State of Texas executes Larry Swearingen despite evidence of innocence

*Update* The State of Texas executed Larry Swearingen this evening after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his final appeal. He is the 4th person put to death in Texas in 2019 and the 12th nationwide. The Death Penalty Information Center will add him to the informal list of persons executed in the United States despite substantial doubts regarding their guilt.

Read coverage in the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune.

Original post
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Larry Swearingen tonight, August 21, 2019; it is his sixth serious execution date since 2007.  Over the last 20 years, he has maintained his innocence and protested his conviction, which was based largely on circumstantial evidence.

Swearingen was convicted of the 1998 rape and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. Her body was discovered in the Sam Houston National Forest on January 2, 1999, nearly a month after she disappeared from the campus of Montgomery Community College, where she was a student. Prosecutors originally theorized that she had been dead for 25 days when her body was found, but further examinations by pathologists suggest this timeframe was impossible based on the condition of her body.  The medical examiner who conducted an autopsy on Trotter later changed her opinion about the time of her death.  Under her revised timeline, Swearingen could not have committed the murder as he was in police custody on unrelated charges for the three weeks preceding the discovery of Trotter’s body.

Swearingen has consistently maintained his innocence, and over the years his attorneys have filed numerous appeals seeking DNA testing of items from the crime scene.  According to The Intercept’s Jordan Smith, “While the state’s case against him was built on circumstantial evidence, there was also a trove of physical evidence that prosecutors seemingly either ignored or dismissed.”

On August 19, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected Swearingen’s application for clemency.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied his motions for a stay of execution without considering the merits of the claims raised. His attorneys have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read recent coverage of the case from the Washington Post and listen to a three-part series investigating Swearingen’s innocence claim on Texas Public Radio:

Part One: https://www.tpr.org/post/role-scientific-forensic-evidence-questioned-pending-texas-execution

Part Two: https://www.tpr.org/post/how-body-ranch-research-impacts-appeal-texas-death-row-inmate

Part Three: https://www.tpr.org/post/after-19-years-death-row-could-time-be-larry-swearingen

Also listen to a recent interview with Larry Swearingen conducted by Houston Chronicle reporter Keri Blakinger for her podcast, “Behind the Walls.”