A defense expert in the hearing of convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen reluctantly agreed with prosecutors Thursday that histology – the study of microscopic cell tissue – isn’t an accepted method to determine the time of death in a body.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Stephen Jackson accused the state of asking a “trick question” and stressed the science is valid.
“If the (science) was not well-based, it would have been excluded by now (by state District Court Judge Fred Edwards). And that hasn’t happened,” Jackson said.
The hearing, which began Monday in Edwards’ 9th state District Court, was ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in July 2011 to hear Swearingen’s claim of innocence.
Like the first three days, the fourth day of the hearing focused on the condition of Trotter’s body when it was found. The defense argued the condition of the body and, more important, microscopic slides of Trotter’s heart and liver, prove she could not have died 22-25 days prior to discovery.
However, during cross-examination of Galveston County Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik, the prosecution challenged the validity of histology in determining the postmortem interval – the time from death to when a body is found.
On more than one occasion, Special Prosecutor Lyn McClelland asked Pustilnik to examine several books on forensic pathology and see if Pustilnik could locate “any reference in any book” that connects the use of histology to determine PMI.
“They don’t exist,” Pustilnik said.
“The defense’s position is not valid science,” Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam said.
The hearing resumes Monday with the prosecution to present its experts.
Larry Ray Swearingen, 40, was sentenced in 2000 to die by lethal injection for the murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter of Willis. Since then, he has received three stays from execution. He claims he couldn’t have killed Trotter because he was in jail on Dec. 11, 1998. Trotter disappeared on Dec. 8, 1998 and her body was found on Jan. 2, 1999 in the Sam Houston National Forest.
March 9 2012
The canopy of trees so prevalent in the Sam Houston National Forest played a role in the condition of Melissa Trotter’s body when found 25 days after her disappearance, a meteorological expert testified Thursday.
Richard Grant, a professor at Purdue University, said the temperature at tree-top level is not dissimilar to the temperature in an open field.
However, Grant, an expert on microclimate, said the solar heat is diffused as it works its way to the forest floor.
Approximately 20 percent of the solar energy reaches the bottom of the forest, he said.
Questioned by prosecutor Warren Diepraam, Grant testified the temperatures on a forest floor tend to be more consistent than in a more open environment.
“The heat transfer is lower,” Grant said. “The temperature of the (forest) can’t be the same as an open field.”
Testimony in the hearing is expected to conclude today. Edwards may issue a ruling or send all evidence and testimony to the TTCA. Either way, a determination is not expected before a couple of months.
Source : http://www.yourhoustonnews.com
March 8 2012
The battle of the experts continued Wednesday at the hearing of convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen.
Forensic Entomologist Neal Haskell testified under cross-examination that he could extract a time of death based on DNA, weather data and autopsy photographs.
Prosecutor Warren Diepraam asked Haskell if the forensic evidence he was shown Wednesday was consistent with the condition of Trotter’s body found 25 days after her disappearance.
Later in the day, Sibyl Bucheli, of Sam Houston State University, was called to the stand to testify about the decomposition of the human body.
Bucheli said data obtained at SHSU proved to be “entirely” consistent with the decomposition of Trotter’s body, Diepraam said.
“She (Bucheli) showed (Trotter’s) internal organs didn’t turn to mush as the defense alleged,” he said.
Defense attorney Stephen Jackson challenged Bucheli’s qualifications.
“She just received a PhD in Philosophy from Ohio State,” Jackson said. “She cherry-picked a body (at SHSU) that is not consistent with 17 days of 20-degree weather when the temperature was up in the 70s. It’s apples to oranges.”
The hearing is expected to conclude today.
source : http://www.yourhoustonnews.com
March 6 2012
The former Harris County medical examiner who conducted the autopsy in the Larry Swearingen murder case testified on Tuesday that his attorney misrepresented her opinion.
Dr. Joye M. Carter said during an evidentiary hearing that she did not reverse her opinion concerning how long Melissa Trotter‘s body had been in the Sam Houston National Forest, as Swearingen’s attorneyJames Rytting claimed in a 2007 affidavit.
Swearingen received a stay of execution after Rytting cited the affidavit in an appeal. He is on death row for the strangulation and sexual assault of Trotter, 19, who went missing on Dec. 8, 1998, from Lone Star College-Montgomery. Her body was discovered 25 days later.
During the 2000 trial, Carter testified the body had been in the woods for 25 days or so, placing the time of death on Dec. 8.
But Rytting tried to get Carter to say the wording in the affidavit indicated that the body was in the woods a maximum of 14 days, placing the time of death on or after Dec. 12.
Swearingen contends he could not have killed Trotter because he was in jail on Dec. 11 on an unrelated charge.
The hearing will determine whether Swearingen should receive a new trial.