2019-08-22 16:17:42 UTC
August 2019 in Huntsville, Texas for the abduction and murder of a
Swearingen met Melissa Trotter on Sunday, 6 December 1998. On that
day, the two spoke together at length, he got her phone number, and
they made plans to see each other or talk to each other again the next
On Monday, Swearingen bragged to his coworkers that he met a woman and
was having lunch with her that day. She failed to show up, though, so
Swearingen called her. He told his coworkers that she said she had
been taking a test, but they continued to tease him about being stood
up. He appeared to them to be angry for the rest of the day.
That evening, while using his truck to help transport some furniture,
Swearingen commented to Bryan Foster and William Brown that he was
going to meet a young lady named Melissa for lunch the next day. He
made a remark expressing his anticipation of having sex with her if
the date went well. Swearingen then phoned Trotter from Foster's house
and talked about meeting her for lunch and helping her study for an
On Tuesday, 8 December, Trotter purchased some tater tots from the
Montgomery College cafeteria. She then met Swearingen, then 27, in the
library around 1:30 p.m. They sat by some computers and talked
amicably. Trotter then left the library with Swearingen around 2:00
p.m. Her vehicle remained in the college parking lot.
Between 2:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Swearingen returned to his trailer in
Willis and left again twice. On one of those visits to his trailer, he
spoke with his landlord. A neighbor who noticed him coming and going
was unable to see whether anyone else was in the truck or whether
anyone except Swearingen got in or out.
According to police, Swearingen used his cell phone at 3:03 p.m. at a
location between his home and the Sam Houston National Forest.
The second time Swearingen left his trailer was to go pick up his
wife, Terry Swearingen, from work. When the couple returned home, it
was in disarray, and Terry noticed a package of Marlboro Light
cigarettes and a red lighter on top of the television. Neither she nor
her husband smoked, however. Evidence presented at Swearingen's trial
showed that Trotter smoked Marlboro Lights. Larry Swearingen filed a
burglary report with the police.
That evening, Swearingen phoned Phyllis Morrison, a former girlfriend,
and told her that he was in trouble and the police might be after him.
On Wednesday, Bryan Foster and his wife learned that Melissa Trotter
was missing. They phoned Swearingen, who claimed he could not remember
the last name of the girl he had met the day before. When Mrs. Foster
said she recalled him saying the name "Trotter," the line went dead.
Police learned that Swearingen and Trotter had been seen together
prior to her disappearance, including that afternoon. He was arrested
in Galveston, a hundred miles away, on a warrant for outstanding
traffic tickets on Friday, 11 December.
Melissa Trotter's body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest on
2 January 1999. The location of her body was heavily wooded and
secluded. Police had unsuccessfully searched this area three times for
her body before it was ultimately discovered by hunters. The victim
was on her back in a pile of bushes. Her top and bra were pulled up,
exposing her chest and back. Her jeans were on and fastened, but one
rear pocket was torn, partially exposing her buttocks. She had one
shoe on; the other was lying nearby. A leg of nylon pantyhose was tied
around her neck. A note from a friend dated 8 December was in one of
The evidence showed that Trotter died approximately 25 days before her
body was found, which was consistent with her dying on 8 December. The
decomposition of her body and some possible animal activity on it made
the nature of some of her injuries, such as a possible bruise on the
left side of her face, difficult to determine. The medical examiner
positively concluded that the cause of death was strangulation by a
ligature. There was also a sharp-force injury on her neck, which was
inflicted before she died. The lack of defensive wounds suggested that
she was already unconscious when the ligature was applied. There were
no drag marks on her exposed chest and back and there was no soil on
Fibers found on Trotter's body were determined to be similar to those
on Swearingen's jacket, the head and seat liners in his truck, and the
carpet in his bedroom. Trotter's hair and fibers from her jacket were
found in Swearingen's truck.
After Swearingen's body was found, his landlord discovered another leg
of pantyhose in his trailer. Police had searched the home twice
without finding it.
While Swearingen was awaiting trial, he sent a letter to his mother
that was written in Spanish, purportedly by someone named Robin. A
professional translator translated the letter to English as follows:
I have information that I need to tell you about Melissa and Wanda. I
was with the murderer of Melissa, and with the one that took Wanda
from work. I am not sure what he did with Wanda, but I saw everything
that happened to Melissa. He was talking to her in the parking lot.
They went to school together is what he told me. "We drove for awhile,
and then we went and had breakfast. I began to talk about sex when she
said she had to go home." He hit her in the left eye, and she fell to
the floor of her car. He took her to the wood and began to choke her
with his hands at first, then he jerked (jalar is slang) her to the
bushes. He cut her throat to make sure that she was dead. Her shoe
came off when he jerked (slang) her into the bushes. Her jabear
(cannot make out/ no such word in Spanish) was torn. I am in love with
him, and I don't want him in jail. The man in jail doesn't deserve to
be in jail, either. To make sure that you know, I am telling you the
truth. She was wearing red panties when R.D. murdered her. He choked
her with his hands first, but he used A piece of rope the truck from
his truck; he had a piece of black rope that he used in his boat to
anchor it, or something, he said. When he dragged her from the car, he
put her in the shrub on her back. I know that I should turn him in,
but he told me that he would kill me, too, and I believe him. He has
told about this murder to 3 other women in the past, will tell you
that he smokes, and he smoked with her at the college at 2:30 and
drove a blue truck. His hair is blonde and brown and lives here. His
name is Ronnie, but that is all I can tell, if you want more
information, say it on paper and I will continue to write, but I want
to come in.
At Swearingen's trial, the translator, Genoveva Perez, testified that
the letter was written in very poor Spanish, with poor grammatical
structure and improper use of words. She testified that it was written
by someone who did not know Spanish. She also stated that the English
translation she provided was her interpretation of the letter, but due
to its poor quality of writing, it was subject to multiple
Ronnie Coleman, who was Swearingen's cellmate in the Montgomery County
Jail, testified that Swearingen gave him the letter, and asked him to
copy it for him. Coleman did not know Spanish. He said Swearingen told
him he was sending the letter to his grandmother, who had difficulty
reading his handwriting.
The state also entered into evidence a list, written in Swearingen's
handwriting, of pairs of words in English and Spanish.
The medical examiner testified that a bruise on the victim's vagina
could have been caused by sexual intercourse on the day of her
disappearance. On cross-examination, he testified that the bruise may
have come from having sex several days earlier, or possibly even from
causes other than sex.
Swearingen pleaded not guilty and testified at his trial. He said the
victim was his friend and he did not kill her.
"I did not put no pantyhose around her neck ... to take your hands and
strangle somebody, that's not me," he said.
The defense acknowledged that Swearingen and Trotter saw each other on
the college campus after 1:30 p.m., but stated that they parted
company there and that Swearingen left the school alone. The state
presented witnesses who said they saw Trotter in the library between
11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with men whose build, hair color, and
clothing were completely different from Swearingen's.
The defense also presented evidence that Terry Swearingen smoked
cigarettes and concealed that fact from her husband.
For a killing to qualify as capital murder, one or more aggravating
factors must be present. The prosecution asserted that Swearingen
killed Trotter after abducting her and/or in the course of committing
aggravated sexual assault on her. Their chief piece of evidence for
these aggravating factors was the letter fabricated by Swearingen,
which described a discussion about sex, an assault, an abduction, and
a killing. The letter included details that only the killer would have
known, such as the color of the victim's underwear and the stab wound
on her neck, along with details that were false, such as the use of a
rope as the murder weapon. The prosecution also reminded jurors about
Swearingen's statement to his coworkers that he anticipated having sex
with Trotter and had been angry for being stood up by her on 7
Swearingen had a previous conviction for burglary of a building.
Records of the date of the offense, the length of his sentence, and
what period of time he served in custody are conflicting.
A jury found Swearingen guilty of capital murder in July 2000 and
sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
the conviction and sentence in March 2003. All of his subsequent
appeals in state and federal court were denied.
At his trial and in his appeals, Swearingen challenged the sufficiency
of the evidence for the sexual assault and kidnapping components of
the crime. The Texas Court of Criminal appeals considered the evidence
that Swearingen murdered Trotter to be sound, but admitted that the
evidence of rape or kidnapping was circumstantial and was weak "in
isolation." The court reasoned, however, that "the consistency of the
evidence and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom [...] provide
the girders to strengthen the evidence and support a rational jury's
finding the elements beyond a reasonable doubt."
In December 2007, Lisa Roberts, a coworker of Trotter's who had gone
to school with Swearingen, swore in an affidavit that the Swearingen
and Trotter were dating and that Trotter was not afraid of him. She
stated that at the call center where she and Trotter worked, Trotter
had received some vulgar, threatening phone calls from a different
man. Roberts took one of the calls and heard the man say, "I'll
strangle you. I'll choke the life out of you." Roberts stated that she
knew Swearingen's voice and he was not the man on the phone.
Swearingen's appellate lawyers also challenged the physical evidence
in the case, including the medical examiner's finding that Trotter
died 25 days before her body was found, and what the state purported
to be a match between the two pieces of pantyhose that was "to the
exclusion of all other pantyhose."
In 2016, forensic pathologist Victor Weedn issued a report stating
there was "considerable evidence to suggest that Ms. Trotter was not
killed on the day of her disappearance, but was held, killed later,
and her body dumped in the Sam Houston National Forest, sometime after
the arrest and incarceration of Mr. Swearingen."
Swearingen had five previous execution dates, each of which were
stayed. One of the stays was issued because of a clerical error made
in the filing of his execution warrant.
Swearingen's last scheduled execution date was in November 2017. That
date was stayed when investigators learned that Swearingen and another
Texas Death Row inmate, Anthony Allen Shore, who also had an upcoming
execution date, had conspired so that Shore would take the blame for
Trotter's murder in his last statement. Shore, who was known as the
"Tourniquet Killer," strangled four girls and young women, ages 9
through 21, in Houston between 1986 and 1995. Both men's executions
were stalled while investigators sorted out the plot. Shore was
executed in January 2018.
In the weeks leading up to Swearingen's execution, his attorney, James
Rytting, said he was not giving up. "We're going to challenge it all,
all over again," he said. "We believe that his conviction rests on a
pile of junk science."
Rytting also said that even if his client was ultimately executed, the
issues involved in his case would linger. "They may put Larry
Swearingen under," Rytting said, "But his case is not going to die."
Kelly Blackburn, trial bureau chief for the Montgomery County District
Attorney's Office, was confident that Swearingen was guilty and that
the forensic evidence in his case was solid. When asked about the
experts who issued reports that criticized or contradicted the state's
case, Blackburn said their opinions were "made in a vacuum."
"So far, any of those opinions that have been scrutinized under oath,
in a hearing, on the stand, haven't held up," Blackburn said.
"I don't believe you're going to kill me," Swearingen told a Houston
Chronicle reporter in an interview from Death Row days before his
execution. Comparing the case against him to a house of cards, he
said, "I believe I will pull that one single card and it's gonna come
In a ruling issued five days before Swearingen's execution, the U.S.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals quoted from a previous court ruling
that noted the two decades' worth of "legal machinations" consisting
of "'a convoluted tangle of habeas applications, pro se motions,
mandamus actions, and amended pleadings' seeking to overturn his
conviction and postpone his death sentence." The court's opinion
stated that Swearingen's lawyers mischaracterized the findings of
affidavits and reports in their filings in their effort to allege that
Swearingen's conviction was based on "junk science." The court then
went on to recite the "mountain of evidence" against Swearingen and
denied his request for a stay.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Swearingen's request
for clemency on Monday, three days before his execution. On Thursday
at 6:10 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court sealed Swearingen's fate by
denying him a stay.
"Lord forgive them; they don't know what they are doing," Swearingen
said in his last statement. The lethal injection was then started.
Swearingen then went on to narrate the experience. "I can hear it
going into my veins ... I can taste it ... burning in the right arm
... don't feel anything in the left." He was pronounced dead at 6:47
(Sources: Texas Attorney General's Office, Texas Department of
Criminal Justice, court documents, click2houston.com, Houston
Chronicle, Huntsville Item, Washington Post, larry-swearingen.com.)
Texas Execution Information
Texas Execution Information