After 19 Years On Death Row, Could Time Be Up For Larry Swearingen?
Convicted killer Larry Swearingen is scheduled to be executed Wednesday. It was almost 20 years ago that Swearingen was found guilty of the abduction, rape and strangulation of Montgomery County college student Melissa Trotter.
This is the sixth time that Larry Swearingen was given an execution date by the state of Texas. Once he was just minutes from being put to death.
“When you're sitting there watching the clock, it really speeds up a lot faster,” Swearingen said.
This could also be the sixth time Melissa Trotter’s mother, Sandy Trotter, goes through the process of watching the man convicted of murdering her daughter not be executed.
“We are more than ready to be done so hopefully it’s looking more likely it’s going to happen. We’ve been delayed quite a few times,” Trotter said as she held a six-month-old grandson on her knee. The whole family is going to be in Huntsville to witness the execution of Swearingen, which she said should have happened years ago.
“It's been very frustrating for our family and horrific for the 92-year-old grandfather Charles Trotter Senior. He will be there viewing Swearingen executed,” Sandy said.
Melissa went missing on Dec. 8, 1998 and her body was found 25 days later in the Sam Houston National Forest. After being presented with what the prosecution called a mountain of evidence, it took a jury just over three hours to convict Swearingen. Ever since, he has insisted on his innocence.
“If they kill me, I won't be the first man that's been killed. I won't be the last. They killed Todd Willingham on junk science. I'm probably no different. But it doesn't mean I'm gonna roll over and just let them do what they want to do without a fight,” Swearingen said.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his children. It’s believed, although not officially acknowledged, that he was convicted on the misinterpretation of evidence and Texas executed an innocent man. Swearingen has filed appeals also claiming his conviction was based on junk science.
But Sandy Trotter said she has no doubt that Swearingen is her daughter’s killer.
“I 100% believe that the evidence is just overwhelming, overwhelming,” she said. “And the appeals court has even said that. It’s like the giant elephant sitting in the corner of the room.”
Trotter said she believes there should be an appeal process for the death penalty cases but Swearingen has abused that process.
“I think it really needs to be evaluated. He has had way too many appeals,” she said. “I mean they look at one little microscopic DNA something rather than looking at the whole picture.”
Kelly Blackburn is with the Montgomery County D.A. office, which prosecuted Swearingen. He said this execution should have happened years ago.
“We agree with everyone that before you put someone to death, everything should be done. We’re willing to do that and we're doing it in the most transparent manner possible,” he said. “Melissa Trotter's family understands that too, but its time.”
Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center said the appeals process for Swearingen has taken a long time because of the flaws in the evidence used to convict him in the first place.
“They don't consider in Mr. Swearingen’s case the seven different types of junk science. They look at it one piece at a time, and rule it out,” Dunham said. “In the end, what you have is delay of 19 years and the possibility, a very strong possibility that an innocent person may be executed.”
Dunham said because of the questions with the evidence, the Supreme Court could grant a stay of execution.
“Depending on the nature of the pleadings, the Supreme Court could send the case back for a review of the evidence where they could grant review to assess whether Mr. Swearingen has met the actual innocence requirements,” Dunham said.
Blackburn said another stay doesn’t matter, eventually justice will be served.
“If it takes 30 years to kill him, then that's what we're gonna do,” he said. “To say whether its takes too long, that's neither here nor there and not for me to say. It’s the system that we have.”
Editor's Note: This is the third story in a three part series that investigates Swearingen's claims that he's innocent.
David Martin Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi