The Court of Criminal Appeals has denied the appeal of Larry Swearingen, sentenced to die in 2000 for the killing of Montgomery County college student Melissa Trotter, clearing the way for the trial court to set his execution date, slated for February 2013.
The CCA ruled on Dec. 12, agreeing with Montgomery County District Judge Fred Edwards' conclusion after an evidentiary hearing earlier this year that Swearingen had failed to produce sufficient "credible evidence" that he is innocent of the slaying of Trotter, who disappeared from the Montgomery College campus on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body wasn't found for several weeks, when a party searching for lost firearms in a portion of the Sam Houston National Forest on Jan. 3, 1999, came across her well-preserved remains.
Indeed, at issue on appeal is whether Trotter had been dead the entire time she was missing. Swearingen has maintained his innocence and says that although he was one of the last people to see her he certainly wasn't the last – tissue samples taken from Trotter at autopsy and only recently examined reveal tissue far less damaged than it would have been if she had been dead for nearly a month before she was found. And if Trotter wasn't killed until some time within a week or so of the discovery of her body, Swearingen could not have been responsible because he was already in jail.
The February evidentiary hearing was intended to probe the science of the small – the microscopic tissues left behind – to determine what big picture conclusions could be made about when Trotter was murdered.
In the end, Edwards, who was the initial trial judge, was apparently unswayed by a handful of expert pathologists who said unequivocally that Trotter had not been dead nearly a month, and went instead with evidence that backed the conclusion at trial that she had indeed been dead the entire time she was missing. The CCA has followed suit.
Although it has not yet been posted on the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice's website, friends and supporters of Swearingen say he has been told the date for his execution will be Feb. 27. That would bring to eight the number of executions already scheduled for 2013.
Read more on the Swearingen case here.
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