FEATURED POST

Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

Image
In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Texas: Supreme Court rejects Larry Swearingen's plea for DNA testing

Larry Swearingen
Larry Swearingen
Supreme Court rejects Texas death row inmate’s plea for DNA testing in murder case

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will not allow additional DNA testing of evidence a death row inmate in Texas says could show he didn’t kill a suburban Houston college student.

The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from Larry Swearingen, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in 1998.

Swearingen has sought to test fingernail scrapings from Trotter, items of her clothing and cigarette butts found near her body. 

The trial court in his case has twice ordered the testing, but was reversed by the state Court of Criminal Appeals on both occasions.

Swearingen was sentenced to death for the murder July 11, 2000, and the CCA first affirmed the decision March 26, 2003.

His first execution date was set for Jan. 24, 2007, then stayed by the CCA for the trial court to resolve fact issues. 

A second execution date was set for Jan. 27, 2009, but the CCA again stayed the execution for further review.

A third execution was stayed July 28, 2011, and the most recent order for Feb. 27, 2013, was struck by Case to allow for more DNA testing.

Appellate attorney James Rytting has argued there could be evidence to support Swearingen’s claim that he was not the last person with Trotter before she was brutally murdered.

Rytting said biological material on various clothing items have been identified for testing, supported with a signed affidavit from DNA expert Huma Nasir.

Rytting wanted testing on hair evidence to determine whether a full DNA profile can be identified from various items of clothing — Trotter’s underwear, shirt, sweater and blue jeans.

“We have identified some very important facts that are clearly mistaken that change the way this DNA testing must be looked at,” Rytting said. “The law has changed, the facts have changed, and now we have additional evidence we believe Mr. Swearingen was not the last person with the victim — that she was with someone else. They have the wrong person in jail.”

Swearingen has always said he did not kill Trotter. His claim of innocence is supported by the opinion of a number of influential Texas pathologists—together responsible for thousands of death investigations every year—who say that scientific evidence proves that Trotter had not been dead very long when her body was found. If that’s the case, then Swearingen could not have killed her, since he would have been in jail when she died.

The central question— low long Trotter had been dead—hinges on histology samples collected during her autopsy and saved in a paraffin block. Veteran pathologists who have reviewed the evidence agree that the samples of Trotter’s lung, heart and vascular tissues reveal intact structures that would have broken down had her body really been left in the forest for nearly a month.

Even the Houston medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, has recanted her trial testimony, admitting in 2007 that the ease with which she was able to weigh and dissect Trotter’s organs made the state’s timeline impossible.

Had Melissa Trotter been killed today, it is hard to imagine that Swearingen would be facing execution without the alleged murder weapon or other evidence first being subjected to DNA testing.

The use of science, and DNA in particular, in criminal cases has advanced greatly since 1999. “This is evidence that would routinely be tested if the case was investigated today, and any one of these pieces of evidence could produce a DNA profile that could lead to another perpetrator,” says Bryce Benjet, who is working with the Innocence Project on Swearingen’s behalf. “Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, I think we can all agree that we should be absolutely certain of guilt before putting someone to death.”

Source: mrt.com, October 3, 2016, Jan. 4, 2015; The Nation, Feb. 2013

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 30 Days)

Harris County leads Texas in life without parole sentences as death penalty recedes

Idaho County commissioners take stand against death penalty

Texas: Reginald Blanton executed

Indonesian death penalty laws to be softened to allow reformed prisoners to avoid execution

USA: Executions, Death Sentences Up Slightly in 2017

Texas executes Anthony Allen Shore

Death penalty cases of 2017 featured botched executions, claims of innocence, 'flawed' evidence

Virginia Governor commutes death sentence of killer found mentally incompetent to be executed

Texas man with scheduled execution uses letters from fellow death row inmates to argue for reprieve

30-year-old Chinese inmate bids farewell to daughter, wife and mother before execution