A Texas man was executed by injection Wednesday, Aug. 21, for the abduction, rape, and murder of a suburban Houston community college student in 1998.
The 48-year-old Larry Swearingen received a lethal injection at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas, for the December 1998 killing of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, whom he had said was his friend.
Trotter was last seen leaving her community college in Conroe with Swearingen on Dec. 8, 1998. Nearly a month later, her body turned up in the Sam Houston National Forest in January 1999, with pantyhose around her neck.
Swearingen consistently said his innocence in Trotter’s death for nearly two decades. He had previously received five stays of execution over the years.
He was taken into the execution chamber and connected to an IV after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his late appeal, which focused on allegations prosecutors used “false and misleading testimony” related to a piece of pantyhose used to strangle Trotter and blood evidence.
Prosecutors said they stood behind the mountain of circumstantial evidence used to convict Swearingen in 2000. They described him as a sociopath with a criminal history of violence against women.
Swearingen and his legal team had relentlessly tried to cast doubt on the evidence used to convict him, particularly claims by prosecution experts that Trotter’s body had been in the woods for 25 days. His longtime appellate attorney, James Rytting, said at least five defense experts concluded Trotter was killed within two weeks of being found, and because Swearingen had been behind bars by then on outstanding traffic violations, he couldn’t have left her body there.
His legal team also argued against the science used by state experts who matched a leg of pantyhose in his home to the piece used to strangle Trotter. And they balked at the courts’ dismissal of blood flecks found under Trotter’s fingernails that did not match Swearingen nor Trotter.
The trial bureau chief for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Swearingen, Kelly Blackburn has zero doubt that Swearingen was Trotter’s killer. He said prosecutors had obtained a laundry list of circumstantial evidence to secure and uphold Swearingen’s conviction, including Trotter’s hair in his truck, cellphone records that put him near the spot her body was found, and some of her school papers being found near his parents’ home.
“Lord, forgive them,” Swearingen said in a final statement. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
At 6:35 p.m., the lethal dose of pentobarbital began. Swearingen said he could “hear it” going into a vein in his arm, then that he could taste it and described a burning in his arm.
He took a short breath immediately, then started to snore quietly, and stopped moving.
At 6:47 p.m. CT—12 minutes after the lethal dose started—he was pronounced dead.
Swearingen was the 12th inmate executed this year in the U.S. and the fourth in Texas where eleven more executions are scheduled this year.