Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Thursday, December 8, 2016


            On this date, December 8, 1998, Melissa Trotter was murdered by Larry Swearingen in Sam Houston National Forest. In loving memory of her, we will make her one of the 26 Christian Martyrs of Unit 1012 and we will remember her every year on November 26 and December 8.


Melissa Trotter, 19, was a student at Lone Star College when she was raped and murdered in 1998.

Supreme Court denies DNA testing in Montgomery Co. capital murder case
Jay R. Jordan, The Courier
Updated 7:56 am, Thursday, October 6, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for post-conviction DNA testing in the 1998 slaying of a Montgomery County college student, closing another door on convicted killer Larry Swearingen's continued efforts for a reprieve.

Swearingen, 45, and his attorneys hoped the high court would reverse a February Court of Criminal Appeals decision that denied the testing. But the Supreme Court denied Swearingen's latest motion Monday, laying to rest his fifth try at getting additional testing on the case.

Swearingen, Montgomery County's only convicted killer currently on death row, was sentenced to death in 2000 for murdering Melissa Trotter, an 18-year-old Montgomery College student. Trotter went missing Dec. 8, 1998, and was found dead in the Sam Houston National Forest north of Lake Conroe.

Swearingen sought testing on Trotter's sexual assault collection kit; hairs recovered from her body, the gloves used to move her body and a hairbrush found on the ground near her body; all hairs collected from her clothing; the ligature and the pantyhose used to strangle Trotter, among other evidence his appellate attorneys believed contained biological evidence that has not been tested.

In August 2014, then-9th state District Court Judge Kelly Case approved the testing. But subsequent appeals filed by Montgomery County prosecutors blocked it all the way to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Swearingen's Houston-based defense attorney James Rytting appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court in February.

Rytting said he expected the Supreme Court ruling on his appeal but persisted that he would not back down.

"The bottom line is we believe firmly that Mr. Swearingen is innocent," Rytting said. "Under those circumstances, you have to act. It's really a tragedy in the making."


Charles and Sandy Trotter, parents of the slain student, say killer Larry Ray Swearingen has become a poster boy for those opposed to the death penalty.

Moving Forward

"All this is was a delaying tactic," Melissa Trotter's father Charles Trotter said Tuesday. "They haven't brought anything new to the table."

Trotter's parents have kept up with the court proceedings since day one following her death. Upon hearing of the Supreme Court's decision, Melissa's mother Sandy Trotter said she and her husband are looking forward to moving on to the next step.

"I didn't know if we were going to have to wait another month or two for them to get around to it," Sandy Trotter said. "That's good news. Now we can move forward."

Swearingen has dodged four execution dates – in 2007, 2009, 2011 and most recently in 2013 – that were all stayed by the CCA. Now that the Supreme Court ruled on the case Monday, the Trotters hope an execution date can be set and carried out as soon as possible.

He's been on death row for just over 16 years, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

"We're also aware his attorneys are going to fight with their appeals up to the very last second," Sandy Trotter said. "I just pray and hope for Melissa and our family that we can add resolution to this.

"It puts your life on hold, and I don't want Swearingen taking any more of my days, any more than he already has."

Bill Delmore, an appellate attorney with the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, said they hope to file a motion to set an execution date in the 9th state District Court sometime within a week.

Still, Delmore said he expects the fight over Swearingen's execution to continue.

"I would actually be pretty surprised," Delmore said, "if they filed nothing and just accepted the inevitable at this point."

Previous Ruling

Swearingen has been in and out of the appellate process, including four previous motions for DNA testing which lost their momentum in appeals courts each time.

In an opinion in October 2015 reversing Judge Case's DNA ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals referred back to previous rulings it and lower appellate courts had made in Swearingen's case. In the October 2015 ruling, they said Rytting's motion did not meet the five-pronged requirement for green-lighting DNA tests in the appellate phase as outlined in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

"DNA is so simple, and it could prove him innocent," Rytting said in October 2015. "It's just puzzling why the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied it, especially in face of the Legislature's changing of the law."

The court did not mention a sixth requirement recently passed by the 84th Legislature, which states that trial courts may approve an appeal for DNA testing if there is "a reasonable likelihood" that the evidence being tested contains biological material eligible for testing.

Instead, the CCA denied Swearingen's appeal on the basis that he did not provide new information that would show the DNA evidence would prove his innocence.

The court's concurring opinion also referenced a "mountain of evidence" that originally convicted Swearingen in 2000.


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