Experts Exclude Man As Killer, Execution Set Anyway

UPDATE: Larry Swearingen has been given a stay of execution! His case has been sent back to the trial court “to review and resolve the claims made” in a couple of habeas corpus applications.  In this case, the main claim raised is one of “actual innocence”.  Four of the court’s judges would have voted to dismiss Swearingen’s applications and allow the August 18 execution to proceed.

I have written a few times about the weird relationship between Texas and Science.  As those of you who watch any of the 10,000 CSI programs know, science is playing an increasingly central role in our criminal justice system.  But from proposing scent lineups, to carrying out executions based on discredited fire forensics, to refusing to test available DNA evidence, to acting on tips from psychics, Texas seems routinely to be behind the curve.

Now, Texas has set August 18 as the execution date for Larry Swearingen.  Swearingen was sentenced to death for the murder of Melissa Trotter, but he had been in jail for 23 days when the body of the victim was found.  Five separate forensic experts, including four current or former Chief Medical Examiners from Texas, have determined that Melissa Trotter died very close to the date her body was found.  That is, the crime occurred when Larry Swearingen was in jail.  This contradicts the trial testimony of Dr. Joye Carter who had said the death occurred 25 days prior to the body’s discovery.  But she herself has recanted that testimony and now agrees with the other forensic experts.

Will Texas put Larry Swearingen to death anyway?  In the wake of the Texas Board of Education’s recent failed effort to undermine the teaching of evolution, we can hope that a little more respect for science might be emerging in the Lone Star State.   If that is the case, then surely Texas will prevent this execution.

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16 thoughts on “Experts Exclude Man As Killer, Execution Set Anyway

  1. The death penalty is not justified precisely because if there has been a wrong judgement and the accused has been executed then it is too late to do anything about it.
    In this case it seems clear from the forensic evidence that the accused could not possibly have committed the murder. He should be pardoned immediately, and probably have whatever sentence he was serving at the time of the accusation shortened or written off.

    Please reprieve this man at once.

  2. This is idiocy! In spite of proof that Larry Swearingen is not the killer, Texas is gonna kill him anyway! When will Texas' madness and blind vengeance stop?! :(

  3. The death penalty is not justified precisely because if there has been a wrong judgement and the accused has been executed then it is too late to do anything about it.
    In this case it seems clear from the forensic evidence that the accused could not possibly have committed the murder. He should be pardoned immediately, and probably have whatever sentence he was serving at the time of the accusation shortened or written off.

    Please reprieve this man at once.

  4. This is idiocy! In spite of proof that Larry Swearingen is not the killer, Texas is gonna kill him anyway! When will Texas’ madness and blind vengeance stop?! :(

  5. Your an asshole.

    You need the people your insulting to change their minds to save a man's life, but your so busy making political and cultural points, and tarring the many millions of the people of that state as idiots, that your cutting yourself off at the knees.

    Every state in the union has a rolling disaster in their criminal justice system, and the federal system is even worse. So what that your little bit of paradise doesn't have a twang? It still needs reform.

    I am proud of your work, but your making yourself ineffective by coming across as a snob.

  6. Your an asshole.

    You need the people your insulting to change their minds to save a man’s life, but your so busy making political and cultural points, and tarring the many millions of the people of that state as idiots, that your cutting yourself off at the knees.

    Every state in the union has a rolling disaster in their criminal justice system, and the federal system is even worse. So what that your little bit of paradise doesn’t have a twang? It still needs reform.

    I am proud of your work, but your making yourself ineffective by coming across as a snob.

  7. Here here to Michael Paul Castrillo. Thank you very much. The way to win a Texan (or anyone else, for that matter) is NOT to attack their intelligence and/or character, but to understand why they see things as they do and work to help them understand.

    I'm a Texas-bred, Texas proud girl who, until recently months, stood strongly behind the death penalty as a way to clean up the garbage. I won't go into detail about why I'm re-examining my views (and no, it has nothing to do with anyone I know being executed, murdered, prosecuted or otherwise involved in a major crime) but suffice it to say that I am.

    I've been taking a thoughtful look at the death penalty biblically, economically, morally, and sociologically. Any way I look at it, it just doesn't make sense and it doesn't square with what I think an informed person ought to believe. As I've worked through my thoughts I've spent a lot of time talking and arguing with my fellow Texans because I wanted to engage in vigorous debate to be able to support my convictions either way after it was all said and done. I've come to realize that quite a few of us don't feel entirely comfortable with the idea of killing someone because they killed another person. Most of these discussions ended with "What else are we to do?"

    Only someone truly ignorant can pretend that getting rid of the death penalty solves every problem associated with capital murder – getting rid of the death penalty only prevents the state from compounding the issues at hand. Can we agree on that?

    Rather than characterizing Texans as ignorant yahoos, it might be wiser to recognize that we as a whole take a pretty no-nonsense, get it fixed approach to most issues. I believe that when the death penalty was re-instituted, it was our answer to that desire that drove it. We wanted to nip the problem in the bud and demonstrate to future offenders that we would take no quarter. We are also a group of people who come to the aid of our neighbors, whether it's putting out a pasture fire or standing up for somebody's daughter. When someone is killed and their loved ones are hurting, we want to make it right. We want to make sense of a senseless event. We want justice. Over the course of my reading and studying, I've come to realize that what we hope to get from the death penalty isn't actually happening – the people who commit capital crimes don't pay attention to what happens to those that go before them. And killing the perpetrator doesn't bring the victim back and it doesn't make the victim's family feel any better either, especially when they are irrevocably tied to the perpetrator for years to come via hearings, appeals, media coverage, the rest of the tangled legal system, right up to the very end. And it's true – we Texans don't buy in to every change in the wind until we know that it's more than a gust of hot air. It's sometimes frustratingly slow to affect change in Texas, but when change happens, it is rock solid.

    Throw in a case like Larry Swearingen, where it appears that he may well be innocent, and it is absolutely horrifying that we have come within weeks of killing an innocent man. How many have we NOT stopped in time?

    Our no-nonsense stance, our neighborliness, and our stubbornness are our strengths. And in this case, our strengths are also our weakness.

    Now. I'm very sure that there will be an outpouring of posts about why my defense of my home state is not true – folks who will have an anecdote to demonstrate that we are not how I have characterized us. And you would be right – not every single one of us is how I have described, but a large percentage of us are. I really don't care if you like Texans, but it is unwise to not understand us when the goal is to overcome our apparent zeal for the death penalty.

  8. Here here to Michael Paul Castrillo. Thank you very much. The way to win a Texan (or anyone else, for that matter) is NOT to attack their intelligence and/or character, but to understand why they see things as they do and work to help them understand.

    I’m a Texas-bred, Texas proud girl who, until recently months, stood strongly behind the death penalty as a way to clean up the garbage. I won’t go into detail about why I’m re-examining my views (and no, it has nothing to do with anyone I know being executed, murdered, prosecuted or otherwise involved in a major crime) but suffice it to say that I am.

    I’ve been taking a thoughtful look at the death penalty biblically, economically, morally, and sociologically. Any way I look at it, it just doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t square with what I think an informed person ought to believe. As I’ve worked through my thoughts I’ve spent a lot of time talking and arguing with my fellow Texans because I wanted to engage in vigorous debate to be able to support my convictions either way after it was all said and done. I’ve come to realize that quite a few of us don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of killing someone because they killed another person. Most of these discussions ended with “What else are we to do?”

    Only someone truly ignorant can pretend that getting rid of the death penalty solves every problem associated with capital murder – getting rid of the death penalty only prevents the state from compounding the issues at hand. Can we agree on that?

    Rather than characterizing Texans as ignorant yahoos, it might be wiser to recognize that we as a whole take a pretty no-nonsense, get it fixed approach to most issues. I believe that when the death penalty was re-instituted, it was our answer to that desire that drove it. We wanted to nip the problem in the bud and demonstrate to future offenders that we would take no quarter. We are also a group of people who come to the aid of our neighbors, whether it’s putting out a pasture fire or standing up for somebody’s daughter. When someone is killed and their loved ones are hurting, we want to make it right. We want to make sense of a senseless event. We want justice. Over the course of my reading and studying, I’ve come to realize that what we hope to get from the death penalty isn’t actually happening – the people who commit capital crimes don’t pay attention to what happens to those that go before them. And killing the perpetrator doesn’t bring the victim back and it doesn’t make the victim’s family feel any better either, especially when they are irrevocably tied to the perpetrator for years to come via hearings, appeals, media coverage, the rest of the tangled legal system, right up to the very end. And it’s true – we Texans don’t buy in to every change in the wind until we know that it’s more than a gust of hot air. It’s sometimes frustratingly slow to affect change in Texas, but when change happens, it is rock solid.

    Throw in a case like Larry Swearingen, where it appears that he may well be innocent, and it is absolutely horrifying that we have come within weeks of killing an innocent man. How many have we NOT stopped in time?

    Our no-nonsense stance, our neighborliness, and our stubbornness are our strengths. And in this case, our strengths are also our weakness.

    Now. I’m very sure that there will be an outpouring of posts about why my defense of my home state is not true – folks who will have an anecdote to demonstrate that we are not how I have characterized us. And you would be right – not every single one of us is how I have described, but a large percentage of us are. I really don’t care if you like Texans, but it is unwise to not understand us when the goal is to overcome our apparent zeal for the death penalty.

  9. We here in Texas unfortunately have to facet his kind of "justice" all the time. And now our governor (for whom I did NOT vote) wants to be president? If Perry somehow succeeds in getting the nomination (a true longshot in my opinion)…or even if he gets close, this case and the case of Cameron Todd Willingham will move into the national spotlight. I guess that would be one good side effect of Perry's running for president. Perry went so far as to fire appointees from the Texas Forensic Science Commission and replace them with cronies in an attempt to cover up the truth. Horrible, disgusting, dishonest, and heartbreaking.

  10. We here in Texas unfortunately have to facet his kind of “justice” all the time. And now our governor (for whom I did NOT vote) wants to be president? If Perry somehow succeeds in getting the nomination (a true longshot in my opinion)…or even if he gets close, this case and the case of Cameron Todd Willingham will move into the national spotlight. I guess that would be one good side effect of Perry’s running for president. Perry went so far as to fire appointees from the Texas Forensic Science Commission and replace them with cronies in an attempt to cover up the truth. Horrible, disgusting, dishonest, and heartbreaking.

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