The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has set aside Montgomery County District Judge Kelly Case’s order to conduct additional DNA testing in the Larry Ray Swearingen capital murder case. In its unanimous opinion issued Wednesday morning, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that Case erred in disregarding the appellate court’s previous determination that Swearingen was not entitled to any additional DNA testing of the evidence of his guilt of the 1998 strangulation slaying of Montgomery College student Melissa Trotter. The Court again concluded that Swearingen has not shown that there was any additional biological material to be tested, and it held that the results of DNA testing would not be “exculpatory” in light of the “mountain of evidence” of Swearingen’s guilt.
Swearingen’s execution previously was set for February 17, 2013, by outgoing District Judge Fred Edwards. Shortly after Case’s election, he vacated that execution order and directed that additional DNA testing occur. Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon previously had offered to obtain expedited DNA testing of the evidence prior to the scheduled execution date, but Case denied Ligon’s request for release of the evidence and scheduled additional court proceedings.
Swearingen was seen with Melissa Trotter at Montgomery College shortly before her disappearance on December 8, 1998. Her body was found in a remote location in the Sam Houston National Forest near Lake Conroe on January 2, 1999. She had been strangled with a portion of a pair of panty hose, and the other portion of the panty hose was later found by Swearingen’s landlord in Swearingen’s trailer home. Swearingen’s DNA, along with that of his wife, was found on the panty hose remnant recovered from the trailer. This evidence, along with a long list of other evidence clearly linking Swearingen to the murder, was reiterated by the Court of Criminal Appeals in their decision.
The decision clears the way for the setting of a new execution date. “I am glad that the Court of Criminal Appeals has seen through these continuous delaying tactics by Swearingen and his attorneys,” said District Attorney Brett Ligon. “The Swearingen case has undergone exhaustive review by the courts, and the public can rest assured that the evidence of his guilt remains irrefutable. My thoughts continue to go out to Melissa Trotter’s family, and I hope that this case can now proceed quickly to its inevitable conclusion,” Ligon said.