Death penalty assessed against Chris Collings in Rowan Ford murder

march, 23  source :

                                                                               Rowan Ford

videotape  from Chris Collings confession click here 

ROLLA, Mo. — Chris Collings did not appear to take it all that hard Friday night when Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield read the verdict, that the jury had decided he should pay the ultimate penalty for the murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford.

His attorney, Charles Moreland, stood next to Collings, 37, as the death sentence was pronounced.

The defendant seemed intently interested as jurors filed back into the courtroom with their decision at 6:17 p.m., just as he had been throughout the two-week trial in Rolla. Still, his face betrayed little of what he might have been thinking in reaction.

If anything, he seemed prepared for the outcome.

A jury of seven women and five men chosen in distant Platte County and sequestered to hear the Barry County case required just 48 minutes of deliberation in the penalty phase after taking about four hours Tuesday night to find Collings guilty of first-degree murder.

The judge and bailiff ordered the courtroom and courthouse cleared after the reading of the verdict, and jurors were not immediately available for comment. But, outside the courthouse, Clint Clark, the Wheaton police chief and a key figure in the investigation of the girl’s murder, stopped to talk with reporters.

Either way would have been difficult,” Clark said of the jury’s two choices in the penalty phase, either life without parole or the death penalty. “I believe in God, and I believe what the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’”

He said it would have been a difficult decision for him to make, knowing Collings as well as he does, just as no doubt difficult for each of the jurors who made the decision. He said he can hate only what Collings did, and not the defendant himself, whom Clark has known most of his life.

“But I can’t look at my children without thinking of Rowan,” Clark said.

Prosecutor Johnnie Cox told jurors during closing arguments that life is about choices. Sometimes those choices get made for us, he said. Sometimes circumstances are more in control of what happens to us than we are, he said.

Collings was in control of what he did the night of Nov. 2, 2007, the prosecutor said. He made a conscious decision to return to Stella and snatch Rowan Ford from her room “like a thief in the night,” he said.

The state asked the jury to consider three possible aggravating circumstances that would put the death penalty on the table for their consideration. Jurors unanimously decided the prosecutors had proved the involvement of torture or depravity of mind in the crime and that the girl was killed because of her potential as a witness against the defendant.

The proposed aggravating circumstance that the jury did not unanimously agree on concerned whether the murder was committed while in the act of rape.

Cox had argued that the defendant acknowledged there was torture involved in his strangling of the girl when he admitted to investigators that she did not die quickly. The prosecutor also reminded jurors that the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy thought the sexual assault that preceded her killing would have been especially painful to the prepubescent victim.

Cox urged the jury “not to reward (Collings) for avoiding an investigation by killing her.”

“Mercy is something given by the powerful to the weak and innocent,” Cox said.

Collings had all the power that night, he said. Rowan Ford was weak and innocent. Collings showed her no mercy that night, he said. Cox asked jurors to show Collings no mercy in their decision on the punishment he should receive.

The defense argued in the penalty phase that Collings had taken responsibility for his crime and exhibited remorse over the course of four confessions made to investigators the day her body was recovered.

Defense attorney Charles Moreland also called attention to the alleged involvement of the girl’s stepfather, David Spears, 29, who also confessed to participating in the rape and murder in contradiction to Collings’ claim that he acted alone.

“How do you reconcile these two (separate) confessions?” he asked during closing arguments. “They can’t both be true.”

He suggested there were just three possibilities. Investigators may have lied when they told Collings during his interrogation that Spears had confessed, hoping that he would inculpate Spears, he said. Or Spears may have been an innocent man who falsely confessed. Either of those possibilities would be mitigating with respect to Collings, because both would mean that he stuck to the truth despite being given the opportunity to shift some of the blame to someone else, Moreland said.

The third possibility is that investigators were telling the truth — Spears’ confession was genuine and Collings has been taking the blame for more than what he actually did, Moreland said. He suggested there was some evidence to support this third scenario.

The defense called a canine search specialist to testify Thursday that her dogs detected the scent of human remains on the driver’s seat and rear cargo area of a Chevrolet Suburban that Spears borrowed from his mother the night of the murder.

In his rebuttal, Cox attacked the suggestion as a calculated “distraction” on the part of the defense, even though Spears remains charged with capital murder just like Collings and is scheduled to be tried in Pulaski County later this year.

“David Spears is not on trial (here) and has nothing to do with this defendant’s punishment,” Cox said.

The defense called Wanda Draper, a human development specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, as a final witness in the penalty phase to testify that Collings suffered severe emotional neglect during his prenatal period and the first six months of his life.

Draper told jurors that the parental neglect led to confusion, separation anxiety and betrayal trauma throughout his childhood, and ultimately brought about disorganized attachment disorder. She described the disorder as developmental and not a mental illness. She attributed the disorder to a number of stressors at various stages in his life and said it left Collings stuck at an emotional age of about 14 or 15.

Cox told jurors in closing arguments that Collings’ life may not have been perfect, but “he didn’t have it any worse than a lot of other people.”

“We are not trying a 14- or 15-year-old boy,” Cox said. “Don’t get pulled into that.”


Chris Collings told Wanda Draper, a human development specialist who interviewed him in 2009 at the request of defense attorneys, that he tried to commit suicide when he was 7, was molested by a baby sitter when he was 13 and sodomized by one of his birth mother’s husbands at the age of 14.

Draper acknowledged on cross-examination by Prosecutor Elizabeth Bock that there was no record of any of those claims among the many records on Collings that she reviewed, and he made all those claims to her after having been charged with Rowan Ford’s rape and murder.

Mississippi – Joseph Patrick Brown loses post-conviction claims

march 23,2012  source :

The Mississippi Supreme Court has sided with an Adams County judge who ruled death row inmate Joseph Patrick Brown was not unfairly treated when his attorneys decided against pursuing a mental evaluation of their client.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Thursday, agreed with Circuit Judge Isadore W. Patrick that Brown’s attorneys “had not acted deficiently so as to satisfy a claim of ineffective assistance.”

In 2009, Brown‘s case was among nine death row post-conviction appeals in which the Supreme Court asked trial judges why they had not ruled – or scheduled hearings.

Brown’s claims of ineffective counsel were heard in Adams County Circuit Court in 2004. But no ruling was issued. Patrick, who was appointed to the case by the Supreme Court, issued a ruling denying the petition in 2010.

In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence – or a possible constitutional issue – that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

The Supreme Court asked Patrick to determine if there was merit to Brown’s complaint about his attorneys’ failure to ask questions about a state mental examination or to pursue an examination themselves.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing for the court’s majority, said Thursday that Brown’s attorneys, after talking with doctors from the state mental hospital where Brown was examined, decided “not to have the doctors produce a report after determining that such report would be more harmful than helpful.”

Waller said that decision was courtroom strategy; a case, he said, “where a conscious decision was made to go forward with certain witnesses but not others.”

Four dissenting justices said it appeared Brown was not given all the material and records he needed to support his claims.

Brown was convicted and sentenced to death in Adams County in 1994 for the killing of a convenience store clerk in Natchez.

Prosecutors said Brown and his girlfriend were driving around Natchez on Aug. 8, 1992, looking for drugs when they pulled into the Charter Food Store where Martha Day worked.

Brown’s girlfriend testified that she saw Day grab her chest and fall after Brown approached the counter. The woman said Brown returned to the car with a cash register and other items.

Police said Day was shot four times and died at the scene.

Mississippi Supreme Court opinion read here

Gore’s attorneys file appeal with state Supreme Court

update april 6, source :

Serial killer’s letters speed up execution

Serial killer David Alan Gore is set to be executed sooner than he expected, in part because he could not stop bragging about raping and murdering four teenagers and two women in Florida three decades ago.

An author published the inmate’s grotesque letters, and a newspaper columnist and editorial board brought the case to the attention of Florida Governor Rick Scott. The Republican promptly signed the death warrant, even though more than 40 other men have been on death row longer.

Gore is set to die on April 12.

“Those letters are so disturbing and so insightful into who this person is,” said Pete Earley, who recently published some of the letters in his book Serial Killer Whisperer. “Gore, actually, he talked his way into the death chamber.”

Tony Ciaglia wrote to Gore and other serial killers on a whim after suffering a severe head injury as teenager, in an effort to better understand them.

He began exchanging letters with Gore about five years ago and received about 200 pages in all. Most in the book are too graphic to quote. In one, Gore described step-by-step how he and his cousin abducted two 14-year-old friends and sexually assaulted them.

“I drug both bodies into the woods where I disposed of them. Oh and you can believe, I collected hair. It took a couple days to recover from that. It was a perfect experience,” Gore wrote.

In another letter, Gore described his uncontrollable desire to kill.

“It’s sort of along the lines as being horny. You start getting horny and it just keeps building until you have to get some relief,” Gore wrote. “That is the same with the URGE to kill. It usually starts out slow and builds and you will take whatever chances necessary to satisfy it. And believe me, you constantly think about getting caught, but the rush is worth the risk.”

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers columnist Russ Lemmon, who has written about the Gore case, published a column for a few Florida newspapers on the day the editorial board had an interview with the governor. They talked about the book.

The board asked Scott if he had considered signing Gore’s death warrant. The governor promised to look into it.

Meanwhile, letters poured into Scott’s office, many of them mentioning the prison correspondence.

“Pete Earley provides compelling evidence that David Gore relishes every detail of his heinous murders,” wrote Ralph Sexton, whose nephew was married to one of the women killed.

About a month after the editorial board meeting, Scott signed Gore’s death warrant.

Gore’s lawyers are now appealing, arguing in part that the governor’s decision to sign the warrant was unfairly influenced by the editorial board.

A spokeswoman for Scott said he had not read the book.

Ciaglia said Gore blamed him after the death warrant was signed. Ciaglia said he is opposed to the death penalty.

“I told him that I did not actively pursue it. That there’s a lot of people – because you did some really, really bad things – there’s a lot of people that hate you and they want to see you executed and they used these letters to get people’s attention as to the horrible crimes that you committed,” Ciaglia said.

“The only person you can blame is Gore himself,” Earley said. “His candour and his lack of compassion, empathy and remorse is stomach-churning.”

Update april 5, source :

If all goes as planned, Carl Elliott  and his extended family next Thursday will make a trip that has eluded them for nearly 30 years.

At 6 p.m., the 81-year-old plans to be sitting next to loved ones in a viewing area at Florida State Prison when a lethal cocktail is administered to the now 58-year-old serial killer who raped and killed Elliott’s 17-year-old daughter, Lynn, in Vero Beach in 1983. David Alan Gore, who picked up Lynn Elliott and a 14-year-old friend who were hitchhiking to the beach, later confessed to murdering five other women and received five life sentences.

“We’ve been patiently waiting for this after all these years. We miss her everyday,” Elliott said. “We’re ready to go up there and see it done.”

Whether Elliott and his family will finally see Gore die for murdering the teen now rests with the Florida Supreme Court.

And, thanks to a two-week-old U.S. Supreme Court decision, the options facing the state’s high court aren’t clear-cut. In arguments Wednesday, an attorney representing Gore urged justices not to make a snap judgment in his case.

“It effects not just Mr. Gore and not just Death Row inmates,” attorney Martin McClain said of the high court’s recent decision. It will impact hundreds of inmates who were convicted of far lesser crimes than murder, he said.

He urged the justices to stay Gore’s planned execution to give attorneys throughout the state the chance to weigh in on what one justice called a “troubling” ruling that allows inmates to return to court after their initial appeals to argue that their attorneys did a bad job. Since claims of ineffective assistance of counsel aren’t allowed until after a case goes through standard appeals, some claim the ruling could pave the way for court-appointed attorneys to represent prisoners after their initial appeals have been exhausted.

In Gore’s case, McClain argued, he had not just one bad attorney but two. Stuart attorney Robert Udell, who gained fame in Palm Beach County when he represented teacher-killer Nathaniel Brazill in 2001 and was subsequently disbarred for financial misdeeds, made numerous errors when he represented Gore in a 1992 resentencing hearing, McClain said. For instance, he failed to tell the jury about Gore’s alcohol, drug abuse and mental health problems or that chances were slim that he would ever be released if he received life in prison.

Another attorney, Andrew Graham, in 1999 argued that Udell’s incompetence caused a second jury to recommend Gore receive the death penalty instead of a life sentence. But Udell denied he was at fault. Udell blamed another attorney, Jerome Nickerson, who he claimed was the lead attorney during Gore’s resentencing. However, Graham never found Nickerson, who had moved out of state, which gave him little ammunition in the appeal that was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court in 2007.

As evidence of Graham’s incompetence, McClain said he was able to find Nickerson with a quick Google search. The discovery of Nickerson is new evidence that should, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, give Gore another basis for appeal, he said.

Justices appeared less than enamored with McClain’s efforts to use the recent decision to spare Gore.

Justice Barbara Pariente said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case involving convicted sex offender Luis Mariano Martinez is aimed at federal courts.

“It has everything to do with the nightmare that’s going to be created in the federal system,” she said of the opportunity for inmates to flood courts with appeals. “It has nothing to do with what states are forced to look at.”

Further, she said, McClain has had years to find Nickerson and lodge an appeal. McClain countered that, until the Martinez decision, he had no way to challenge Graham’s incompetence.

Justice Peggy Quince said “the language of Martinez is really troubling” and it appears the ruling is far-reaching.

Assistant Florida attorney general Celia Terenzio said there is no reason to delay Gore’s execution. Even if Udell or Graham didn’t represent Gore well, the Florida Supreme Court in 2007 said their actions didn’t spur the jury to recommend that he be sentenced to death. “There was no prejudice,” she said.

Further, she said, the Martinez decision is very narrow, applying to people whose appeals were blocked on procedural grounds. Gore has had numerous appeals since he was first sent to Death Row in 1984, including one for ineffective assistance of counsel, which was rejected. Also, she said, the high court didn’t say people have a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney in post-conviction appeals, only that in certain cases it may be necessary.

In death penalty cases, Florida always provides inmates with appellate lawyers for post-conviction appeals, she said.

Court-watchers said the decision facing the Florida Supreme Court’s is difficult.

“The Florida Supreme Court is going to have to look at this as a new ruling without any guidance for how it’s going

to be interpreted,” said attorney Michael Minerva, CEO of the Innocence Project of Florida. “The prudent thing to do would be to get additional time to figure out how it applies to Florida courts.”

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, agreed. “It wouldn’t be the first time an execution has been stayed because the Supreme Court surprises people with a decision.

Read more: click here

Update march 29  source :

The state Supreme Court on Thursday granted a request by David Alan Gore to hold oral arguments Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the condemned man’s appeal of a court ruling that recently denied him a hearing.

Gore’s lawyers on Monday appealed to the Florida Supreme Court an order issued by Circuit Judge Dan L. Vaughn that denied the serial killer’s request for a hearing to present evidence related to legal claims raised in an effort to stop his April 12 execution.

Gore, 58, is under a death warrant Gov. Rick Scott signed Feb. 28 for the July 16, 1983, first-degree murder of Lynn Elliott, 17, of Vero Beach.

Gore’s legal claims center on allegations of having inadequate legal counsel during his post-conviction relief proceedings. He’s further claimed his execution should be stopped in part because the clemency process in his case was applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of his U.S. constitutional rights. Another claim alleged that because of the 28 years Gore has spent on death row, adding his execution to that punishment would constitute cruel and unusual punishment

Update march 28, source : http://www.tcpalm.c 

As gores’s execution nears, family of victim reflects on loss, changes

Mike and Nancy Byer left Florida in 1988 in search of a fresh start.

“I wanted to go where nobody knew me, and I didn’t know anybody,” Mike said.

Who could blame them?

Just five years earlier, their 14-year-old daughter, Barbara Ann, was killed by Fred Waterfield and David Alan Gore. Her friend, Angel LaVallee, also was killed.

Mike was the last person to see Barbie alive. She was standing outside a 7-Eleven in Orlando. (Mike was driving a service vehicle for his truck-repair business when he passed by the convenience store.)

Later, on the streets of Orlando, the teenage girls — who met while attending Howard Junior High School — would cross paths with Indian River County’s infamous serial killers.

“Gore and Waterfield were hunters,” Nancy said. “They went out for prey.”

Update march 21 source :

Attorneys representing David Alan Gore on Wednesday filed papers with the state Supreme Court appealing a judge’s ruling denying the condemned serial killer a chance to present evidence in court in an effort to stop his execution April 12 at Florida State Prison.

Gore was condemned to death for the July 1983 shooting death of Vero Beach teenagerLynn Elliott. He also pleaded guilty in the murder of five other women in Indian River County between 1981 and 1983.

Appeal papers filed by defense attorneys John Abatecola and Linda McDermott ask the Florida Supreme Court to review Circuit Judge Dan L. Vaughn’s March 15 rulings, which rejected Gore’s request to hold an evidentiary hearing, and refused to set aside his sentence of death.

The Florida Supreme Court already has issued an expedited schedule in Gore’s case, setting a deadline of April 2 for legal briefs to be filed. Oral arguments, if required by the justices, will be held April 4 in Tallahassee.

read Gore’s case click here

TEXAS – Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases

march, 21   source :

Death row inmate Jesse Joe Hernandez, set to be executed next week for the 2001 death of a 10-month-old boy in Dallas, is hoping that a ruling Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court could give him another chance to prove that the tragedy was not entirely his fault.

The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not prevent the defendant from making that argument later on. Lawyers across the country, including those for at least two Texas death row inmates, were eagerly awaiting the court’s ruling in the Martinez v. Ryancase out of Arizona, which could expand appeals access for inmates.

A procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in the proceeding was ineffective,” the court majority held.

Habeas lawyers investigate issues that could or should have been raised during a defendant’s original trial.

Brad Levenson, director of the Texas Office of Capital Writs, filed a petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Hernandez,arguing that his March 28 execution should be stayed, in part, because of the court’s ruling.

Although the ruling applies to federal courts, Levenson said, Texas’ highest criminal court should take its cue from the nation’s highest court and hear Hernandez’s claims.

Hernandez was convicted in 2002 for the death of a child who lived in the home where he lived at the time. Hernandez admitted he hit the child, who was rushed to the hospital, where he was put into a medically induced coma and then died after he was removed from life support.

In a writ filed Tuesday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Hernandez argues that his actions did not directly cause the child’s death. Instead, an expert who recently reviewed the medical records concluded that the hospital gave the child a lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital and that he was pulled from life support too soon.

There’s no way to tell at end of day whether he would have survived,” Levenson said. “Our expert said there’s a very real probability the child could have lived.”

Levenson said Hernandez’s trial lawyers and his initial appeals lawyers were ineffective because they failed to do further investigation and hire their own experts to find out why the child died. Levenson, who took the case only three weeks ago, hired a doctor who reviewed the medical records and determined that the little boy had not been diagnosed as brain-dead before he was removed from life support and that he was given toxic doses of pentobarbital.

It’s not to say that Mr. Hernandez is not guilty of a crime, but he’s not guilty of capital murder,” Levenson said.

Current law, though, could prohibit Hernandez from arguing that because his original trial lawyers were ineffective by not further investigating the cause of death that he should get a new trial. Those kinds of claims must be raised from the beginning of the appeals process to be valid later on. And Hernandez’s previous habeas lawyers did not argue that he was inadequately represented.

Levenson said that even though Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling applies to claims made in federal court — not state writs like the one he filed — the same principle ought to apply.

We’re saying the state courts should also take a look at these claims for the same reason the Supreme Court would take a look at them,” he said.

The ruling could also be a boon for death row inmate Rob Will, who was convicted in 2002 of fatally shooting a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Will says that the man he was with that night was the real shooter and that he is innocent.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison denied Will’s pleas for a new trial but wrote that he lamented doing so because of “disturbing uncertainties” raised about his guilt.

Will is hoping the court’s ruling in Martinez will allow him to argue that he should get a new trial because both his trial lawyer and his state-appointed habeas lawyer were ineffective when they failed to track down several witnesses who have testified that the other man confessed to the killing.

MISSISSIPPI – Death row appeal rejected – Jeffrey Havard

march 13, 2012


Read his case (his own words) :

source :

The state Supreme Court has unanimously denied an appeal from death row inmate Jeffrey Havard, moving him one step closer to execution.

Justices last week rejected the 33-year-old inmate’s appeal, writing, “There is no merit to Havard’s claim that newly discovered evidence exists that supports his innocence. This issue is procedurally barred by time.”

On Feb. 21, 2002, 6-month-old Chloe Britt died, and prosecutors say Havard sexually abused and killed her. Havard was convicted of capital murder. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her.

Chloe’s mother, Rebecca Britt, who is convinced of Havard’s guilt, expressed gratitude Monday. “There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that was going to happen,” she said.

One of Havard’s attorneys on appeal, Graham Carner of Jackson, said they may seek a rehearing. “We’re considering doing it,” he said.

Havard’s case is also before U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, where Havard is challenging his conviction on constitutional grounds.

The case before Starrett was stayed, pending the final decision by the state Supreme Court.

In looking through the records of the case, Havard’s attorneys on appeal noticed a reference to a videotaped statement by Rebecca Britt.

After repeated requests, they finally obtained the tape and believed her initial statement to authorities differed in tone and substance from the testimony she gave at trial.

In her initial statement, she told authorities Havard “loved Chloe,” that Havard changed her diapers and gave her bottles, and didn’t seem surprised Havard gave her daughter a bath.

But during the trial, she testified Havard never changed Chloe’s diapers and never bathed the child.

Havard’s attorneys allege his trial counsel was ineffective because they failed to use the statement to challenge Rebecca’s credibility.

Justices disagreed, saying Havard failed to explain how the statement would support his defense. “There is no reasonable likelihood that Britt’s testimony, if false, affected the judgment of the jury,” they wrote. “Havard cannot demonstrate how he was prejudiced.”

When Chloe was brought to the emergency room at Natchez Community Hospital, she was blue, and her eyes were fixed and dilated, according to medical reports. A nurse noticed her anus was dilated to the size of a quarter, and law enforcement was contacted.

At trial, pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”

But Hayne has since acknowledged to Havard’s attorneys the contusion was found in an area easily injured and a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room to check Chloe’s temperature could cause such a contusion but that he did not think it was likely.

Hayne also said he could not exclude that possibility.

Hayne found no anal tearing and said dilated anal sphincters also may be seen on people without significant brain function and that the contusion was not sufficient to determine a sexual assault occurred. A rape kit conducted at the time found no evidence of semen.

At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Hayne’s autopsy report and photographs and concluded there was no evidence of sexual abuse – or even of a homicide.

The injuries described at autopsy were consistent with “the baby being accidentally dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as the father described,” Baden said.

The anal abrasion described in the autopsy can be the result of common causes, such as constipation, diarrhea, toilet paper or even rubbing against a diaper, he said.

Justices agreed anal dilation alone does not suggest sexual abuse. “However, as the state points out, Chloe’s dilated anal sphincter was discovered while Chloe was in the emergency room and still alive.

The high court concluded the defense argument was procedurally barred, and even if it weren’t, “the issue is without merit.”

Jennifer Luttman, 30, of Pisgah, Ala., who dated Havard in 2001, is convinced Havard is innocent. “This is not in his demeanor to do something like this,” she said.

She praised his attentiveness to her son, Ryan, then less than a year old, even getting on the floor and playing.

Since Havard’s conviction, she has decided to pursue a career as a paralegal, she said. “My main reason for studying law is to help him.

my own comment :

rigor mortis—can often cause the anus to dilate after death.

Hayne testified at Havard’s trial that bruises, scratches, and cranial bleeding indicated a case of shaken baby syndrome. 

Rebecca Britt  changes her version of  statement.

if you read the trial, you realize that there are many contradictions

TEXAS – Larry Swearingen back in court


Swearingen official website 

        Swearingen Legal documents (pdf)

A defense expert in the hearing of convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen reluctantly agreed with prosecutors Thursday that histology – the study of microscopic cell tissue – isn’t an accepted method to determine the time of death in a body.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Stephen Jackson accused the state of asking a “trick question” and stressed the science is valid.

“If the (science) was not well-based, it would have been excluded by now (by state District Court Judge Fred Edwards). And that hasn’t happened,” Jackson said.

The hearing, which began Monday in Edwards’ 9th state District Court, was ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in July 2011 to hear Swearingen’s claim of innocence.

Like the first three days, the fourth day of the hearing focused on the condition of Trotter’s body when it was found. The defense argued the condition of the body and, more important, microscopic slides of Trotter’s heart and liver, prove she could not have died 22-25 days prior to discovery.

However, during cross-examination of Galveston County Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik, the prosecution challenged the validity of histology in determining the postmortem interval – the time from death to when a body is found.

On more than one occasion, Special Prosecutor Lyn McClelland asked Pustilnik to examine several books on forensic pathology and see if Pustilnik could locate “any reference in any book” that connects the use of histology to determine PMI.

“They don’t exist,” Pustilnik said.

“The defense’s position is not valid science,” Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam said.

The hearing resumes Monday with the prosecution to present its experts.

Swearingen’s Claim

Larry Ray Swearingen, 40, was sentenced in 2000 to die by lethal injection for the murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter of Willis. Since then, he has received three stays from execution. He claims he couldn’t have killed Trotter because he was in jail on Dec. 11, 1998. Trotter disappeared on Dec. 8, 1998 and her body was found on Jan. 2, 1999 in the Sam Houston National Forest.


March 9 2012

 photo by Eric S. Swist

The canopy of trees so prevalent in the Sam Houston National Forest played a role in the condition of Melissa Trotter’s body when found 25 days after her disappearance, a meteorological expert testified Thursday.

Richard Grant, a professor at Purdue University, said the temperature at tree-top level is not dissimilar to the temperature in an open field.

However, Grant, an expert on microclimate, said the solar heat is diffused as it works its way to the forest floor.

Approximately 20 percent of the solar energy reaches the bottom of the forest, he said.

Questioned by prosecutor Warren Diepraam, Grant testified the temperatures on a forest floor tend to be more consistent than in a more open environment.

“The heat transfer is lower,” Grant said. “The temperature of the (forest) can’t be the same as an open field.”

Testimony in the hearing is expected to conclude today. Edwards may issue a ruling or send all evidence and testimony to the TTCA. Either way, a determination is not expected before a couple of months.

Source :


March 8 2012

The battle of the experts continued Wednesday at the hearing of convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen.

Forensic Entomologist Neal Haskell testified under cross-examination that he could extract a time of death based on DNA, weather data and autopsy photographs.

Prosecutor Warren Diepraam asked Haskell if the forensic evidence he was shown Wednesday was consistent with the condition of Trotter’s body found 25 days after her disappearance.

Haskell agreed.

Later in the day, Sibyl Bucheli, of Sam Houston State University, was called to the stand to testify about the decomposition of the human body.

Bucheli said data obtained at SHSU proved to be “entirely” consistent with the decomposition of Trotter’s body, Diepraam said.

“She (Bucheli) showed (Trotter’s) internal organs didn’t turn to mush as the defense alleged,” he said.

Defense attorney Stephen Jackson challenged Bucheli’s qualifications.

“She just received a PhD in Philosophy from Ohio State,” Jackson said. “She cherry-picked a body (at SHSU) that is not consistent with 17 days of 20-degree weather when the temperature was up in the 70s. It’s apples to oranges.”

The hearing is expected to conclude today.

source :

March 6 2012

The former Harris County medical examiner who conducted the autopsy in the Larry Swearingen murder case testified on Tuesday that his attorney misrepresented her opinion.

Dr. Joye M. Carter said during an evidentiary hearing that she did not reverse her opinion concerning how long Melissa Trotter‘s body had been in the Sam Houston National Forest, as Swearingen’s attorneyJames Rytting claimed in a 2007 affidavit.

Swearingen received a stay of execution after Rytting cited the affidavit in an appeal. He is on death row for the strangulation and sexual assault of Trotter, 19, who went missing on Dec. 8, 1998, from Lone Star College-Montgomery. Her body was discovered 25 days later.

During the 2000 trial, Carter testified the body had been in the woods for 25 days or so, placing the time of death on Dec. 8.

But Rytting tried to get Carter to say the wording in the affidavit indicated that the body was in the woods a maximum of 14 days, placing the time of death on or after Dec. 12.

Swearingen contends he could not have killed Trotter because he was in jail on Dec. 11 on an unrelated charge.

The hearing will determine whether Swearingen should receive a new trial.