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.