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January 27th, 2009
03:50 PM ET

Dead man breathing

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

Larry Swearingen should be dead today. Yesterday, the 37-year-old man was supposed to have been strapped to a gurney, while a lethal cocktail poured into his veins; sodium thiopental to sedate him, pancuronium bromide for collapsing the lungs and diaphragm. The final dose of potassium chloride would have stopped his heart. But, a federal appellate court granted an eleventh-hour reprieve.

The jury in Texas that convicted the former electrician and mechanic believed beyond a reasonable doubt that Swearingen was a cold-blooded killer. According to the state, Swearingen kidnapped 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, in December, 1998, raped and then strangled the young college student.

The condemned claims he’s innocent, insists he barely knew the victim. His words were posted on the Innocent In Prison International web site. Here’s what he wrote:

“On the morning of December 8, 1998 after leaving my ex-wife at my parents for a ride to work, I proceeded to SEARS AUTOMOTIVE CENTER in the woodlands, before traveling to Cavenders Boottown for some shopping.

After leaving Cavenders I stopped at the carwash on Rayford/Sawdust Road, washing my truck before meeting Gail at the community college, who owed money for work I had done for her.

While at the school, I saw and spoke with Melissa, the victim in my case, which I had known for a few months prior to this date, yet the jury was not told or presented available evidence of this.

After speaking to Melissa, we parted ways, with her heading towards the cafeteria, and me going to the parking lot, never to see another again.”

Prosecutors didn’t buy his story. Neither did the jurors. And the state says they have overwhelming evidence that points directly to him. But his defense team says the facts just don’t add up. They go further, and argue there is an iron-clad alibi for Swearingen. The claim? That Swearingen was in jail the time Trotter was murdered. Their pleas have been joined by the Medical Examiner who investigated the crime. Now, a federal appears court has granted a stay to determine whether or not Swearingen is indeed the killer.

Are the Swearingen supporters just holding up justice, adding to pain and suffering to the family of the woman he was convicted of killing.

Or does he deserve a new trial?

Post by:
Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Jodie Steubing

    I'm so fed up with criminals having more rights than the people who are victimized. This is crazy. I do believe that if there is not solid evidence linking the person to the crime than, no, they should not be executed, but if there is no doubt, like DNA to prove the person did it. Then by all means, execute them. Why should they get to sit in prison and get to do nothing, when the person they killed is gone. The killer didn't care about their rights, so why should we care about the killers. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't obey the laws of man, than, you forfeit your rights all together. I also believe that if a person is convicted of killing a person and their is no doubt, they should be executed in the same way they killed the victim. Especially when it's a parent that kills their own kid(s). Any person that kills a child needs to be executed by public hanging.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:48 am |
  2. Troy

    If he was in Jail at the time of her death than he is Innocent, it should not be that hard to find out, but Texas is a state known for executing people to fast and easy, I would never live in Texas the judicial system in Texas is flawed and I have to wonder if most people receive a fair trial. The Death Penalty is not a deterrent to crime and I have to wonder when we as a Nation are going to realize how inhumane it really is, we are one of the few civilized nations that still have the Death penalty.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:29 am |
  3. Give me a break!

    If it is okay to kill inocent babies, why should we not kill murderers?

    If the death penalty is wrong, you should tell the individuals that commit murder that it is wrong for them to take someone elses life.

    When did America become more concerned with the perpetrator than the victim? When they committed the crime, they gave up all of their rights to live. If we would kill more of them, our prison systems would not be overcrowded. It is cheaper to kill them than to house them.

    Maybe that should be part of the stimulus plan!

    January 28, 2009 at 10:24 am |
  4. alice

    hi earle,
    i can agree with your statement somewhat but from the details I gather, this murder might have taken place in The Woodlands. Rayford/Sawdust road is a long road but if he was in The Woodlands then it's very much a prosperous community with multi-million dollar homes, golf courses and lakes. Although it was back in 1998, The Woodlands was still considered a quite wealthy community.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  5. Susan

    Wow, you people know nothing about Texas law. It takes a long time from when a person is sentenced to death to actual administration of the death penalty. Back then, Texas jurors had only two options: life in prison with parole available after only 20 years or the death penalty. Since the jurors were faced with letting murderous criminals out from prison after only 20 years, they usually opted for the death penalty to ensure that the murderer would never get another chance. The law in Texas has since changed, and jurors now have the option to sentence life without parole. But for all the death penalties handed out before life without parole was an option, the law is not "retroactive". Yes, Texas does execute a lot of people, but there already has been steps to ensure that those given the death penalty now are truly deserving.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  6. Purely Sarcastic

    His alibi was that he was in jail when she died?

    Maybe there is something to the old argument that even if he didn't do this crime, he's probably guilty of something, so go ahead.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  7. Punish, not deter

    Hey Erwin, I'll even concede it isn't a deterent (well, other than to the convicted/executed – they sure as heck are "deterred" from committing murder again). Execution is just and appropriate PUNISHMENT, though injection is much too gentle an approach.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:04 am |
  8. James Inman

    Readers may be interested in attending a special event on the death penalty upcoming in Knoxville, Tennessee:

    http://www.law.utk.edu/cle/09DeathPenalty.shtml

    We're asking everyone to pre-register so we have an accurate count for planning purposes.

    James Inman
    Editor in Chief, Tennessee Law Review
    jinman5@tennessee.edu

    January 28, 2009 at 9:38 am |
  9. Fed up

    How can you say the death penality does not deter crime? The dead don't kill, enough said! If this girl was any of these liberal's daughter, they would feel different.

    January 28, 2009 at 9:27 am |
  10. Matthew de Leon (Wash.,DC)

    Any doubt he should walk. Nuff said. Certainly he shouldn't die if there's even a SLIVER of doubt.

    Rape? Where's the DNA?

    Truth Serum? Lie detector? All those avenues need to be investigated. I don't care if it's not allowed in court do it anyway.

    January 28, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  11. Richard

    All the comments about precious life being taken.. an eye for an eye

    perhaps you are rejoicing that in Georgia Brian Nichols shot and killed 4 people in 2005 and was given life in prison ..the trail cost were in the milllions, he plotted to kill as many whites as possible and said will do it again now sentenced to life in Prison this scum should be executed and I would pull the trigger...

    In Idaho a convicted serial murderer and pedophile given death sentence... just charged for an additional death young boy who he had killed years earlier this sorry excuse for a human killed the whole boys family beating them to death with a hammer raped againthe little boy and his sister before murdering and burning the little boys body,, I pray this scourge is gang raped in prison until he bleeds to death and this would be too good.

    The list goes on and on 3,,000,000 people in prsion in this country crime rampant as the economy collapes murders rapes and assualts will skyrocket what do you bleeding hearts need to convince you that scum should be eliminated from a supposedly civil society ?

    January 28, 2009 at 9:19 am |
  12. Palmer W. in San Antonio

    Some type of law should exist for District Attorneys who knowingly or improperly send innocent people to prison. Just think of the former DA in Dallas in which many of his cases have been overturned and the "Prisoner" was released.

    He has gone about his life as if nothing happened. This is simply no fair.

    Unfortunately, these actions will continue to occur until a law is in place.

    January 28, 2009 at 8:43 am |
  13. BGC

    Ok so if there was any doubt, why did they wait until the man was about to be put to death before they said "Oh wait a minute!" Imagine the psycological trama if this guy is innocent!! They need to do some DNA testing. If he is found guilty, then put him on the express lane to the gurney. If he is innocent, then have him a psychiatrist waiting for him at the front doors of the prison! Come on people, with all of our advanced technology, innocent people should not be on death row any longer!

    January 28, 2009 at 8:33 am |
  14. Synergism721

    I am tired of the "Not a deterent" argument against the death penalty. Ask any criminal if jail/prison time is a deterent and they will tell you, "No". The fact is, the death penalty is the only consequence that is a deterent. Those receiving it will, certainly, never re-offend!

    January 28, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  15. Rachel

    How offen do you hear that Texas put a hold on an execution? That alone shows there is doubt that needs to be investigated.

    January 28, 2009 at 8:11 am |
  16. matt wisconsin

    I do believe in the death penalty. In the past people were put to death by their own words, or words of others. In todays world, we have DNA and other scientifical methods that either aquit, or convict the person on trial. I believe that if an execution is stayed, that means that the court system was wrong in the first place to give the death penalty. Too many times have we given the wrong person the death penalty. If this man did commit this crime, then he needs to pay with his life. But if there is a doubt, give him a new trial.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  17. Katie

    Amnesty International states that another male's blood was found under the victim's fingernails.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:10 pm |
  18. Susan

    He was sentenced out of Montgomery County TX. The crime was commited in 1998. He was given probation for Burg/Build which was revoked when he was arrested for the crime of murder. Montgomery County is somewhat near Houston TX.
    If there is even a slight chance he did not commit this crime it should be retried – in my opinion.
    Check out Texas death row homepage, look into some of the cases, you may be enlightened or get seriously depressed about our country.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  19. sherry, northern Calif.

    He needs a new trial. Period.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  20. Lou Hooper

    Sounds like the 1st trial went OK to me.

    Texas is a hanging state. They need to stop injecting and go back to hanging, and be certain theey're killing all these prisoners.

    If the man claims he was in jail when the crime was committed against this murdered victim, excuse me, but the prosecution knew it was just another lie.

    January 27, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  21. Deni

    God doesn't want Larry to die.
    God doesn't want man to kill anyone
    regardless if it's the law. Using law to murder,
    is killing. If Larry is guilty, God will take care of him,
    after all isn't he the only judge we need to worry about?

    I do not believe in the death penalty or murder.
    I know just by sticking up for the death penalty,
    is a form of murder & has consequences with the
    Lord.

    When people stand up for the death penalty, they stop
    themselves from being living right in heaven...

    Judging others is for the Lord to do, let the Lord deal
    with any and all kinds of sinners, because he does not need detectives or police to know who is guilty for what!!!!

    So if you want heaven & the Lord, don't stand up for the death penalty, cause it just might hold you up from getting to heaven... 🙂

    January 27, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  22. Karen N in Los Angeles

    Sounds like a new trial is in order to me.

    Texas is a hanging state. They need to stop and be certain before killing all these people.

    If the man was in jail when the crime was committed against this murdered victim, excuse me, but the prosecution got the wrong guy.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  23. toni, las vegas

    In the state of Texas they are quick to put someone to death so if the court of appeals has stopped this exacution then in my mind there is some meat on the bone of the defense. As for the family, of course they are heartbroken and feeling helpless at this time...but one thing one has to consider is that they are going off what the police have told them as to who the killer was....now have the police not been know for focusing on one person and not looking at others. If this guy did it he should pay with his life for doing something as heinous as this..but if he didnt...would you want to put an innocent man to death just because he fit the suit?

    January 27, 2009 at 8:43 pm |
  24. Annie Kate

    On a sentence of death I think a person should be able to have the complete series of appeals if they want them before they are executed. How many people have we jailed on what seemed to be ironclad evidence at the time that later was disproven in court? Nothing is more tragic than a murder except for the execution of an innocent person wrongly convicted for a crime they did not commit.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  25. Eugenia - San Francisco

    Who was it that said justice always prevails?

    January 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm |
  26. Phil C, RI

    If there's a possibility he was in jail at the time of the murder, carrying out the execution makes little sense until the defense has the opportunity to prove it. Furthermore, I don’t feel any case involving a death penalty should leave anyone wondering whether the convicted is innocent or not.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:15 pm |
  27. Dave

    Cover-up? If it comes out that the prosecution witheld evidence from the defense, that's automatically a mistrial. The same for the reverse is true. I grew up in small-town America, and yeah, the "good-ol'-boy" network is alive and well.

    However, how many innocents have been incarcerated, even executed, because of a broken justice system? I, for one, would rather see an appeals court review the evidence, as well as the evidentiary trail, to try to find out of either side witheld evidence. An angry jury, presented with a plausible solution, might leap to conclusions, sending an innocent person to prison, or to the executioner.

    Let's see if the system we have, however broken-up and limping it is, can actually do its job. If they determine, once and for all, that everything was done properly, then fine, let the executioner do his job.

    January 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  28. Lauren R. Wheeling, WV

    Yes, DO investigate his alabi. This investigation will not bring back the victim either way; the only thing that may happen is another (possible) innocent person may die if all possible alibis are not investigated, and thus ruled out..

    January 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  29. pam

    I feel anytime someone is likely to be put to death there should not be any doubt and absolute proof that it was this person that committed the crime. There have been innocent people spent alot of years in prison for a crime they didn'tn commit so why would any state kill someone with any doubt at all so where is the proof that this Swearinger was in jail when the murder was committed??????and about the pain and suffering of family I think any family would want to know and be sure that without a doubt it was the person being put in prison or to death.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  30. Lisa

    Houston isn't a small town, 4th largest in the US...

    January 27, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
  31. Mina

    In Texas anything is possible! I would agree that it doesn't hurt to take a second look at the evidence before sentencing someone to death.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm |
  32. Kathy

    If the guy was really in jail at the time of the murder, let him prove it and then give him a new trial, if he can't prove it, then don't give him another trial and reschedule his execution.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm |
  33. rob

    I would like to know if semen was recovered at the scene and if it was does Mr. Swearingen test positive for it or not

    January 27, 2009 at 6:24 pm |
  34. Hal B

    This is the best justice system in the WORLD "scary isn't it " in this system the need a perp for every victim.. guilty or not... It is far easier to make some one look guilty than to find who is guilty.. O.J. I'm not saying he did or didn't... I'm saying he's not smart enough to have gotten away with it if he did.... If you think there's JUSTICE in this system ask yourself ,,, have you ever seen Madoff in hand-cuffs

    January 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  35. Gary C.

    It sound like "proof" is in the eye of the beholder. I feel so bad for the family of the victim, but to add another victim without SOLID evidence is a crime in itself. Prove he killed her, and let him die. Can't prove he killed her, and let him go.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm |
  36. Elizabeth

    He deserves a new trial. Many people have been killed, who have later been found to be innocent. [See: The Wrong Men: America's Epidemic of Wrongful Death Row Convictions by Stanley Cohen].

    The family of the victim is not going to feel any better if he's put to death any sooner, it's still going to hurt, their daughter is still going to be gone. It would be far worse to push for this man's execution and then find out they had gotten the wrong man.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm |
  37. Chris Sosa - Boston, MA

    The death penalty is a barbaric practice and should be obliterated from the American justice system. Our commitment to life should preclude us from using death as a form of punishment.

    If there is any, be it even slight, reservation regarding the guilt of Swearingen, the case should obviously be reopened. If he is guilty, then he should receive a life sentence.

    But if one thinks that the death of another will cure the pain of a lost loved one, they are sadly mistaken. With that said, I hope the family of this innocent girl will find peace and closure, as no one should have to endure such a horrific tragedy.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:32 pm |
  38. Isabel, RJ, Brazil

    The death penalty is a very controversial form of punishment. Those in favor say it is effective in preventing future crimes and that is appropriate as punishment.
    Opponents say it is not implemented efficiently and that as a result, many innocent people are executed annually. They also say it is a violation of human rights.
    In 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a moratorium on the death penalty. The document is clear to warn countries that have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it.

    If constitutional questions about the method of implementation (in most cases, by lethal injection), doubts about the competence of lawyers and defenders possible innocence of those convicted, there is contributing to a reduction in executions, is a sign that the human being, still, esteem values by the life.

    The death can not be a punishment for a person convicted.

    » Life is the most precious that we have, and the human beings should not lose the right to it.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  39. michelle

    woodlands, texas.... and upscale neighborhood of houston

    January 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm |
  40. Ddesi NM

    If there is any doubt at all, he deserves a new trail. With DNA we are finding to many innocent people are in jail.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  41. Kathleen

    If the time/date of death was officially established when this man was in custody, then a new trial is a must, without a doubt. As to whether it would cause more pain and suffering to the victim's family, , if this is the wrong man accused of this crime, the answer is still, , yes.

    I know sometimes, the wheels of justice move slowly, and delays cause the family to again feel pain regarding this crime, , but because this was such a hideous crime, the best we can do for the victim at this time, is to ensure that there are no more victims to this crime and that is justice served.

    January 27, 2009 at 4:51 pm |
  42. Lisa

    Curious if any DNA puts him at the scene. Or was any collected? I know if I was wrongly accused, I'd be offering up my DNA to prove my innocence.

    January 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  43. Erwin Stoessel

    Once again the execution capital of the US is up to it's dirty tricks.Execute them by any means necessary.Have these idiots not yet learnt that the death penalty does not deter crime?
    Texas it's time to cease the capital punishment.What are you trying to prove?Your system there is just as murderous as the same people you execute in the name of justice.If justice slapped you in the face you would not recognize it.
    As for me the only thing I want to do with Texas is to fly over it on my way to somewhere else.You are a bunch of hypocrites.
    Have a wonderful day y'all.

    January 27, 2009 at 4:29 pm |
  44. jmc11

    If the government is going to kill someone, they better be sure it's the right guy they're killing.

    January 27, 2009 at 4:22 pm |
  45. earle,florida

    All I like to know is the city,and state this crime was committed in? Could someone forge an overnite ,or longer jail time specifying the exact date,via the crime? Small towns are great for seedy cover-ups, framing an angry lover's ex,...?

    January 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm |