A Texas death row inmate continued to maintain his innocence up until he was executed Wednesday.
Larry Ray Swearingen was executed at 6:47 p.m. for the death of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter.
“Lord forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” he said in his last words.
Swearingen was sentenced to death in July 2000 for Trotter’s abduction, rape and murder.
The Montgomery College student was last seen alive on December 8, 1998. Her body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest on January 2, 1999, with a torn pair of pantyhose tied around her neck.
Swearingen repeatedly challenged his conviction and sentence over the years, and his execution was postponed five times. Over the years, he argued that the case against him was built on circumstantial evidence and questionable forensics.
Prosecutors contended that Swearingen killed Trotter after she rejected his sexual advances. Witnesses testified they saw Trotter leave campus with Swearingen on December 8, according to court documents. The state also pointed to the fact that Swearingen’s wife found a lighter and a pack of cigarettes matching Trotter’s preferred brand in the couple’s trailer, although they did not smoke, and a detective found a pair of pantyhose in the trash outside the trailer with one leg missing.
In a prepared statement his lawyer released after his death, Swearingen said he had proved his “innocence beyond any shadow of doubt,” although it was not enough to stop his execution.
“Today the State of Texas murdered an innocent man. Sadly, so many people have suffered from all this. Melissa’s family and friends were denied the opportunity for closure. My family was torn apart,” the statement said.
“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.”
One last appeal
The week before his execution, Swearingen requested another stay based on two claims, according to court documents.
He argued that the state allowed “false and misleading” trial testimony regarding blood flecks found under Trotter’s fingernails. He also claimed the state knew that a criminologist had “manufactured” evidence that the torn pantyhose used to strangle Trotter matched pantyhose found at Swearingen’s house.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request on August 16, saying the evidence he presented to support his claims was not strong enough to have made a difference to the outcome of his trial.
On Wednesday night, the Supreme Court turned down Swearingen’s final appeal.
Swearingen nevertheless continued to maintain his innocence in an interview with the Houston Chronicle published Wednesday, and questioned if his scheduled execution would come to pass.
But the slain teen’s mother told the Chronicle she is still convinced of his guilt.
“The overwhelming evidence is not just a coincidence,” Sandy Trotter said. “There was a trial; he was found guilty, and they agreed on a sentence.”
CNN’s Sheena Jones contributed to this report.