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.