Larry Swearingen

Questions Linger for Anthony Shore, Larry Swearingen


January, 18 2018

Houston serial killer Anthony Shore faces another death date, this one Jan. 18. Shore was originally set for execution in October, but that got halted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office amid rumors he was planning to confess to another murder: the 1998 killing of Melissa Trotter. Except Larry Swearingen had been convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling Trotter in 2000, and by then was preparing for his own execution in November.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said his office revoked Shore’s execution warrant at the request of Montgomery County D.A. Brett Ligon, who believed Shore was colluding with Swearingen. (He says a folder was found in Shore’s cell with information relating to Trotter’s death.) Berg said the Texas Rangers have since interviewed Shore, who admitted he had “nothing to do” with Trotter’s murder. Shore alleged he and Swearingen once contemplated conspiring, but had since “parted ways.” Berg, who says his office and Ligon’s have reviewed the interview, said Shore decided not to “take the fall” for his fellow inmate. Shore has exhausted his appeals; Berg said he’s unaware of any new attempts to stay Shore’s execution, and concluded that his case will see its “inevitable end” next Thursday.

Shore’s execution is just the beginning of a busy month.

Swearingen, however, had his November execution stayed due to a filing error, and has since been granted additional DNA testing. Unlike Shore, who confessed to killing four girls between 1986 and 1995, Swearingen has maintained his innocence. His supporters, including his lawyer James Rytting, say he was in a county jail for outstanding traffic warrants at the time of Trotter’s murder. The 19-year-old was last seen on Dec. 8, 1998, with Swearingen (who wasn’t arrested until three days later), but her body wasn’t discovered until Jan. 2. Rytting said forensic evidence suggests her body could not have been dumped in the woods until “a week or 10 days” after Swearingen was arrested.

Included in the evidence sent out for testing is Trotter’s rape kit, which was never tested and could exonerate Swearingen should analysts uncover another DNA profile. Samples of hair particles found on Trot­ter’s undergarments and the alleged murder weapon (a torn pair of pantyhose) will also be tested. The evidence was shipped out in December and testing will likely take four weeks.

Rytting was alarmed that the state had reissued an execution date for Shore. “They shouldn’t be putting the guy into the ground with these questions still around,” he said. He says two witnesses, with no connection to Swearingen, told the D.A.’s Office that Shore suggested to them that he was connected to Trotter’s murder. The information, Rytting said, would “sure as hell” make Shore a suspect had it been provided prior to Swearingen’s conviction. “It’s a type of incriminating statement the prosecution seizes on all the time,” he said. “You don’t get to wiggle out of it with an ‘Aw shucks, I was kidding.'”

Shore will likely mark the first state-sanctioned killing of 2018, and his is just the beginning. William Rayford is scheduled for Jan. 30, and John Battaglia for Feb. 1.

Texas leads the nation in executions, but its death row population is dropping


December 14, 2017

The number of inmates on Texas’ death row dropped again this year, continuing a decades-long trend.

The decline is caused largely by fewer new death sentences and more reduced punishments in recent years, according to end-of-year reports released Thursday by groups critical of the death penalty in Texas and across the country. But Texas still held more executions than any other state.

“Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state’s death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny,” said Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, in the release of the group’s annual report. “In an increasing number of cases, they are accepting alternatives to this flawed and irreversible punishment.”

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has supported death penalty practices in legal cases throughout the country, said he agrees that the decline is partially due to shifting attitudes among jurors and prosecutors, but added that death sentences are also down because there has been a drop in the murder rate nationwide.

“The support for the death penalty for the worst crimes remains strong,” he said.

There are currently 234 inmates living with death sentences in Texas, according to the state’s prison system. That number has been dropping since 2003. The death row population peaked at 460 in 1999, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Here’s how the death row population has changed over the last year:

Seven men were executed.

The same number of men were put to death this year as in 2016, which had the fewest executions in two decades. But even with its relatively low number, Texas was still the state with the most executions in the country. This isn’t unusual given that the state has put to death nearly five times more individuals than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas accounted for 30 percent of the nation’s 23 executions in 2017. Arkansas was second in the country with four. Last year, Georgia put more people to death than Texas — the first time Texas hasn’t been responsible for the most executions since 2001.

Four more men got cells on death row.

One more person was sentenced to death this year than in 2015 and 2016, when only three men were handed the death penalty in each of those years.

The number of new sentences, which ranged in the 20s and 30s each year in the early 2000s, dropped in 2005 after jurors were given the option to sentence convicts to life without the possibility of parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Before then, if a capital murder convict wasn’t sentenced to death, he or she would be eligible for parole after 40 years. About 10 people in Texas were sentenced each year after that until the additional decrease in 2015.

Two men died while awaiting execution.

Joseph Lave and Raymond Martinez both died this year before they were taken to the death chamber, even though they had had extended stays in prison. Lave passed away more than 22 years after his murder conviction, and Martinez had lived more than 30 years with a death sentence.

Four men had their sentences changed from death to life in prison.

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this year have so far resulted in the reduction of three death sentences to life in prison. The high court ruled against Texas in the death penalty cases of Duane Buck and Bobby Moore.

Buck reached a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors to change his death sentence to life in October after a February ruling by the court said his case was prejudiced by an expert trial witness who claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

In Moore’s case, the justices invalidated Texas’ method for determining if a death-sentenced inmate was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Though Moore’s case has yet to be resolved (Harris County has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce his sentence to life), two other men on death row with intellectual disability claims received life sentences after the ruling.

Another man this April received a new punishment hearing in a 1991 murder and pled guilty, landing four consecutive life sentences over the death penalty, according to the Texas death penalty report.

Nine men narrowly escaped execution — for now.

Executions were scheduled — then canceled — for nine men this year. Six were stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in light of pending appeals, and one was stopped by a federal court, the report said.

One man, Larry Swearingen, evaded execution in November because of a clerical error, and convicted serial killer Anthony Shore’s death was postponed because prosecutors were concerned he would confess to the murder for which Swearingen was convicted.

 

Lawyers agree to DNA testing in Swearingen’s death row case


After years of courtroom wrangling, lawyers from both sides are finally agreeing to move forward with DNA testing in the 1998 rape and murder of Montgomery College student Melissa Trotter.

The agreement, expected to be finalized in court papers in the coming weeks, comes just days after a judge called off the pending execution of death row inmate Larry Swearingen, who was convicted in the slaying nearly two decades ago and has since repeatedly professed his innocence.

“They’re doing the right thing,” defense attorney James Rytting said Sunday, pointing to another death row inmate’s alleged plan to confess to the crime as evidence of the need for testing.

A lab would likely evaluate the rape kit, the ligature used to strangle Trotter, finger nail scrapings and hair.

FAMILY’S OUTRAGE: They want answers and an apology

“We’re still working out the details, but I’m excited that Mr. Rytting has finally agreed to allow us to test this DNA,” Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said Sunday. “I’m glad to be moving forward on this matter.”

Years-long legal battles over DNA testing have become a hallmark of Swearingen’s case, which even sparked changes to state laws regarding post-conviction DNA testing in 2015. Both sides have pushed for DNA testing at times, but always using different legal mechanisms and never in agreement.

At least twice, a trial court judge sided with Swearingen’s testing requests – but each time the state slapped down the lower court’s move, ruling that new DNA wouldn’t be enough to counter the “mountain of evidence” pointing to Swearingen’s guilt.

In 2013, prosecutors filed a failed bid for DNA testing, but the defense opposed.

Now, though, an alleged death row confession plot that could have seen another convicted killer confess to Trotter’s death has sparked new interest in testing.

“Both sides now recognize that there’s a need to test the evidence,” Rytting said.

Swearingen and Trotter were seen in the college’s library together on Dec. 8, 1998 – the day of the teen’s disappearance. Afterward, a biology teacher spotted Trotter leaving the school with a man.

Hair and fiber evidence later showed that she’d been in Swearingen’s car before she vanished.

The killer’s wife testified that she came home that evening to find the place in disarray – and in the middle of it all were a lighter and cigarettes believed to belong to Trotter. Swearingen later filed a false burglary report, claiming his home had been broken into while he was out of town.

That afternoon, Swearingen placed a call routed through a cell tower near FM 1097 in Willis – a spot he would have passed while heading from his house to the Sam Houston National Forest where Trotter’s decomposing body was found 25 days later.

Swearingen was convicted and sentenced to death in 2000, but on Friday a judge approved calling off his Nov. 16 death date – the fifth one scheduled in the case – as a result of a filing snafu.

Back in August,, the Montgomery County District Clerk sent notice of the November execution scheduling to the Office of the Attorney General’s writ office instead of to the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs. Because the law requires notice to the OCFW – which defends death row convicts – to be mailed within two days of the setting of an execution, the date had to be called off. It has not been rescheduled.

Swearingen’s attorneys first pointed out the problem in court papers on Wednesday, filing a motion to withdraw the execution in light of the mistake.

But aside from the clerical issues, Rytting also requested calling off the execution in order “to investigate newly discovered information suggesting that Anthony Shore – a convicted serial killer – has confessed to the murder of Melissa Trotter,” according to court papers.

“Mr. Swearingen will seek to depose Mr. Shore in order to preserve his testimony regarding the nature of any confessions he made, to obtain a DNA sample, and to obtain all other relevant information including documents, recordings and any other evidence concerning Mr. Shore’s connection to Ms. Trotter’s murder.”

Word of the alleged confession scheme emerged on the eve of Shore’s scheduled execution on Oct. 18.

Hours before he was scheduled to die, Shore won a 90-day stay after prosecutors said the four-time killer admitted to an abandoned plan to admit to Swearingen’s crime.

Officials first found out about the possibility of a last-minute confession attempt back in July, when a death row cell search uncovered materials relating to Trotter’s killing – including a hand-drawn map marking the supposed location of more evidence – stashed in Shore’s cell.

The day before his scheduled execution, Shore told investigators he’d only considered confessing to get his friend off, and not because he’d actually committed the additional crime. The multiple murderer also agreed to answer questions about other cases, and a judge greenlit pushing back his first scheduled execution date. He is now slated to die by lethal injection on Jan. 18.

Swearingen requests hearing on DNA testing; DA’s office focused on execution date


march 15,2014

Attorneys for convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen filed opposition to the state’s motion to set an execution date, arguing the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings.

A motion was filed in early March with the state of Texas for a tentative execution date of April 24. However, Swearingen “respectfully” requested a hearing in the 9th state District Court of Judge Kelly Case the week of May 12.

That hearing, if approved, would consider the effect of the appeals court’s remand on DNA testing, as well as the state’s request for an execution date, said James Rytting, Swearingen’s attorney.

“If they (the CCA) wanted to issue an execution date they could have established one by themselves,” Rytting said.

Swearingen was convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. She was last seen leaving the Montgomery College campus with Swearingen on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found by hunters in the Sam Houston National Forest Jan. 2, 1999, north of Lake Conroe.

Trotter’s death was determined to be a homicide, and that she was sexually assaulted then strangled by piece of pantyhose.

Bill Delmore, appellate attorney with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said Swearingen’s attorneys have started “grasping at straws.”

In their opposition to the state’s request for an execution date, Swearingen’s attorneys contend where the Court of Criminal Appeals has remanded the case for additional proceedings, it “would be an abuse of discretion” to ignore the “plain language” of the opinion issued by the appellate court in this case and instead set an execution date.

However, Delmore said Swearingen’s case was remanded back to the district court in Montgomery County to deny future requests for DNA testing, and to set an execution date.

A briefing schedule for both parties regarding the effect of the appeals court’s remand was suggested by Rytting on or before May 2.

(yourhoustonnews)

TEXAS – CCA Denies DNA Testing in Swearingen Case


UPDATE

 

Court Reverses DNA Testing Decision in Swearingen Case

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday unanimously reversed a lower court’s decision to allow further DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Larry Swearingen, sending his case back to a district court for further proceedings.

Swearingen was sentenced to death in 2000 after he was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in Montgomery County. His lawyers say DNA testing on evidence found near Trotter’s body could prove his innocence, but prosecutors say further testing is unnecessary.

James Rytting, a lawyer representing Swearingen, said he would revisit the present motion for further DNA testing now that the case is before the district court once again.

“They remanded it,” Rytting said of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision. “They didn’t say DNA testing is completely forbidden.”

Bill Delmore, the Montgomery County assistant district attorney prosecuting Swearingen’s case, said he would ask the court to set another execution date, adding that there was a “mountain of evidence” of Swearingen’s guilt.

“Here we are, back where we started,” he said.

february 5, 2014

Death row inmate Larry Swearingen cannot prove that biological materials exist on evidence connected to the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter – including on the alleged murder weapon – and therefore is not entitled to DNA testing of those items, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this morning.

Swearingen was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old Trotter, a Montgomery County community college student who disappeared from her college campus on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found several weeks later, by a group of hunters, in the Sam Houston National Forest near Lake Conroe.

Swearingen was seen with Trotter on campus not long before she disappeared. He has maintained his innocence and has been seeking DNA testing for a decade. Among the never-before-tested items of evidence are two lengths of pantyhose – one used to strangle Trotter, found around her neck, the other later found by Swearingen’s former landlord inside a house Swearingen and his wife had previously rented from the man.

The state maintains that visual comparison proves the two pieces came from a single pair of hose. Neither piece has ever been subjected to DNA analysis.

In ruling against Swearingen on Wednesday, Judge Paul Womack wrote for the unanimous court that a district court ruling that last year approved the requested DNA testing would be overturned because Swearingen “cannot prove the existence of biological material” that could be tested. Although the defense presented to the district court expert testimony that biological evidence would “likely” be found on the pantyhose that is not enough to secure testing, the court ruled. “[W]e have explicitly held that appellee must prove biological material exists and not that it is merely probable.”

In other words, without testing, there can be no testing.

The court’s conclusion also precludes any testing of cigarette butts found near Trotter’s body or of Trotter’s clothes, absent a showing that biological material exists on each item.

Only finger nail scrapings taken from Trotter are considered “biological evidence per se” and thus not restricted by the need to prove DNA exists before testing can be done. Only some of the collected scrapings were tested, and material found from under one of Trotter’s fingernails produced DNA from an unknown male.

Still, that result is not enough to convince the court that if additional testing were to be performed it would do anything to convince a jury of Swearingen’s innocence. “In order to be entitled to DNA testing,” Womack wrote for the court, “[Swearingen] must show by a preponderance of the evidence (51%) that he would not have been convicted if the exculpatory results were available at trial.”

Indeed, the unidentified profile previously identified was presented to Swearingen’s jury, the court notes, apparently without effect. “Since the jury already was aware that an unidentified male’s DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails, we fail to see how other such results would have changed its verdict,” Womack wrote. “The jury chose to believe that the foreign DNA either was contamination or that it came rom outside the context of the crime.” In short, the court concluded, Swearingen “cannot show that new testing would lead to a different result.”

During a December hearing on the matter before the CCA, Montgomery County prosecutor Bill Delmore told the court that the mountain of circumstantial evidence against Swearingen is insurmountable and that even if further DNA testing revealed additional evidence from another male – even from a known “serial killer” – that he would conclude only that Swearingen had an accomplice. “Nothing will ever convince me of his innocence,” Delmore said.