Death penalty | Texas Public Radio

Death penalty

Death Row inmate Larry Swearingen in the Polunsky Unit prison in Livingston Texas
David Martin Davies

On Wednesday, August 21, the State of Texas prepared to execute Larry Swearingen. He was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of Melissa Trotter, a 19-year-old college student in Montgomery County.


David Martin Davies

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.

David Martin Davies | Texas Public Radio

In a murder investigation, establishing a time of death help can lead to arresting and convicting the perpetrator — or exonerating someone wrongfully accused. That's why getting it right can mean life or death for someone like Texas death row inmate Larry Swearingen. He is facing execution Wednesday for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

The science of “time of death” is something studied every day at the Forensic Anthropology Center in San Marcos, also known as “The Body Ranch.”


David Martin Davies | Texas Public Radio

Larry Swearingen is scheduled to be executed Wednesday by the State of Texas.

It was 19 years ago that Swearingen was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of Melissa Trotter. This is the sixth time that Swearingen had a date with death in the Texas prison system. But lingering questions about his guilt have caused the courts to repeatedly step in.

From Texas Standard:

On Tuesday, a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy went into effect, banning any religious adviser from being in the execution chamber with an inmate. The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court, last week, postponed the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the Texas Seven group.

The court said his execution had to wait until Texas decided on its policy about the presence of spiritual advisers during executions. The state had originally denied Murphy’s request to have a Buddhist priest, which Murphy appealed because Texas had allowed advisers from other faiths to be in the execution chamber. In his opinion, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that Texas needed to find a way to accommodate all faiths so as not to discriminate, or allow no advisers at all. TDCJ decided on the latter.

Up until January, Elsa Alcala had one of nine seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She was a judge on the state’s highest court that handles criminal cases. That includes ruling on all death penalty cases.

But while on the bench, Judge Alcala saw problems with the legal process with capital punishment and she began to lose faith in how some people were being sent to the Texas death chamber.

Alcala became a loudest voice on the state’s most prominent criminal court pointing out the unreliability of the death penalty.

Finding that a Texas court hadn't followed its instructions, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that a Texas man who killed a store clerk during a botched robbery attempt "is a person with intellectual disability" and therefore cannot be put to death.

Nov. 28, 2018 Huntsville
Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio

There are two big letters “D" and "R” on the back of Joseph Garcia’s white prison uniform — they stand for Death Row. Underneath, he’s wearing a burnt orange sweatshirt. The San Antonio native is a fan of the University of Texas Longhorns. Recently, Garcia has been having a tough time sleeping because his death day is coming up.


From Texas Standard:

Pope Francis says the death penalty is "inadmissible" under all circumstances. The Vatican announced the change Thursday what the Catholic Church has maintained for centuries. Until now, Catholic teaching has left some room for support of capital punishment.

Within hours of the announcement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he'd introduce legislation to end the death penalty in his state. However, it’s not clear whether the same could happen in here. Texas has used the punishment the most over past decades – by a wide margin. And the Pope’s statement isn’t a major change of course.

The Catholic Church now formally considers the death penalty "inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and is pledging to work for its abolition worldwide.

It's a shift for the church, which used to consider the death penalty a "means of safeguarding the common good" in response to "certain crimes." The update to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the book of official teachings of the church, was announced Thursday.

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