A convicted killer who maintained his innocence up until the end was executed Wednesday for the 1998 abduction, rape and murder of a college student.
"Lord, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing,” Larry Swearingen, 48, said before he received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, CBS News reports.
Swearingen long maintained he didn’t kill 19-year-old Melissa Trotter, whose body was found in a forest a month after she vanished in December 1998. She was last seen leaving her community college.
Swearingen actively fought his conviction and death sentence over the years, claiming that his case was built on circumstantial evidence and junk science. As a result, his execution was postponed five times, CNN reports. At one point, nine forensic experts testified at an evidentiary hearing that, based on decomposition analysis, Swearingen couldn't have killed Trotter because he was in jail at the time of her death, The Texas Observer reported in 2012. They thought she was killed only a day to two weeks prior to her body being found, not a month, like the state said.
Prosecutors claimed that he killed Trotter after she rejected him; witnesses testified they saw Trotter leave campus with Swearingen on the day she vanished.
Additionally, they noted that a lighter and a pack of cigarettes matching Trotter's favorite cigarette brand were found by Swearingen’s wife in the couple's trailer. Neither of them smoked. A detective found some pantyhose in the trash of the trailer with one of its legs missing. When Trotter’s body was found, a torn pair of pantyhose was tied around her neck.
Two weeks before his execution, Swearingen requested another stay claiming the state allowed "false and misleading" testimony and "manufactured" evidence, according to court documents.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied that request on Aug. 16 claiming that the matters cited by Swearingen wouldn't have changed the outcome of the trial.
Kelly Blackburn, the trial bureau chief for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, said he had " absolutely zero doubt” that Swearingen is the college student’s killer, according to CBS News.
Trotter’s family also believes that Swearingen is the killer.
"The overwhelming evidence is not just a coincidence," the victim’s mom, Sandy Trotter, told the Houston Chronicle. "There was a trial, he was found guilty, and they agreed on a sentence."
"We want Melissa to be remembered as a happy, loving, kind spirit with a beautiful smile. We always knew justice would prevail for Melissa."
Around the time of the murder, Swearingen was under indictment for kidnapping a former fiancée, Fox News reports.
In a prepared statement released by his lawyer's after the execution, Swearingen said he had proven his "innocence beyond any shadow of doubt.”
“I want everyone to know I'm not angry about my execution. Sure I would've liked to live and go free. But I feel certain that my death can be a catalyst to change the insane legal system of Texas which could allow this to happen. I am now one of God's sacrificial lambs, and hopefully people will use my example to help keep others from experiencing this dreadful and wrongful persecution."
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