Swearingen appeal denied
Convicted murderer Larry Ray Swearingen's appeal has been denied by 9th state District Court Judge Fred Edwards, but Swearingen's attorney said he will continue fighting to prove Swearingen's innocence.
Last Thursday, Edwards signed the findings of fact and conclusion of law after weighing testimony presented during an evidentiary hearing in his court in July.
"It is the recommendation of this court that the relief requested by Applicant be denied," the document states.
Swearingen, 36, who was convicted of kidnapping and strangling 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, was to die by lethal injection in January when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a stay to re-examine 6 issues pertaining to his trial. Among the issues was whether the prosecution's experts had incorrectly determined the time of Trotter's death.
The case now heads back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A decision is expected in a matter of days or weeks, but no timeline is set.
If the Court of Criminal Appeals rules in favor of Edwards' decision, the case will return to the 9th state District Court for a reset of the execution date. If so, Rytting plans on appealing the decision to a federal court.
"There is no way we are going to let Montgomery County kill Larry Swearingen," Rytting said. Trotter was last seen on the Montgomery College campus Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest 25 days later.
According to Edwards' conclusion of law, Swearingen's "death sentence was lawfully imposed," but Swearingen's Houston attorney, James Rytting, argues that Edwards and the state are ignoring "powerful" pathological evidence.
"Someone else killed her," Rytting said. "There isn't even a question about it. The pathological evidence shows that it had to be someone else."
During the evidentiary hearing, Rytting put Harris County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Luis Sanchez on the stand, who testified that Trotter's body could not have been in the state forest for more than 10 days, or at most, two weeks. He based his opinion on the condition of the liver and pancreas, which usually deteriorate rapidly after death.
In addition to Sanchez's testimony, entomologists stated that blow flies had not colonized in Trotter's body before Dec. 18, 1998.
Rytting believes the evidence supports Swearingen's innocence because Swearingen was in jail for at least a week before Trotter's body was taken to the woods.
But Edwards' conclusion of law states that the evidence presented during the hearing would not have changed a juror's decision to convict Swearingen.
"Based on the trial counsel's credible explanation that he had no reason to be looking for any evidence, entomological or otherwise, that would have contradicted the state's theory as to the date of death because the Applicant's own medical expert agreed with the Medical Examiner concerning the date of death, counsel cannot be characterized as deficient in failing to consciously recognize the entomological evidence in this case," the conclusion of law states.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Marc Brumberger felt that the evidence presented during the hearing supported the state's case against Swearingen.
"I thought this was a waste of time," Brumberger said. "I don't know what else they could argue." Edward's decision came as a "sigh of relief" to Melissa Trotter's parents, Sandy and Charles Trotter, who are ready to focus on their daughter's life and not her death.
"We, as Melissa's family, are ready for this to be over with," Sandy Trotter said. "I just pray that God will walk with us these next few months. He's carried us all through this so far."
(source: The Courier)
Swearingen got a stay from the TCAA on 1/24/07 for a hearing on further evidence. Now that has been denied hopefully justice will be swift for Ms Trotter and her family. I certainly hope the same outcome will come when Henderson's smokescreen comes up with her hearing and we can get her on the scheduled execution page again.