death penalty DNA testing Larry Swearingen Stay of execution Texas

Judge Stays Execution of Larry Swearingen

On January 30, 2013, State District Judge Kelly Case withdrew the February 27 execution date of Larry Swearingen in order to give his attorneys more time to pursue DNA testing. Swearingen was convicted of the 1998 rape and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, a student at Montgomery Community College.  Her body was discovered in the Sam Houston National Forest on January 2, 1999, nearly a month after she disappeared from campus. Prosecutors originally theorized that Trotter had been dead for 25 days when her body was found, but further examinations by pathologists suggest this is timeframe is impossible based on the preservation of her body.  Swearingen was in police custody on unrelated charges for the three weeks preceding the discovery of Trotter’s body and has maintained his innocence of her murder.

This is the fourth stay of execution for Swearingen in recent years.  In 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution and later ordered a hearing to consider the forensic evidence.

According to the Houston Chronicle (“Condemned man gets another reprieve,” January 30, 2013), Judge Case did not rule on a motion by the Innocence Project and Swearingen’s attorneys requesting DNA testing on crime scene evidence, but rather ordered both sides to file responses to the motion in 60 days, so he can determine if DNA testing should be done.  Previous DNA requests have been denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Read more about the stay of execution from the Houston Chronicle.  You can find detailed background information on the case from the Austin Chronicle.