Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spectacular News in the Swearingen Case

Larry Swearingen's death warrant has been withdrawn and comprehensive DNA testing has been ordered by recently elected State District Judge Kelly Case. From Brandi Grissom's article in the Texas Tribune:
Update, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 5 p.m.: Montgomery County state district court Judge Kelly Case on Wednesday withdrew an order that had set the execution of condemned murderer Larry Swearingen for Feb. 27. The judge's decision came after a hearing in which Swearingen's lawyers argued that more time was required to accomplish DNA testing they believe will prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter. 
Montgomery County assistant district attorney Bill Delmore said he was disappointed with the decision, the first ruling in the case from the newly elected judge. Delmore said that prosecutors had offered to conduct the testing at the state's expense in an expedited manner that would allow the execution to proceed as scheduled. Swearingen's lawyers, however, declined. 
"Their refusal to negotiate on the timing of doing the testing between now and the execution date suggests their motion was primarily for the purpose of delay," Delmore said. 
Bryce Benjet, a lawyer for the New York-based Innocence Project who is representing Swearingen said that more time is needed to conduct the complicated testing that is necessary in the case. 
"We hope the district attorney will agree to conduct testing within the law so that Larry Swearingen can finally get the testing that can dispostively prove his innocence," Benjet said.
Previously, Assistant District Attorney Bill Delmore had said he hadn't read Swearingen's latest motion for DNA testing but would probably oppose it. Then District Attorney Brett Ligon agreed to DNA testing but insisted it be done expeditiously so as not to delay the execution. Now Judge Case has put an end to that nonsense and ordered both the testing and the time necessary to do the testing properly.

Last November, Judge Case defeated State Court District Judge Fred Edwards the general elections. Judge Edwards is the judge who recently ignored the science that proves Swearingen innocent by denying a new trial. (See The Most Innocent Man on Death Row)

If Preston Hughes had James Rytting as his attorney or had Judge Case ruling on his Motion of DNA Testing, Hughes would be alive today. It is due to such vagaries that one innocent man on death row is granted DNA testing while another is given the needle.

UPDATE: January 31, 2013
According to the Houston Chronicle, Judge Case did not order that DNA testing be conducted. Instead, he gave the prosecutor 60 days to respond to Swearingen's motion for DNA testing. The article does make clear that Swearingen's execution has been stayed. The article suggests that it could be three to four months before there is a hearing on Swearingen's Chapter 64 motion for DNA testing.  This is still really good news.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

HOLY (Anonymous) COW! -- Tewksbury

This is Part 2 in a series of unknown length. In Part 1, I explained that the hacktivist group Anonymous took over one federal government website in retaliation for the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, and threatened much more serious action against the internet unless our judicial system is reformed.

This second post may seem entirely unrelated to the first. It is not. I'll explain why before I click "Publish". For now, I'll simply describe the case of United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

This post is my Reader's Digest version of the Institute for Justice article Fighting Civil Forfeiture Abuse. Follow the link for a more thorough, more professional telling of this tragic tale.

Civil forfeiture law allows the government to take and sell your property without charging you with a crime. Law enforcement agencies like civil forfeiture laws since the funds from the forfeitures frequently go directly to the law enforcement agencies. Local police now frequently turn to the Feds to prosecute civil forfeiture cases. The Feds are eager to help, for a 20% cut.

Civil forfeiture cases are against the property, not the owner of the property. If the State can show probable cause that the property was used in a crime, it can seize the property. If the owner cannot prove that the property was not involved in a crime, the State gets to keep the property. Here's a picture of the defendant in United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts

That's a sinister looking defendant, to be sure. It's the Motel Caswell, owned free and clear by Russell and Pat Caswell. It's valued around $1,000,000. That's why it was so attractive to the Tewksbury PD. The cops are looking at $800,000 worth of paychecks and sundry goodies, once the Feds take their $200,000. It's a big score for everyone involved, except for the owner and our Constitution.

If the fine folks at the Tewksbury PD were enforcing the laws in an even-handed fashion, they would have also pursued civil forfeiture cases against the local Motel 6, the local Fairfield Inn, local Wal-Mart parking lot, and the local Home Depot parking lot. According to their own police logs, all those properties have also been involved in crimes. Those properties, however, aren't necessarily owned free and clear. There's no value in seizing a property that is heavily mortgaged. More significantly, though, the owners of those properties have the resources to put up a fight, and are likely to do so. Most Joe and Jane Q. Citizens don't have the money or the juice to withstand the onslaught that awaits them at the hands of the State. Most simply can't fight back.

So how serious was the crime at Motel Caswell? I'll tell you: fifteen drug related crimes in fourteen years. During those years, the Caswell's rented out their rooms 196,000 times.

The use of civil forfeiture has expanded dramatically since we declared war on drugs. Prior 1985, federal forfeiture proceeds did not go automatically to the seizing agency. The funds went instead to the general revenue fund of the United States. Before 1985, forfeiture revenue was therefore modest.

After 1985, when the police kickback scam was enacted into law, forfeiture revenue exploded. In 1986, the Feds took in "just" $93.7 million. Today the Feds hold more than $1.6 billion in civil forfeitures. I don't have numbers on the total amount kicked back to the police since the Feds began protecting us via their 80% kickback to the cops scam. It seems as if it's going to be many times $1.6 billion.

Now, finally, I reveal what this has to do with Aaron Swartz hanging himself and Anonymous attempting to hold the internet hostage.

The prosecutor in the Tewksbury case is this woman, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

Just two days ago, on 25 January, a federal judge rejected her effort to seize the Caswell's property.
In a sometimes scathing ruling, which for now halts the civil action brought by the federal government, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein said the federal government "had not met its burden of proving a substantial connection between the Motel Caswell and the forfeitable crimes, and, therefore, has not met its burden of proving that the Property is forfeitable." ... 
The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement that it respected the opinion, but added that the case "was strictly a law-enforcement effort to crack down on what was seen as a pattern of using the motel to further the commission of drug crimes for nearly three decades. We are weighing our options with respect to appeal." 
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is the same person who aggressively pursued Aaron Swartz after the State of Massachusetts decided not do so.
State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. 
Middlesex County's district attorney had planned no jail time, "with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner," the report said. "Tragedy intervened when Ortiz's office took over the case to send 'a message.'"
I have previously expressed my concern about the power exercised by prosecutors, and I will now tend to make that point more frequently and more forcefully. I believe I will make Linda Carty the subject of my next series regarding people on death row in Texas. You will see in that case how prosecutors decide who will live and who will die.

As for the next post in this series of unknown length, I think I'll detail more fully the crime committed by Aaron Swartz.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

HOLY (Anonymous) COW!

The hacker group calling itself Anonymous has taken control of the U.S. Sentencing Commission website and made all the encrypted contents public. Anonymous threatens to make the encryption key public and attack the internet on a far broader scale if judicial reforms are not enacted.

In other words, if I may be so bold in my interpretation, we as a society must enact significant judicial reform or suffer significant, unspecified damage to the internet. Since I rely on the internet (as do most people) and since I spend much of my time writing of problems associated with our system of justice (as do few people), I'm compelled to write about this story.

There is much to talk about. I suspect I will do so in a series of posts. Here I will merely start writing. I'll only know exactly what I'm going to say once this post is done. Perhaps this stream of consciousness approach to posting will be an improvement.

If you were to now conduct a Google search for Anonymous, the first hits will all have to do with the group Anonymous. It's members may be anonymous, but its loosely affiliated organization is not. Think of it as an Occupy or Tea Party type organization, but one that operates within the digital world, and one that may be far more potent. Here's some material from the Wikipedia entry.
Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is a loosely associated hacktivist group. ... It strongly opposes Internet censorship and surveillance, and has hacked various government websites. It has also targeted major security corporations. It also opposes Scientology, government corruption and homophobia. Its members can be distinguished in public by the wearing of stylised Guy Fawkes masks.
... Beginning with 2008, the Anonymous collective became increasingly associated with collaborative, international hacktivism. They undertook protests and other actions in retaliation against anti-digital piracy campaigns by motion picture and recording industry trade associations. Actions credited to "Anonymous" were undertaken by unidentified individuals who applied the Anonymous label to themselves as attribution. They have been called the freedom fighters of the Internet, a digital Robin Hood, and "anarchic cyber-guerrillas." 
... In 2012, Time named Anonymous as one of the most influential groups in the world.
Anonymous is acting aggressively now in response to the aggressive prosecution of Aaron Swartz that led to his suicide. From their manifesto, at least what I call their manifesto:
Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.
Now for Wikipedia's introduction of Aaron Swartz.
Aaron H. Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist.
Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS, the website framework, and the social news site Reddit, in which he was an equal partner after a merger with his Infogami company. Swartz also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. ...
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by federal authorities in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Swartz opposed JSTOR’s practice of compensating publishers, rather than authors, out of the fees it charges for access to articles. Swartz contended that JSTOR’s fees were limiting public access to academic work that was being supported by public funding. 
On January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn apartment where he had hanged himself.
His supporters argue that he preferred death over the loss of his freedom. More from Wikipedia on the punishment Swartz was facing.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen P. Heymann and Scott L. Garland were the lead prosecutors, working under the supervision of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. The case was brought under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was passed in 1986 to enhance the government’s ability to prosecute hackers who accessed computers to steal information or to disrupt or destroy computer functionality. "[I]f convicted on these charges," said Ortiz, "Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million."... 
Swartz's attorney, Marty Weinberg, has indicated that prosecutors told him, two days before Swartz’s death, that "Swartz would have to spend six months in prison and plead guilty to [all] 13 charges if he wanted to avoid going to trial." He has also said that he "nearly negotiated a plea bargain in which Swartz would not serve any time," but that bargain failed. "JSTOR signed off on it," he said, "but MIT would not."
I've explained before that we do not have a jury based justice system in this country, that we have instead a prosecutor based justice system. I discussed the problem of overcharging in my post Eating Dogs and Bargaining Pleas. Prosecutors are so effective at forcing guilty pleas by threats of long prison sentences that less than 10% of cases are resolved at trial. Once a prosecutor decides you are guilty, you are faced with either pleading guilty to a lesser charge (even if you are innocent) or facing extreme penalties. 

In Swartz' case, as an example, the price for maintaining his innocence could have been as high as 35 years. The Feds apparently offered 6 months jail time (maybe even no jail time) if he pled guilty. The Feds threatened him with 35 years behind bars if he didn't.

Swartz was apparently not such a threat to society that he had to be incarcerated for 35 years. Even his prosecutors conceded that 6 months (or even zero months) would have done the trick. The extra 34.5 years was the potential price Swartz would have to pay if he insisted on his so-called right to a trial by a jury of his peers.

Where is the right to a jury trial if the cost is 34.5 years of your life?

The over-charging problem is hardly limited the Swartz case. Nor is over-charging the only problem with our justice system. I dare not start listing my concerns here. Instead, I list a summary of the problems cited by Anonymous in their manifesto. Visit zdnet for a video providing the full text in its original. I include only the closing here. We'll talk more about this soon.
However, in order for there to be a peaceful resolution to this crisis, certain things need to happen. 
There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment. 
There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing. 
There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea. 
The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavourable odds. 
Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power. 
For good reason the statue of lady justice is blindfolded. No more should her innocence be besmirked, her scales tipped, nor her swordhand guided. Furthermore there must be a solemn commitment to freedom of the internet, this last great common space of humanity, and to the common ownership of information to further the common good. 
We [who] make this statement do not expect to be negotiated with; we do not desire to be negotiated with. We understand that due to the actions we take we exclude ourselves from the system within which solutions are found. There are others who serve that purpose, people far more respectable than us, people whose voices emerge from the light, and not the shadows. These voices are already making clear the reforms that have been necessary for some time, and are outright required now. 
It is these people that the justice system, the government, and law enforcement must engage with. Their voices are already ringing strong with a chorus of determined resolution. We demand only that this chorus is not ignored. We demand the government does not make the mistake of hoping that time will dampen its ringing, that they can ride out this wave of determination, that business as usual can continue after a sufficient period of lip-service and back-patting. 
Not this time. This time there will be change, or there will be chaos… 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Habeas CODIS

The famous legal concept habeas corpus is Latin for "produce the body". It comes from a time when the State would secret prisoners away without warrant or notification. Only the State knew if it was holding someone incommunicado. A writ of habeas corpus was a demand on the State to produce the prisoner.

I suggest that it is now time for the State to stop holding our country's CODIS system incommunicado.

CODIS stands for Combined DNA Index System. CODIS currently holds DNA profiles from more than 11 million Americans, most of whom have had a run-in with the law. The State is reasonably quick about interrogating the database when it wants to, usually to help solve crimes. When it comes to using the database to investigate possible wrongful convictions, however, the State prefers to hold the database incommunicado.

Only the State can submit DNA samples to CODIS for comparison, and it is loath to do so if the result might be embarrassing. The State therefore restricts access through a complex web of laws, rules, guidelines, court precedent, and sundry hoops. If an inmate dares attempt to jump through all the legal hoops, the State decides whether or not the inmate did no successfully. The State's scoring system is favorably biased towards the hoops.

In CODIS Interruptus, I described my concept of habeas CODIS, though I didn't name it until this post. Below I quote myself, without permission.
My understanding is that every Monday, the entire CODIS DNA profile database is compared against the DNA from new crimes. I argue that every Tuesday, the entire CODIS DNA profile database should be compared against the DNA from cold cases, and that every Wednesday the entire CODIS DNA profile database should be compared against every closed case.
Larry Swearingen, The Most Innocent Man on Death Row has tried on three occasions to have DNA from the evidence in his case profiled and compared against CODIS. In each case, the State refused. Once again, Swearingen has asked that DNA be tested. Once again, the State plans to resist. I quote from the Texas Tribune.
Bill Delmore, an assistant district attorney in Montgomery County, said there was no need for additional review by the Court of Criminal Appeals. He hadn't seen Swearingen’s DNA request, but Delmore said he would probably object to it.
Swearingen asks that the following items be tested.
  • Fingernail scrapings from victim Melissa Trotter
  • The leg from a pair of pantyhose used to strangle her
  • A pair of pantyhose, missing one leg, found in the trash outside Swearingen's apartment
  • Melissa Trotter's clothing
  • Cigarette butts found at the scene.
There is no mention in the article, or other similar articles, about the minute flakes of blood found under one of Trotter's fingernails. Those flakes were tested previously, before Swearingen's trial. The profile was compared against the DNA profile of Melissa Trotter herself, Larry Swearingen, and an individual who had allegedly been harassing Trotter. All three individuals were excluded. I don't believe that blood-flake DNA profile was ever run through CODIS. Even if it was, it should be checked again. And again. And again.

Almost all of the 11 million DNA profiles now in CODIS were added since Swearingen's trial.

Based on my irresistible concept of habeas CODIS, the blood-flake DNA profile would have been compared against the entire CODIS database each week, as it grew from less than 1/2 million profiles at the time of Swearingen's trial to more than 11 million profiles today. I suspect if they had done that, Swearingen would be walking free today, and the State of Texas wouldn't be making such fools of themselves.

While I don't know what's up with the blood flakes, I suspect the State has successfully resisted testing the other DNA evidence because Swearingen could not prove to the State's satisfaction that DNA would be found on that evidence. I'm unfortunately familiar with this issue, since I prepared Preston Hughes' Chapter 64 Motion for DNA Testing. (I prepared the motion because his attorney would not.) I suspect the State refused to test the evidence in Swearingen's case based (at least in part) on the requirements of the ever popular section 64.03(a)(1)(A)(i).
Article 64.03(a)(1)(A)(i) - DNA evidence still exists and is in a condition making DNA testing possible.
See how it works. In order to test for DNA, you have to convince the State (among other things) that DNA exists. The State will concede that DNA exists in most bodily fluids, such as blood or semen, but the State will not concede that there is necessarily DNA under fingernails, or on cigarette butts, or still clinging to clothing after two decades. Not only that, the State won't allow the defendant access to the material to test it himself, at his expense, to prove there is DNA on the evidence. It's theirs. It belongs to them somehow.

Under the legal concept of habeas CODIS, certain to be adopted soon nationwide, such silliness will not be allowed.

As I was writing this post, the Texas Tribune article was updated. I first read the article a week ago within hours of it being published. I reviewed it today, as I was preparing this post. Nothing had changed. I checked it again, before I finished this post, to confirm a point. I found then that the article had been updated.
Update, Friday, Jan. 25, 4:45 p.m.: A week after condemned inmate Larry Swearingen, who is set to be executed Feb. 27, requested DNA testing that he hopes will prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of a Conroe college student, his attorneys and state prosecutors are bickering over how and when the analysis should occur. 
Prosecutors agreed to the testing — a major development following many years of opposition to it — and asked for the evidence to be submitted to a lab and analyzed in an expedited manner. Their hope, they said, is to get the testing done quickly enough to prevent the delay of Swearingen's execution date, the fourth one he has faced since his conviction in 2000.
Read that last sentence again, a little more slowly.

Friday, January 18, 2013

CODIS Interruptus

The law enforcement community (police, DAs, and the courts) have figured out that they can usually avoid unwanted complications from engaging in CODIS if they begin but do not complete the act.

CODIS stands for the Combined DNA Index System. The term, as loosely applied, incorporates also the NDIS, the National Index System. It's more difficult to make a clever title from NDIS, so I'll use the acronym CODIS to encapsulate both systems, and a bit more.

From the FBI website we learn the following:
CODIS—NDIS Statistics
Measuring Success
The National DNA Index (NDIS) contains over 10,086,400 offender1 profiles, 1,332,700 arrestee profiles and 466,800 forensic profiles as of December 2012. Ultimately, the success of the CODIS program will be measured by the crimes it helps to solve. CODIS’s primary metric, the “Investigation Aided,” tracks the number of criminal investigations where CODIS has added value to the investigative process. As of December 2012, CODIS has produced over 198,400 hits assisting in more than 190,500 investigations.
There are more than 11 million possible matches for any DNA sample sent to CODIS. That's impressive, to be sure. Still, that is only one-tenth of 100 million individuals whose fingerprints are held in AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System).

As a database programmer, I'm confident that searching for a 12-allele DNA match (among 10 million records) is not fundamentally more difficult than searching for a 10-point fingerprint match (from 100 million individuals, each having approximately ten fingers).

Despite the frequency of CODIS and AFIS comparisons, I have found it surprisingly difficult to determine the unit search cost for either CODIS or AFIS. This (excellent) article suggests that the marginal cost of a DNA database profile is less than $40. From this site, we can infer that the cost of a fingerprint search of AFIS is around $15. The point is that the marginal cost of a single CODIS or AFIS search is tens of dollars.

As technology improves, the unit search cost will drop to dollars, then to pennies. Already Google, Bing, and other search engine operators will, for zero pennies, compare any arbitrary string of text you can come up with against the entire internet, and sort millions of possible hits according to those they believe are most appropriate.

While a database search is (or should be) inexpensive, generating a numerical DNA profile from a biological sample still takes man-hours. If you want to have your DNA profiled by a private firm, it seems as if it's going to cost you between one and two thousand dollars. Once you have that profile, however, you could submit it to CODIS as many times as you wish, assuming you were allowed to access CODIS. The first comparison would cost a few thousand dollars, including the cost of the profile, but subsequent runs would cost just tens of dollars.

But why, you might ask, would you spend even a few tens of dollars if you've already attempted to find a match in CODIS and came up empty? The answer is simple, assuming you are not a district attorney or an appellate court judge.

New DNA profiles are being added to CODIS as we speak. I present one chart from this (excellent) presentation.


Now let's consider all this in light of the impending execution of Larry Ray Swearingen, The Most Innocent Man on Death Row. In that case, the State found blood flakes underneath one fingernail of victim Melissa Trotter. They extracted a DNA profile from those flakes and compared that profile against the DNA profiles of Melissa Trotter herself, Larry Swearingen (who is scheduled to be executed for her murder on 27 February), and Robbie Shore (who had allegedly, repeat allegedly, been harassing Melissa Trotter.) All three were excluded as the contributor of those blood flakes.

On that evidence alone, Larry Swearingen should probably have been set free unless the State had equally compelling evidence of his guilt. They did not, so he should have been set free. We're far beyond that argument, however, and I need to focus.

In my recent series Who Killed Melissa Trotter, I argue that Anthony Allen Shore is a far more likely culprit than is Larry Swearingen. (As it turns out, anyone who hadn't been in jail during the two weeks before her murder is a more likely candidate than Larry Swearingen.) Shore confesses to strangling five young women to death and that he attempted to strangle a sixth as he raped her. He was finally identified by a cold case DNA submission to CODIS in 2003. It's not clear how long his DNA profile had been in CODIS before that hit.

As part of a plea bargain for child molestation charges, Shore gave a DNA sample in 1998. CODIS was still in its infancy, and the Houston Crime Lab was still too crappy and too corrupt to process the DNA rapidly. I'll present just one brief snippet from the 300-page report of the independent investigator hired by the City of Houston and the HPD to look into press reports of problems at the crime lab.
[T]he Lab’s historical serology and DNA work is, as a whole, extremely troubling. We found significant and pervasive problems with the analysis and reporting of results in a large proportion of serology and DNA cases. The Crime Lab’s substandard, unreliable serology and DNA work is all the more alarming in light of the fact that it is typically performed in the most serious cases, such as homicides and sexual assaults. On the whole, this work did not meet the generally accepted forensic science principles that existed at the time and posed major risks of contributing to miscarriages of justice in extremely significant cases, including death penalty cases.
Okay, two snippets.
Although, as in most crime laboratories, the vast majority of cases referred to the Crime Lab involved controlled substances, the demand for DNA analysis increased substantially in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this period, as discussed in greater detail later in this report, rape kits became substantially backlogged with respect to cases in which there were no known suspects. These cases were not analyzed and therefore not loaded into the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) database. The DNA Section’s de facto policy at the time, developed because of the workload demands placed on its limited personnel, was to conduct DNA analysis only in cases involving known suspects from whom samples had been obtained for comparison. [Footnote: Mr. Krueger told us that, even though DNA cases typically involve serious crimes such as homicides and sexual assaults, controlled substances was his priority for resources because of the large volume of drug cases that were flooding the Crime Lab.]
There you go. It is extremely unlikely that Shore's DNA was even in CODIS when the State profiled the blood flakes found under one of Melissa Trotter's fingernails. The HPD was too busy working on drug cases to perform the work necessary to identify rapists, child molesters, and serial killers. Drugs may or may not be a victimless crime, but the War on Drugs is certainly not.

Even if the State had submitted the blood-flake DNA profile to CODIS, my point (which I am on the verge of getting around to) will be unchanged.

Anthony Shore may have killed Melissa Trotter, and Anthony Shore's DNA may not have been in CODIS even if Texas had bothered to run the blood-flake DNA profile through CODIS. If we knew all that to be true, it would be unconscionable to execute Larry Swearingen without searching for a hit. That is still not quite my point.

My point is that it is unconscionable to execute anyone anymore without running all possible probative DNA through CODIS at least once, recently, as a condition for issuing the death warrant. In Larry Swearingen's case, I don't know that any DNA has ever been run through CODIS. There's plenty of DNA material to be tested, and there are now 11 million possible contributors that were not there at the time of Swearingen's trial.

How can a State, in good conscience insist on executing someone while probative DNA goes untested against the current CODIS population? Even if the DNA had been run through CODIS ten years earlier during the trial, the actual killer's DNA could have been added at any time since.

My understanding is that every Monday, the entire CODIS DNA profile database is compared against the DNA from new crimes. I argue that every Tuesday, the entire CODIS DNA profile database should be compared against the DNA from cold cases, and that every Wednesday the entire CODIS DNA profile database should be compared against every closed case.

As an absolute, bare-bottom, gosh-darn minimum, all probative DNA should be tested against the current CODIS database as a condition of even requesting a death warrant.

That, finally, is my point.

"An idea starts to get interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion." --Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Innocence For Dummies

The people of Texas are intent on executing Larry Ray Swearingen on 27 February for the murder of Melissa Trotter. The evidence of his innocence, however, is simply overwhelming. This not just a case where the evidence of guilt is underwhelming. This is a case in which the evidence of actual innocence is plentiful and substantial. 

The State's case demands that Larry Swearingen murdered Melissa Trotter on 8 December 1998, the day he encountered her at Montgomery Community College in The Woodlands, Texas. That was 25 days before her body was discovered on 2 January 1999 near the western shore of Lake Conroe in the Sam Houston National Forest. The problem for the state is that she had been dead for just a few days, for two weeks at the most.

Since they arrested Larry Swearingen on 11 December, they had him incarcerated in their own jail when she was murdered. They are his alibi. He could not have murdered her.

At trial, ME Joye Carter, who had said nothing about the time or date of death in her autopsy report, testified that Melissa Trotter was murdered ....

[drum roll, please]

... 25 days before her body was found. That was darn convenient. It was also darn wrong. It was so wrong that ME Joy Carter later recanted her testimony, agreeing instead with a plethora of noted forensic experts who explained that Melissa Trotter died well after Larry Swearingen was jailed. This of course upset the State's argument, so ME Joy Carter later recanted her recantation. 

Nine noted forensic experts have affirmed post-conviction that Melissa Trotter died shortly before her body was discovered, and none of them have recanted. There's nothing to recant. Their explanations, however, are technical and not easily understood by those insisting that Swearingen die. For that matter, the explanations are not easily understood by those insisting he is innocent. The technical arguments involve forensic entomology (between proponents on both sides), autolysis (speaking for the defense only), and histology (again for the defense only). Of those disciplines histology is generally accepted to be the most definitive, then autolysis, then forensic entomology.

The state of course sees it differently.

But we need not involve ourselves in such egghead debates. Not all the evidence is technical and difficult to understand. Much of it is downright simple to understand, and that simple-to-understand evidence says that Larry Swearingen is factually innocent and should not die.

I therefore borrow from the titles of a successful series of books, and present herewith Innocence for Dummies.

Stomach Contents
ME Joye Carter testified she found a French fry-like form of potato and some chicken in Trotter's stomach. Those contents corresponded nicely with the tater-tots and the McNuggets the State presumed Trotter had eaten in the company of Larry Swearingen. Dr. Carter testified that a person's stomach will usually not empty in less than two hours, and that any food within the stomach at death will remain there.

While food may remain in the stomach for a bit, it will not remain long in a dead and decaying body. The stomach and its environment, by design, are more akin to a garbage disposal than to a Tupperware container. The stomach is a place of acids and enzymes designed to quickly disassemble food into an unrecognizable mess. Masticated tater-tots will completely decompose inside a decomposing stomach in far less than 25 days.

Even a juror knows that if you put a six pack of McNuggets in the woods and go back for them 25 days later, they will not be there in any recognizable form, even if you didn't leave them in a biodegradable bag of acids and enzymes.

That's not technical. That's simple. That's evidence of innocence for dummies.

Blood Under Fingernails
The State found blood under one of Melissa Trotter's fingernails. They compared the DNA from that blood against that of Larry Swearingen and he was excluded as the contributor.

That's not technical. That's simple. That's evidence of innocence for dummies.

It's not good enough for Texas though. Here's how they figured it. Their friendly ME Joye Carter said that Melissa Trotter died 25 days before her body was discovered. That is good enough for them. The blood found under the fingernail was still bright red, meaning it was recent. Since the blood was recent and Melissa had been dead for 25 days, the blood must have been caused by inadvertent contamination of Melissa's fingernail, either at the crime scene or in the lab. Maybe someone cut themselves earlier that day while shaving, they argued.

They're no dummies. That's why they don't understand the blood evidence.

The Pantyhose
Melissa Trotter was strangled with one leg from a pair of pantyhose. The remainder of the pantyhose was found in  the trash outside Swearingen's mobile home on or around January 5, three days after Melissa's body had been discovered. Swearingen had been in jail for four weeks at that time, having been arrested on 11 December. The police had searched his home twice after he was jailed, once on 15 December and again on 18 December. They searched every room, looked through boxes of clothes, and looked through the trash. They did not find any pantyhose.

Unless the police want to take credit for once again attempting to "frame the guilty", only the murderer could have planted those pantyhose in the trash outside Swearingen's mobile home while Swearingen was in jail.

That's not technical. That's simple. That's evidence for dummies.

Melissa Trotter was receiving threatening calls from someone who threatened to choke the life out of her. Melissa then had her life choked out of her.

Witnesses confirmed that the person who threatened Melissa Trotter knew Larry Swearingen and affirmed that Larry Swearingen was not the person who threatened Melissa Trotter's life.

It is likely that the person who threatened to choke the life out of Melissa Trotter is the person who did in fact choke the life out of her, while Larry Swearingen was in jail. It is likely also that the same person planted the remainder of the pantyhose in the trash outside Larry Swearingen's mobile home, again while Larry Swearingen was in jail. It is possible as well that the blood under Melissa's fingernail belonged to that stalker. It certainly didn't belong to Larry Swearingen.

None of that is difficult. All of it is simple. All of it is compelling evidence of innocence for dummies.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Who Killed Melissa Trotter? Anthony Allen Shore

Texas plans to execute Larry Ray Swearingen on 27 February 2013. In my previous series, I explained why he is The Most Innocent Man on Death Row. Someone else must have killed Melissa Trotter.

Already in this current series (beginning here), I have described the acknowledged crimes of serial killer Anthony Allen Shore.

In this final post of this current series, I will explain why I believe Anthony Allen Shore may be the person who murdered Melissa Trotter.

It's a lengthy post, and it's going to be a long, disturbing, bumpy ride. So grab a beverage, drop a Dramamine, and buckle up.

Here we go.

Physical Characteristics
Melissa Trotter's murder was the result of a fatally unfortunate string of coincidences. Such is the case of almost all those who fall prey to predatory serial killers. The victim's physical characteristics match those sought by the serial killer. The victim's behavior, while perfectly innocent, makes her vulnerable. Finally, and most coincidentally, the victim just happens to be in a specific place at a specific time when the serial killer is also there, at that specific time, at that specific place, searching for prey.

I'll begin my discussion of how and why Melissa Trotter may have become one of Anthony Shore's victims by comparing her physical characteristics against Shore's preferences, and against those of Shore's other acknowledged victims.

Shore has acknowledged five victims. I am confident there are more, and I will discuss those in my next series of posts. For now, I offer a photo montage of the five acknowledged victims plus Melissa Trotter.

The cumulative cruelty, tragedy, and loss is unimaginable.

From top to bottom, left to right, the victims are:
 Selma Janske (pseudonym)
 Melissa Trotter (possible victim)

Anthony Shore underwent court-ordered sexual offender therapy as part of the plea bargain for molesting his two daughters. (Best I can tell, the molestation consisted of exposing and touching.) As part of the therapy, Shore was required to maintain a treatment notebook. In that notebook, he listed the characteristics he considered to be triggers that aroused him. They were:
  • Long clean brushed and flowing hair
  • Athletic / shapely long bare legs
  • Short skirts / shorts / braless tops / swimwear
  • Bare breasts
  • Beautiful dark eyes and nice smile
  • Form-fitting clothes like a tee or tank top
  • Crop tops with nicely shaped firm flat tummy showing
  • Flirting is a turn-on, complimenting me
  • When women would play with my hair (used to be long)
  • Kissing and touching me in an inviting way
  • Provocative or suggestive dancing
He added: "These are all triggers in both cases which I feel led to preoccupation with each of my daughters."

First, I caution you not to trust Anthony Shore, or any other serial killer for that matter. Serial killers are masters of manipulation. I don't know whether Shore was being honestly self-reflective, or merely writing what he believed he was supposed to say, or attempting to mislead.

Second, while I haven't polled other men on the subject, I'm guessing Shore's list is not particularly outrageous. After all, he listed some items that were intended to be arousing, such as touching in an inviting way and suggestive dancing. That assumes of course the woman was in fact attempting to invite or suggest. It assumes also that Shore was simply not imagining such intentions.

Furthermore, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with finding long, flowing hair attractive, or beautiful eyes, or a nice smile, or bare breasts.

Shore's list wasn't troubling because it was a list of characteristics he found attractive. Shore's list was troubling because it was a list of characteristics he found to be triggers.

It's certainly not clear that any of his victims presented most of the triggers on his list. Certainly none of them were in public with bare breasts; none were dancing in a provocative or suggestive fashion. None could have been kissing him, or touching him, or playing with his hair when he first saw them.

What would have been quickly obvious to him was their height, weight, hair color and style, their race and ethnicity. As he approached, he would have noticed their age. As he neared, he would have had an opportunity to take note of their eyes and smile. I suspect by that point, though, he had already made up his mind.

Melissa Trotter seemingly presented the type of characteristics that would have attracted Shore's attention. It was not her fault, however, that she was petite; that he had long, flowing hair; that she had a nice smile and dark eyes; that she was light skinned.

At 19 years old, she would have been neither the oldest nor the youngest of his victims.

At 5 feet 3 inches tall, she would have been neither the tallest nor the shortest of his victims.

At 108 pounds, she would have been neither the heaviest nor the lightest of his victims.

Melissa Trotter, tragically, seems to have been the very sort of person Anthony Shore preyed on.

Melissa's Behavioral Characteristics
Melissa Trotter was sexually liberated. I base this claim on a voluntary statement provided by a friend of Melissa after she had been missing for two days. The intent of the statement was to help identify people who might be questioned about Melissa's disappearance. According to the statement, Melissa had, over a period of years, sexual relationships with at least 18 people. She liked to party. She hid such behavior from her parents.

Shore's Superficial Charm
Anthony Shore was a charmer. Many, perhaps most, sexual predators are. They use their charm as a weapon to get close to the people they prey on.

You needn't take my word for it that Shore could be disarmingly charming. He had long-term relationships with 5 different women. I'll review how they described him to Corey Mitchell for his book Strangler.

Gina Lynn Worley was Shore's first wife. They met in 1982.
"I was checking the mail in my mailbox and he ran down the stairs all flustered and introduced himself, saying, 'Hi! I'm Tony Shore! I'm the nicest guy you'll ever meet. I thought he was charming. He is a charming guy. He was really a nice, open genuine person."
They married four months later.
"It was a small ceremony. I was young and naive, and he was really charming. He was very well-spoken, intelligent, and articulate."
They had two daughters. Shore worked for the phone company, installing phones and phone lines. He made a good living. They had a nice house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Shore's charm, however, was only temporary.
"He always called me fat," she stated, "even though I barely weighed one hundred ten pounds."
While married to Gina, Shore murdered Laura Tremblay and Carmen Estrada.

On their tenth wedding anniversary .... well, you should read it yourself.:
"He comes home on our tenth anniversary. We'd gone out to a nice dinner; then we went to IMAX and then came home and Tony had some champagne, ice, an upright thing, and glasses sitting there. We popped and uncorked. the champagne. He goes down on one knee and tells me he's been having an affair for months and that he cannot continue to live a lie. And he left right there. I think I just sat there until he left. I was absolutely blown away. I had not a clue, and now he was gone."
Shore had been having an affair with Elizabeth "Lizz" Martin for as many as six months. Mitchell has no quotes from her in his book. Lizz Martin lived with Shore for less than two years. While living with Lizz, Shore raped Selma Janske and murdered little Diana Robellar. He broke up with Lizz less than one week after he murdered little Diana.

Shore was already seeing Amy Lynch when he gave Lizz the heave ho. Amy was fourteen years younger than Shore. She was still in high school.
Amy gushed about Shore to anyone who would listen. "He's creative. He's smart. he's talented. He's brilliant and he's charming."
As usual, the charm wore off. He referred to her as "larduous", his own word. He wanted her to lose weight and lose her curves. He wanted her to look even younger than she was.
Amy, who wanted to please her man, did as she was told. She eventually slimmed down to ninety-eight pounds. Shore was thrilled, as he could now go out and buy her the type of clothes he wanted to see her in. Mainly, children's clothes. At her smallest, the adult Amy could fit into size-14 children's clothes.
Shore and Amy married after they had been living together for three years. Before they were married, Shore murdered Dana Sanchez.

On or sometime before the date of Melissa Trotter's murder, Shore came home with blood all over his shirt.
Amy also talked about a dark side to her husband that others did not see. She recalled one time when he came home very late and his shirt was covered in blood. He told her that he had helped a little girl in a white dress who was bloodied in a car accident. Shore claimed he knew CPR and was ready to help if necessary. Amy doubted the sincerity of that explanation.
Two weeks after Melissa Trotter's body was discovered in Sam Houston National Forest, Shore choked Amy nearly to death, and had sex with her when he thought she was dead.
According to Amy, Tony Shore drugged her drink and she became woozy and passed out. She awoke to her husband's hands wrapped around her throat. Shore squeezed her throat as hard as he could, so hard that Amy could not physically defend herself. She started to fall unconscious as he kept choking her. 
Miraculously, Tony Shore stopped just short of killing her. Amy, however, believed he had every intention of killing her. She blamed his cessation of choking her on her acting skills as she played possum and faked falling unconscious. 
As Amy lay there in a semiconscious state, Shore decided to have his way with her. He rolled his wife over onto her stomach, pulled off her panties, and took her from behind. Amy continued to play possum during the rape. He started to pound away at her and make bizarre grunting noised. Suddenly he stopped, ejaculated inside her, and dismounted. He then grabbed Amy and tossed her on her back. He began to pound on her chest with his fists. He leaned over her face, grasped her nose and pinched the nostrils shut, and placed his mouth over hers. He began a rhythmic breathing pattern while alternately applying pressure to Amy's chest. He was trying to resuscitate her. 
The force of her husband's breath into Amy's mouth caused her more pain. She began to cough so violently that he pushed himself off of her. Amy sat up and kept hacking until her air passage seemed clear. She looked at Shore, but did not say a word.
Amy left Shore the next morning. She filed for divorce as soon as the courthouse opened. That same month, Shore met and began dating Pauline Cody.
Pauline was instantly enamored with Tony Shore. Even though he was nearly fourteen years older, she believed he understood her and she felt he was a great listener. She also found him very attractive and was especially enthralled with his creative side. "He swept me off my feet," she recalled. 
Pauline added that "he was very charming. There was a lot about him that seemed attractive. he was really smart. He was very articulate and musically inclined and just opened up my world to a lot of new things."
Pauline would leave Shore after he tried to choke her during sex.

Shore then met Lynda White through an internet dating service. She was a fifty-year-old mother of three.
One date turned into several. Lynda had no qualms about the fact Shore drove a tow truck for a living. She was used to men who had made more of themselves, but she just could not resist Shore's charms. She found him "funny, engaging, and charismatic." He was also romantic, cordial, and made her feel as if she were the only woman on the entire planet. ... She described him to her friends as "fun" and said that he had "no temper" and did not even use curse words.
Shore was living with Lynda White when he was arrested based on a DNA match against material from Carmen Estrada's fingernails.

In summary, Shore had already charmed his way into the life of women even younger than Melissa Trotter. A chance encounter between the two of them could have led to a dating relationship that turned deadly.

Geographic Profile
Melissa Trotter was last seen at the Montgomery Community College in The Woodlands, Texas. That is 30 miles north of where Anthony Shore was living at the time Melissa was murdered. That makes little difference with respect to the possibility that Shore murdered her. I'll explain.

Josh Kent, Michael Leitner, and Andrew Curtis provide a mathematical model of a serial killer's hunting ground in their scholarly, cleverly-entitled work Evaluating the Usefulness of Functional Distance Measures when Calibrating Journey-to-Crime Distance Delay Functions. I am such a unbounded geek that I found the paper fascinating. I intend to develop and apply their mathematics to Anthony Shore's case, and to report my results in my next series. For this series, I will simplify.

Serial killers such as Anthony Shore make their Points of First Encounter close to their home, work, or some other home base. The Point of First Encounter (PFE) is the location where the serial killer first takes note of a potential victim. The distance from the home base to the PFE is the most revealing distance. The distance from the home base to the point of abduction is of substantially lesser consequence. Considerable time may pass between the first encounter and the abduction.

Consider the PFE map of Shore's acknowledged victims. Click to enlarge.

During the killings of Laurie Tremblay and Carmen Estrada, Shore lived on Tallulah Lane in a suburb well west of downtown Houston. I withhold the specific address since it is not generally public. That house is shown as a yellow house icon near the left side of the PFE map.

Shore was living at 734th 18th Street when he raped Selma Janske, murdered Diana Robellar, and murdered Dana Sanchez. Shore was living in that house as well when he came home one night with blood on his shirt, when Melissa Trotter was murdered, and when he choked and raped and nearly killed Amy Lynch. I provide the specific address of the second house since it is readily available on the internet. That house is shown as a yellow house icon at the upper right corner of the PFE map.

Referring again to the map, I'll describe the significance of the five pins, working from left to right.

The green pin is the location where Anthony Shore first noticed Laura Tremblay. She was waiting for a bus. The PFE was 0.6 miles from Shore's home on Tallulah Lane.

The purple pin is the location where Anthony Shore first noticed Carmen Estrada. She was waiting for a bus. The PFE was 11 miles from Shore's home on Tallulah Lane.

The teal pin is Lamar High School, where Selma Janske attended. Shore was aware that she went to school there. He watched her play soccer there. I suspect Lamar High School was the PFE for Selma Janske. It was 6 miles from Shore's home on 18th Street.

The blue pin is where Shore encountered and abducted Diana Robellar, as she was returning from the local market with a bag of sugar. That PFE was 0.8 miles from Shore's home on 18th Street.

The red pin is where Shore encountered Dana Sanchez as she was hanging up the phone outside the Mr. Qwik convenience store at Airline and Cavalcade. That PFE was 0.6 miles from Shore's home on 18th Street.

Perhaps it is only coincidence that each attack took place further east than the previous attack.

The Dana Sanchez attack demonstrates clearly the value of the Point of First Encounter compared to the Point of Abduction. Dana Sanchez apparently got in Shore's car voluntarily. If so, she was arguably not abducted from the store. In fact, its not clear where the abduction began. One might argue she was never abducted, just killed while in his car. Alternatively, one might argue she was abducted wherever she was when Shore began to assault her. If so, that would have been somewhere well up I-45, far from Shore's home.

The Point of First Encounter is not only less ambiguous, it is more revealing of the killer's tendencies.

Also on the map is a blue balloon, just 1.2 miles from Shore's home on Tallulah. That balloon is there as a point of interest only. It shows where Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor were murdered. I cannot yet make a reasonable case that Anthony Shore killed them.

The question now becomes where Anthony Shore might have first encountered Melissa Trotter.

Note that I-45 is the major north-south freeway running through Houston. It is the only one that runs through The Woodlands (where Melissa went to school) and Willis (where Melissa lived). If Melissa traveled to Houston to shop at the Galleria, or attended an Astros baseball game, or spend a day at the Gulf, or even head east to New Orleans, she would have passed within a mile or so of Anthony Shore's house.

In the map above, you can see that Shore's house was located disturbingly close to I-45, positioned in between Houston and Melissa's stomping grounds. Let's take a closer look at that area.

There's Shore's house only 1.2 miles from the I-45, assuming he drove east on Cavalcade. It's only 1.4 miles away if he drove southeast along Main. We know that Shore looked for prey along those roads. He first encountered Diana Robellar on Main just north of his house. (That would be the blue pin.) He first encountered Dana Sanchez on Cavalcade, halfway between his house and I-45. (That would be the red pin.)

Where Cavalcade passes under the I-45, there are two gas stations and a convenience store, formerly another Mr. Qwik's. Where Main passes over the I-45, there is a gas station and several fast food joints, including a McDonald's. If when travelling to or through Houston, for whatever reason, Melissa Trotter stopped at Cavalcade or Main, for whatever reason, she could have encountered Anthony as he prowled for his next live-in girlfriend, or his next victim, whatever suited him at the time.

If Shore encountered Melissa Trotter at either of those locations or elsewhere, it would have been a coincidence, to be sure; a chance encounter. Recall though that it was only a chance encounter for Laura Tremblay, and Carmen Estrada, and Selma Janske, and Diana Robellar. It was only a coincidence that Dana Sanchez wanted a ride up the I-45 so she could tell her boyfriend she was pregnant.

Temporal Profile
Anthony Shore had not killed anyone in a while. At the end of 1988, many, many neurons were firing in his head telling him it was time to kill again.

For substantiation, I refer you to the work of M.V. Simkin and V.P. Roychowdhury, electrical engineers at UCLA. Because I am an incurable geek, I was irresistibly drawn to their scholarly paper cleverly entitled Stochiastic Modeling of a Serial Killer. It's brilliant work, and I have already applied their mathematics to Anthony Shore's case.

Their mathematics tells me that Melissa Trotter was murdered at a time when Shore was particularly inclined to murder. Their mathematics also helped me identify additional possible victims beyond Melissa Trotter. I'll detail all that in my next series. Here I'll focus on Melissa Trotter and simplify what I think I have learned.

Serial killers kill in clusters. If there is a statistically significant number of killings, the killings will tend have taken place in groups separated by periods of idleness. Simkin and Roychowdhury can explain it better than I can, so I present their abstract.
We analyze the time pattern of the activity of a serial killer, who during twelve years had murdered 53 people. The plot of the cumulative number of murders as a function of time is of “Devil’s staircase” type. The distribution of the intervals between murders (step length) follows a power law with the exponent of 1.4. We propose a model according to which the serial killer commits murders when neuronal excitation in his brain exceeds certain threshold. We model this neural activity as a branching process, which in turn is approximated by a random walk. As the distribution of the random walk return times is a power law with the exponent 1.5, the distribution of the inter-murder intervals is thus explained. We confirm analytical results by numerical simulation.
Maybe not. I'll try again.

Simkin and Roychowdhury argue that there is a similarity between the attacks of a serial killer and the seizures of an epileptic. In each case (they argue), too many neurons are firing all at once and the brain becomes overloaded.

Neurons are always firing, but at different rates. There are periods, however, when lots of neurons are coincidentally firing at nearly the same time, and it is during these times that an epileptic is most likely to have a seizure and a serial killer is most likely to kill. I realize the implications are enormous.

The neural firings that lead to epileptic seizures follow a mathematical model called A Random Walk. By studying the murders committed by Andrei Chikatilo (53 killings in 12 years), they found that the pattern of his attacks could also be modeled by A Random Walk analysis.

For now, it is sufficient for the non Big Bang Theorists among you to understand that serial killers do not kill in evenly spaced time increments. They kill and kill and kill, then lay low for a while, until they are compelled to kill and kill again.

With that in mind, consider the timing of Anthony Shore's attacks, crudely presented below.

The list begins in 1984, the year Shore moved back to Houston. He had previously lived in League City, Texas for one year when he was in high school. League City is home of the notorious Killing Fields and darn close to many of the I-45 killings. I've reviewed those cases, and I don't believe Shore is responsible for any of those killings along I-45 south of Houston.

The list ends in 2003. That is the year Anthony Shore was arrested for the murder of Carmen Estrada.

This list includes Shore's choking and rape of his Amy Lynch, his second wife. That is the 1999 attack. Shore also choked and raped Pauline Cody, I don't know the year of that attack, but I believe it was in 2002. Shore attempted to choke at least one other of his long-term partners during sex, but ceased when she objected. I did not include any such an incident in the list.

The attack in 1996 was the murder of Laurie Tremblay. The four attacks grouped in the middle are the attacks on Shore's other acknowledged victims.

Somewhere between 1995 and 1998 inclusive, while Shore was living with Amy Lynch, Shore came home with blood all over his shirt. That blood may have been from Dana Sanchez, or Melissa Trotter, or someone else entirely. I don't have the specific date, and that attack is not in the list.

The list does not include an attack on Melissa Trotter.

Given those qualifications, and assuming Simkin and Roychowdhury are not completely full of beans, it seems to me that there may be other victims of Anthony Shore out there to be discovered, particularly near in time to the first attack (on Laura Tremblay) and near in time to the last attack (on Amy Lynch).

I can see three explanations for the timing of Shore's attacks. First, Simkin and Roychowdhury are indeed full of beans. I don't think so, but it's always good to keep such a possibility in mind.

Second, Shore may have killed too infrequently to allow simulation via A Random Walk analysis. I believe that is a more likely explanation than the full-of-beans alternative.

Third, there may indeed be other victims out there not yet properly attributed to Anthony Shore. I'll discuss who some of those other victims might be in my next series. Here I'll simply note a grouping of four attacks followed by what seems to be an incomplete grouping of one attack. Shore attacked four girls in four successive years. Then Shore seemingly attacked just twice in the eight years until his arrest. The first of those attacks was on Amy Lynch, and it took place just three weeks after someone strangled Melissa Trotter with one leg of a pantyhose.

A Bad Relationship
Shortly before her murder, Melissa Trotter was involved in a bad relationship. She was being harassed and stalked by someone she knew, someone she wished not to identify. That person threatened to choke the life out of her, and that person looked like Anthony Shore.

I'll explain.

Melissa Trotter lived in Willis with her parents. She went to Montgomery Community College in The Woodlands. At the time of the murder, she worked at a bookstore near the college. She had just recently left a job at a resort on the east side of Lake Conroe. Her body was discovered in the Sam Houston National Forest on the west side of the lake. The map below should help make the relative locations more clear. Click to enlarge.

The yellow house icon at the bottom of the map is where Anthony Shore lived. The yellow house icon at the top of the map is where Melissa Trotter lived with her parents. The green schoolhouse icon is the community college where Melissa went to school. The red pin near the top of the page is where I believe her body was discovered on 2 January 1999. I could be wrong about that specific location.

The green sailboat icon is the resort on League Line Road. I believe, but I am not positive, that is the resort where Melissa Trotter worked. Here's an overhead view of the resort.

Whether Melissa worked there or at another resort, she was getting threatening phone calls around November of 1998, the month before she was murdered. I'll repeat below portions of a post-conviction affidavit that I presented earlier in its entirety.
My name is Lisa Roberts. I swear to the best of my knowledge, the following is true and correct: 
1. In 1998, I was employed at League Line Marina Resort on Lake Conroe, Conroe, Texas. I was working in the phone room or call center. My job was to try to call possible customers and get them interested in the resort. About ten people worked in the phone room at this time, including Melissa Trotter. Robert Graham was our supervisor. 
2. Around November of 1998, Melissa began receiving phone calls that seemed to upset her. At first, she would hang up real abruptly. I'd ask her during a break what was going on, and she'd say something like, "men." I was pretty sure the problem wasn't customers, but Melissa did not say who was bothering her. 
3. As I recall, it was not too long before the time Melissa disappeared, she got phone calls that really upset her. Cora, who also worked in the call center, would patch the phone calls through to Melissa. Melissa broke down and started crying. She said "he won't quit calling." Cora patched another call through, and I picked up Melissa's phone. 
4 The caller thought Melissa was on the line and started saying completely foul things. He said: "You're a fucking bitch," and swore he was "going to choke the life out of me," meaning Melissa. He went on, saying that he was going to get her back for what she did to him. I remember him saying, "I'll strangle you: I'll choke the life out of you. I'm going to fuck you while you die." I started yelling back and he realized Melissa was not on the phone. That was the first phone call I took.
"I'll strangle you: I'll choke the life out of you. I'm going to fuck you while you die."

That is exactly what Anthony Shore (nearly) did to Amy Lynch just six weeks or so after Melissa Trotter received the threatening phone calls. That is exactly what Anthony Shore (nearly) did to Pauline Cody several years later.

Later in Lisa Robert's affidavit:
8. While Melissa was working at League Line, this one guy picked her up three times, as I remember. The first time Melissa seemed O.K. about it. The second time he came to get her, Melissa said "Oh god, oh god." Nickie Mains and I confronted her as the guy was pulling up. I said she did not have to get in the car with anyone she did not want to. I told her I'd get my boyfriend. Melissa said, "You don't know what that will do: that'll cause problems." 
9. The night guard would not let the guy past, so he parked on the side of the road outside the entrance. The first two times he came to get Melissa, he parked in the dark. The third time he came to get Melissa, she was scared to death. We told her not to go, and when she insisted she had to, we made her promise to call us when she got home. She called forty-five minutes later. On this third occasion, this man parked in the light and I was able to see him and his car. He was driving a pick-up, full size, and older model, light blue in color. I did not know who the person was and Melissa did not tell us his name. 
10. I know who Larry Swearingen is. I went to school with him. I had at least five classes in junior high and high school with him, including auto repair and a math class. The man who picked Melissa up was not Larry Swearingen. The voice on the phone was not Larry Swearingen's voice.
The police decided that the scary guy who picked Melissa up from work was Robbie Grove, who is Larry Swearingen's cousin. When much later Lisa Roberts was shown a picture of Robbie Grove, she identified him as the scary person who picked up Melissa from work that night. It was dark outside, but she said the scary guy was standing in the light.

The police dismissed Robbie Grove as a suspect. The DNA on the blood flakes found under Melissa's fingernail did not match Grove's DNA.

Perhaps it was not Robbie Grove that Lisa Roberts saw picking Melissa up that night. Perhaps it was someone who looked like Robbie Grove. Someone, for example, like Anthony Shore.

That's Anthony Shore on the left, around the time of his arrest. That would be five years after Lisa Roberts saw the scary guy who waited for Melissa outside her place of work.

That's Robbie Grove on the right. The picture is from his MySpace page. You need to mentally remove a decade or so from his image for a temporally-unbiased, head-to-head comparison with Anthony Shore.

To allow the side-by-side comparison, I made the following modifications to the originals.
  • I scaled the images so they would be similar in size.
  • I converted Grove's image to gray shade, since Shore's image was gray shade.
  • I rotated Grove's image so they would be oriented similarly.
  • I cropped the top of the heads because Grove was wearing a hat and Shore was not.
  • I cropped the other sides of the picture to frame the two faces.
  • I darkened the background on Grove's picture to hide the distracting items in the background.
I made no other change to either image.

It seems to me that Anthony Shore and Robbie Grove could easily be confused in the dark. Lisa Roberts may have seen Anthony Shore. I can understand why, when shown a picture of Robbie Grove years later she thought he could have been the man she saw that night.

In summary, about six weeks before her murder, Melissa Trotter was involved with a man who looked like Anthony Shore and who threatened to strangle her, to choke the life out of her, to fuck her as she died.

Sound familiar?

Possessing Melissa Trotter
Melissa disappeared from Montgomery Community College on 8 December 1998. Her body was found 25 days later in Sam Houston National Forest. She had been dead less than a week.

Someone had held her captive for two to three weeks. During that time, she had been well fed. Beyond the ligature around her neck, there was no evidence she had been bound. Her body showed no obvious sign of injury other than those associated with the strangulation.

Whoever murdered her possessed her for two to three weeks.
Hell, I did this, at this time I, it's a sexual union, had something to do with it. The more I'm thinking in retrospect, that it's having to do with possession of a person. Making them ... do ... things. -- Anthony Shore, confessing to the rape of Selma Janske
Anthony Shore had engaged in several behaviors consistent with possessing someone in the fashion that Melissa was held captive.

He left his daughters alone in the house. To insure they did not leave, he installed deadbolts on the doors, requiring keys both inside and out. He glued the windows shut.

He bound Selma Janske, Diana Robellar, and Dana Sanchez with duct tape. Such a binding would not leave ligature marks.

He routinely drugged his daughters by putting Benadryl in their hot chocolate.

On multiple occasions he drugged Gina Worley, his first wife, with Rohypnol, the date rape drug.

On one occasion, Pauline Cody found a suspicious powdery substance in the refrigerator. Shore told her the drug belonged to a friend and that Shore was going to help that friend use it on "a woman they all knew" so that Shore could "take advantage of her." That was the night Pauline awoke to find Shore choking her as he was raping her. She left him after that.

Given his experience with jailing his daughters, binding his victims, and drugging women, Shore was well experienced and well equipped to keep Melissa Trotter captive for several weeks.

The question naturally arises as to where Shore may have held her captive. I don't know the answer to that, but I can think of three possibilities.

The first possibility is that Shore held Melissa captive at his old house on Tallulah Lane. According to the public records search that revealed Tallulah Lane address, Shore occupied the house until October 1999, a year after the possible first encounter with Melissa Trotter. The public records result, of course, might be in error, and this hypothesis could be easily disproved by anyone who lived in or near the Tallulah residence at the time. While I have no evidence that Shore did not still own the house on Tallulah when Melissa Trotter was being held captive, I consider this possibility unlikely.

For my second hypothesis, I note that Shore made pretty good money. At least he did until he was fired after pleading guilty to molesting his children. While he worked as a telephone installation and repairman, he was earning $80,000 per year. (He worked long hours.) In 1998, that amount of money would have allowed him to rent some small, isolated place suitable for holding someone captive.

Finally, I wonder if he held her captive in his own house at 734 E. 18th Street. I realize that Amy Shore was living there around that time, but I wonder if she was actually there at that specific time. I note this paragraph from Strangler, discussing Shore's dejection after Amy left him because he attacked her.
Tony Shore's downward spiral continued unabated. He spent Christmas alone, he had not heard from either of his daughters, and his divorce from Amy was pending.
So neither of Shore's daughters nor Amy was with him at Christmas. His daughters had gone to California earlier and would never return to him. I don't know where Amy was, but she was apparently not at home on Christmas, and perhaps not at home on any of the days surrounding Christmas. That would be Christmas of 1998, the time Melissa was being held captive.

Possibly relevant also is what Pauline Shore found when she moved in after Amy moved out. Some of the walls inside the house had been recently repainted, and brown paper was on all the windows. Shore explained that he was repainting the house in exchange for rent and that the brown paper was to keep the paint off the windows.


The Nylon Ligature
The nylon ligature used to strangle Melissa Trotter is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Larry Swearingen is innocent, and one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Anthony Shore is guilty. I'll explain.

I begin with the relevant portions of ME Joye Carter's autopsy report:
The neck was remarkable for a brown stocking ligature which was tied in the back in a simple knot. ... The ligature consisted of a piece of brown hosiery. The toe was intact on one limb of the ligature and it appeared to be a sandal-foot-type toe. The second limb appeared to be cut Irregularly. The ligature was tied around the posterior surface of the neck. There was a single simple knot. The ligature was removed from around the neck by cutting. The cut edges were marked with red identifying tape. The diameter of the ligature was 3-1/4 inches.The ligature appeared to be a cut leg of pantyhose. There was a 1/4 to 1/2 inch remnant of the panty portion on the cut end. The cut ends were slightly rolled. There was a run going through the entire length of the hosiery. The ligature imprint was poorly discernible due to the decompositional change of the neck. There was a dark purple, 2-1/2 inch, raised mark on the posterior surface of the neck. Upon inspection of the anterior neck wound, there appeared to be a transection of the larynx. The edges of the severed larynx were irregular due to postmortem animal activity.
Melissa was strangled with one leg from a pair of pantyhose. The remainder of the pantyhose was found in  the trash outside Swearingen's mobile home on or around January 5, three days after Melissa's body had been discovered. Swearingen had been in jail for four weeks at that time, having been arrested on 11 December. The police had searched his home twice after he was jailed, once on 15 December and again on 18 December. They searched every room, looked through boxes of clothes, and looked through the trash. They did not find any pantyhose.

The pantyhose were discovered a week later by Swearingen's landlord. The landlord was cleaning the mobile home in preparation for the next tenant. The landlord either found the pantyhose in the trash or placed them in the trash after finding them in a box of clothes.

Swearingen could not have possibly placed them there between the two police searches and the landlord's mysterious discovery. Swearingen was in jail.

Someone who wasn't in jail at the time planted the pantyhose in an effort to frame Larry Swearingen. That person was most likely Anthony Allen Shore, though I don't rule out the possibility that the HPD was once again engaged in "framing the guilty." Those familiar with the wrongful execution of Preston Hughes know of what I speak.

None of that, however, is what first caused me to seriously suspect Anthony Shore. It first hit me that he might have murdered Melissa Trotter when I read this portion of his confession regarding his murder of Carmen Estrada.

Shore: And she freaked out and I knew this was not, this was, this was gonna be real bad and my life was fucked forever. so I panicked and once again it just started to become daylight, so to avoid discovery, you know, I strangled her because I knew that ...

Swaim: What did you strangle her with?

Shore: I wanna say a nylon ligature. Piece of cord. I don't remember.

"I wanna say a nylon ligature."

I believe that, when questioned about his killing of Carmen Estrada, Shore searched his mind for the types of ligatures he had used on his victims, and he recalled strangling one of them with a nylon ligature.

For that reason, and all the other reasons detailed in this post, I believe Anthony Shore is finally the answer to my question: "Who Killed Melissa Trotter?"