Larry Ray Swearingen, 48, was executed by lethal injection on 21 August 2019 in Huntsville, Texas for the abduction and murder of a 19-year-old woman.
Swearingen met Melissa Trotter on Sunday, 6 December 1998. On that day, the two spoke together at length, he got her phone number, and they made plans to see each other or talk to each other again the next day.
On Monday, Swearingen bragged to his coworkers that he met a woman and was having lunch with her that day. She failed to show up, though, so Swearingen called her. He told his coworkers that she said she had been taking a test, but they continued to tease him about being stood up. He appeared to them to be angry for the rest of the day.
That evening, while using his truck to help transport some furniture, Swearingen commented to Bryan Foster and William Brown that he was going to meet a young lady named Melissa for lunch the next day. He made a remark expressing his anticipation of having sex with her if the date went well. Swearingen then phoned Trotter from Foster's house and talked about meeting her for lunch and helping her study for an exam.
On Tuesday, 8 December, Trotter purchased some tater tots from the Montgomery College cafeteria. She then met Swearingen, then 27, in the library around 1:30 p.m. They sat by some computers and talked amicably. Trotter then left the library with Swearingen around 2:00 p.m. Her vehicle remained in the college parking lot.
Between 2:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Swearingen returned to his trailer in Willis and left again twice. On one of those visits to his trailer, he spoke with his landlord. A neighbor who noticed him coming and going was unable to see whether anyone else was in the truck or whether anyone except Swearingen got in or out.
According to police, Swearingen used his cell phone at 3:03 p.m. at a location between his home and the Sam Houston National Forest.
The second time Swearingen left his trailer was to go pick up his wife, Terry Swearingen, from work. When the couple returned home, it was in disarray, and Terry noticed a package of Marlboro Light cigarettes and a red lighter on top of the television. Neither she nor her husband smoked, however. Evidence presented at Swearingen's trial showed that Trotter smoked Marlboro Lights. Larry Swearingen filed a burglary report with the police.
That evening, Swearingen phoned Phyllis Morrison, a former girlfriend, and told her that he was in trouble and the police might be after him.
On Wednesday, Bryan Foster and his wife learned that Melissa Trotter was missing. They phoned Swearingen, who claimed he could not remember the last name of the girl he had met the day before. When Mrs. Foster said she recalled him saying the name "Trotter," the line went dead.
Police learned that Swearingen and Trotter had been seen together prior to her disappearance, including that afternoon. He was arrested in Galveston, a hundred miles away, on a warrant for outstanding traffic tickets on Friday, 11 December.
Melissa Trotter's body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest on 2 January 1999. The location of her body was heavily wooded and secluded. Police had unsuccessfully searched this area three times for her body before it was ultimately discovered by hunters. The victim was on her back in a pile of bushes. Her top and bra were pulled up, exposing her chest and back. Her jeans were on and fastened, but one rear pocket was torn, partially exposing her buttocks. She had one shoe on; the other was lying nearby. A leg of nylon pantyhose was tied around her neck. A note from a friend dated 8 December was in one of her pockets.
The evidence showed that Trotter died approximately 25 days before her body was found, which was consistent with her dying on 8 December. The decomposition of her body and some possible animal activity on it made the nature of some of her injuries , such as a possible bruise on the left side of her face, difficult to determine. The medical examiner positively concluded that the cause of death was strangulation by a ligature. There was also a sharp-force injury on her neck, which was inflicted before she died. The lack of defensive wounds suggested that she was already unconscious when the ligature was applied. There were no drag marks on her exposed chest and back and there was no soil on her shoes.
Fibers found on Trotter's body were determined to be similar to those on Swearingen's jacket, the head and seat liners in his truck, and the carpet in his bedroom. Trotter's hair and fibers from her jacket were found in Swearingen's truck.
After Swearingen's body was found, his landlord discovered another leg of pantyhose in his trailer. Police had searched the home twice without finding it.
While Swearingen was awaiting trial, he sent a letter to his mother that was written in Spanish, purportedly by someone named Robin. A professional translator translated the letter to English as follows:
I have information that I need to tell you about Melissa and Wanda. I was with the murderer of Melissa, and with the one that took Wanda from work. I am not sure what he did with Wanda, but I saw everything that happened to Melissa. He was talking to her in the parking lot. They went to school together is what he told me. "We drove for awhile, and then we went and had breakfast. I began to talk about sex when she said she had to go home." He hit her in the left eye, and she fell to the floor of her car. He took her to the wood and began to choke her with his hands at first, then he jerked (jalar is slang) her to the bushes. He cut her throat to make sure that she was dead. Her shoe came off when he jerked (slang) her into the bushes. Her jabear (cannot make out/ no such word in Spanish) was torn. I am in love with him, and I don't want him in jail. The man in jail doesn't deserve to be in jail, either. To make sure that you know, I am telling you the truth. She was wearing red panties when R.D. murdered her. He choked her with his hands first, but he used A piece of rope the truck from his truck; he had a piece of black rope that he used in his boat to anchor it, or something, he said. When he dragged her from the car, he put her in the shrub on her back. I know that I should turn him in, but he told me that he would kill me, too, and I believe him. He has told about this murder to 3 other women in the past, will tell you that he smokes, and he smoked with her at the college at 2:30 and drove a blue truck. His hair is blonde and brown and lives here. His name is Ronnie, but that is all I can tell, if you want more information, say it on paper and I will continue to write, but I want to come in.
At Swearingen's trial, the translator, Genoveva Perez, testified that the letter was written in very poor Spanish, with poor grammatical structure and improper use of words. She testified that it was written by someone who did not know Spanish. She also stated that the English translation she provided was her interpretation of the letter, but due to its poor quality of writing, it was subject to multiple interpretations.
Ronnie Coleman, who was Swearingen's cellmate in the Montgomery County Jail, testified that Swearingen gave him the letter, and asked him to copy it for him. Coleman did not know Spanish. He said Swearingen told him he was sending the letter to his grandmother, who had difficulty reading his handwriting.
The state also entered into evidence a list, written in Swearingen's handwriting, of pairs of words in English and Spanish.
The medical examiner testified that a bruise on the victim's vagina could have been caused by sexual intercourse on the day of her disappearance. On cross-examination, he testified that the bruise may have come from having sex several days earlier, or possibly even from causes other than sex.
Swearingen pleaded not guilty and testified at his trial. He said the victim was his friend and he did not kill her.
"I did not put no pantyhose around her neck ... to take your hands and strangle somebody, that's not me," he said.
The defense acknowledged that Swearingen and Trotter saw each other on the college campus after 1:30 p.m., but stated that they parted company there and that Swearingen left the school alone. The state presented witnesses who said they saw Trotter in the library between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with men whose build, hair color, and clothing were completely different from Swearingen's.
The defense also presented evidence that Terry Swearingen smoked cigarettes and concealed that fact from her husband.
For a killing to qualify as capital murder, one or more aggravating factors must be present. The prosecution asserted that Swearingen killed Trotter after abducting her and/or in the course of committing aggravated sexual assault on her. Their chief piece of evidence for these aggravating factors was the letter fabricated by Swearingen, which described a discussion about sex, an assault, an abduction, and a killing. The letter included details that only the killer would have known, such as the color of the victim's underwear and the stab wound on her neck, along with details that were false, such as the use of a rope as the murder weapon. The prosecution also reminded jurors about Swearingen's statement to his coworkers that he anticipated having sex with Trotter and had been angry for being stood up by her on 7 December.
Swearingen had a previous conviction for burglary of a building. Records of the date of the offense, the length of his sentence, and what period of time he served in custody are conflicting.
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