ones of the condemned prisoner. It diverts resources that could be
better used to work against violent crime and assist those affected by it.
It is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. It is an
affront to human dignity. It should be abolished.
Today, some 138 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. In 2007,
the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on executions worldwide
and for retentionist countries to work towards abolition.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible
(please include Larry Swearingen's prisoner number, #999361, in appeals):
– expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Melissa Trotter and
explaining that you are not seeking to condone the manner of her death or
to downplay the suffering caused;
– opposing the execution of Larry Swearingen;
– noting that several forensic experts, including the former Harris
Country Chief Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy of Melissa
Trotter and testified at the trial, have provided expert opinion
supportive of Larry Swearingen's claim of innocence;
– calling for Larry Swearingen's execution to be halted and his death
sentence to be commuted;
– at a minimum calling on the Governor to stop the execution and allow
full DNA testing to be conducted.
Rissie L. Owens
Presiding Officer, Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, TX 78757
Fax: 1 512 467 0945
Salutation: Dear Ms. Owens
Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY All appeals must arrive before 27 January,
Tip of the Month:
Use shortcuts: Do whatever is necessary to make your letter writing as
quick and easy as possible. This way, letters will not be put off and they
can be sent out sooner. Start by making a generic file for each type of
concern; paragraphs on torture, the death penalty, disappearances, denial
of medical care and so on, can be copied into your working file and edited
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Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and
defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact
information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help
with this appeal.
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Amnesty International USA
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END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL