On December 8, 1998 Melissa Trotter was seen leaving Montgomery College. She was not seen again until January 2, 1999 when her body was discovered in the Sam Houston National Forest by hunters. On July 11, 2000, a Montgomery County jury sentenced a man named Larry Swearingen to death for the murder of a local college student named Melissa Trotter. As of January 15, 2015 Swearingen remains on death row and actively involved in appealing his conviction. To date both Swearingen and the Montgomery County District Attorneys Office have filed appellate briefs with the Court of Criminal Appeals. Swearingens attorney believes that exculpatory evidence, in the form of DNA testing, will provide Swearingen with an alibi. The Judge stated in his ruling that Swearingen could not meet the necessary legal threshold showing that the exculpatory evidence would create a not guilty verdict due to the overwhelming mountain of inculpatory evidence.
Several pieces of evidence, some allowed in trial and kept from the jury, present skepticism about the prosecutions case. There were four cigarette butts found near Melissas body, and not one was tested for DNA evidence, nor were they offered at trial. The prosecution offered a torn piece of pantyhose, the same kind that was used to strangle Melissa that was found outside Swearingens residence. As the newly elected Judge Case pointed out, the pantyhose was found outside the residence in a publicly accessible location, and was not previously identified in two prior searches of the residence by teams of officers trained in the collection of evidence. The Judge goes on to explain that the trained officers were specifically authorized by the court to search and seize items of womens clothing for forensic examination and yet they still did not find this pantyhose. Judge Case has also taken issue with some erroneous facts presented at trial regarding a cell phone call and cigarettes that were claimed to be Melissas.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has presided over more executions than any other governor. Thus far, twelve inmates have been exonerated after being sentenced to death in Texas. Currently there are 277 inmates in line for the death chamber. Texas has executed 518 inmates, which places in above any other state in the country; second place goes to Oklahoma with 111 executions. Judge Case stated that his ruling in Swearingens case was informed by the exoneration of another Texas death row inmate, Roy Criner. Criner had confessed to sexually assaulting and murdering a young woman but was later found to be innocent. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that there was no exculpatory evidence strong enough to overcome the inculpatory evidence. As it turned out, there was. Testing of a cigarette butt and sexual assault evidence from the victims body provided the evidence that exonerated Criner back in 1986. Judge Case found that, just as in the precedent set by Criner, allowing Swearingen to seek this exculpatory evidence could potentially outweigh the inculpatory evidence. In fact, in granting the request for exculpatory evidence, Case wrote, It is probably that (Swearingen) would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing.
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