Monday, September 5, 2011


"Dr. Larkin then all but dares any reputable forensic pathologist to challenge his conclusion that Melissa Trotter was killed after Larry Swearingen was incarcerated. While I'm distressed that he did not mention anything about the stomach contents, I'm unwilling to dispute him.

So too was the original pathologist, Dr. Joye Carter. She had, by the time Dr. Larkin wrote his addendum to her autopsy report, moved on to become the Chief Forensic Pathologist for Marion County, Indiana. She actually prepared an affidavit agreeing with Dr. Larkin that she had incorrectly placed the date of death way too early. I include a few segments from her affidavit below."

THE SKEPTICAL JUROR; "The Skeptical Juror" - otherwise known as J. Bennett Allen - has brought his skeptical mind to several controversial American cases which have become the subject of his books, including the trials of Cameron Todd Willingham and Cory Maye. Allen's books are characterized by their focus on the nitty-gritty of criminal trials through court transcripts, documents and other exhibits. (Often omitted by other writers because they get in the way of telling the story!) He has now brought his inquisitive nature and raw intelligence to the prosecution of Larry Swearingen in a several part series published on his website:; Allen tells his readers: I come by that name honestly. I’ve served jury duty more than most. I’ve been summoned more than ten times. I can’t recall how many more precisely, just that it's more than ten. I’ve been called enough times that I’ve lost track. Allen knows from what he speaks. As he tells his readers; "I’ve been called into the jury box seven times for voir dire. I’ve actually served on a jury four times, all criminal cases, all felonies. I was an alternate during my first trial. I was the foreperson in the next three: murder, spousal battery, and child molestation. The last trial was a life-changing event. It led me to create this website, a pending series of books, and this persona. The dictionary defines “skeptical” as “not easily convinced, having doubts or reservations.” A Skeptical Juror, then, truly and without reservation grants each defendant the presumption of innocence. A Skeptical Juror insists the state carry the burden of proof, and will not vote guilty unless and until the state proves each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt. A Skeptical Juror is focused on the evidence and is impervious to the drama. Most jurors believe they adhere to these precepts. Experience cautions me otherwise. But I am not merely A Skeptical Juror. I am The Skeptical Juror, as if there is but one. To be sure, there are many other jurors out there who apply a high level of skepticism when adjudicating a case. I fear they are too few, but the existence of just one other is sufficient to prove I am not The One and Only Skeptical Juror. I use the title simply because it is more marketable than A Skeptical Juror. And because it’s cooler."


BACKGROUND: Larry Swearingen was sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder of Melissa Trotter in 1998. Melissa Trotter went missing on 8 December 1998. Larry Swearingen was arrested three days later, and has been incarcerated ever since. The body of Melissa Trotter was found in a forest on 2 January 1999. Larry Swearingen was tried for her murder, and sentenced to death. He maintains his innocence of the murder. Several forensic experts have provided statements and testimony that support his claim. One of these experts, Dr Joyce Carter, is the former Chief Medical Examiner of Harris County in Texas who performed the autopsy of Melissa Trotter and testified at Larry Swearingen’s trial that in her opinion, Melissa Trotter had died 25 days before her body was found. In an affidavit signed in 2007, Dr Carter stated that she had looked again at the case and changed her opinion. She concluded that Melissa Trotter’s body had been left in the forest within two weeks of it being found. If accurate, this would mean that the body was dumped at a time when Larry Swearingen was already in custody.


"The people of Texas nearly put Larry Swearingen to death this month for the kidnapping, attempted rape, and actual murder of Melissa Trotter," the Skeptical Juror post published on August 24, 2011 under the heading, "The Absolutely Astounding Case of Larry Swearingen: Part 3," begins.

"In Part 1, I laid out the (nearly) overwhelming case against him. In Part 2, I provided further evidence of his moral turpitude. Then I explained why I would have voted Not Guilty, and fought hard to convince my fellow jurors to agree with me,"
the post continues.

"You should read those parts first if you are to understand this final post of the series. Part 1 will lead you to Part 2 which will lead you back here. I'll wait.

Welcome back. While you were gone, I was singing Infinity Bottles of Beer on the Wall. %% Take one down, pass it around, infinity bottles of beer on the wall. %%

The issue that caused me great trouble as a vicarious juror was that the ME, Chief Medical Examiner Joye M. Carter, M.D., FCAP, testified that the body had been dead approximately 25 days before it was discovered on January 2. That coincidentally (I'm sure) placed the approximate date of death on December 8, the day that Larry Swearingen was seen with her, the day he had a date with her.

That bothered me a little.

The ME also testified that "Trotter's stomach contained not only what appeared to be a form of potato, but also what appeared to be chicken and a small amount of greenish vegetable material."

That bothered me a lot. I don't believe it is close to possible that the food would have been preserved for 25 days. I think that means she was killed not too long before she was found. Since Larry Swearingen was arrested on 11 December on unrelated charges, I concluded he couldn't have killed her.

It's now time to see if I screwed up.

Almost 10 years after the ME wrote her autopsy report, Dr. G.M. Larkin (of North Carolina, not Texas) prepared an addendum to the ME's autopsy report. Dr. Larkin's work has no particular legal standing. We consider it here for its scientific insight. Dr. Larkin made 21 points. I repeat or paraphrase them below.

1. Because Mr. Swearingen was incarcerated on December 11 and has remained in prison thereafter, the following forensic conclusion not only is supportable, it cannot be reasonably questioned , Someone else, not Mr. Swearingen, left the body of Ms. Trotter in the Sam Houston National Forest where it was found on January 2.
2. December 23, 2007, is the soonest that Trotter's body could have been left in the woods, which is to say 12 days after Mr. Swearingen was incarcerated. ... Indeed, undisputed forensic evidence, namely the external appearance and the description of the internal organs and tissues, and photographs of resected organs strongly support a date as late as ... nineteen days after Mr. Swearingen was incarcerated and three weeks later than the date the State maintains Trotter's body was left in the Sam Houston National Forest.
3. (In arriving at my conclusions, I have considered the weather.)
4. All pathologic diagnoses are based on the fact that changes in death are predictable, cumulative and irreversible. Changes are additive. (Also, I have accounted for the weather.)
5. (I have accounted for the weather.)
6. Dr. Carter's description of specific internal organs is sufficient to establish with certainty that Trotter's body was not left exposed in the woods until well after December 11, the date Swearingen was incarcerated.
7. If Trotter was killed in the woods or her body left in the woods near the time of death, the pancreas would not have been present in the condition described by Dr. Carter unless exposure in the Sam Houston Forest occurred after December 28.
8. Pancreatic cells produces digestive enzymes. upon death, metabolic processes that prevent the enzymes from acting on the pancreas' own tissue cells. Liquefaction of the pancreas to the point it looses internal structure and becomes a sludge incapable of being sectioned consequently may occur within 24 to 48 hours even under hospital or morgue conditions where the environment and temperature are controlled.
9. The condition of Trotter's spleen at autopsy supports the conclusion that Trotter's body was not exposed in the forest until well after Mr . Swearingen was incarcerated. Like the pancreas, the spleen autolyzes [digests itself] relatively rapidly even under hospital and morgue conditions. The autopsy report's description of the spleen, however, fits that of tissue from a recently deceased person. The ... organ has the appearance of tissue from a recently (3-4 days) deceased person.
10. Dr. Carter's examination of the liver is remarkable evidence that Trotter's body had not been in the woods for more than ten days and in all probability for far less time. The liver is a large organ that loses integrity and autolyzes [digests itself] relatively rapidly, forming gas bubbles as it does, which makes it crepitant, a bit like bubble wrap. However, Dr. Carter was able to remove the liver and section it, using essentially the same methods used upon the pancreas. Microscopic examination failed to reveal perforations due to gas bubbles ...
11. Dr. Carter's examination of the gastrointestinal tract strongly confirms the conclusion that Trotter's body was exposed ... for ten days or less. Dr. Carter found the esophagus intact. She dissected the stomach, and was able to rinse and examine the gastric mucosa. Dr. Carter also found both the large and small intestines intact and un-perforated. Further, the mucosal lining of the intestines was still present at autopsy.
12. Mucosa is a fragile tissue that readily decomposes under temperature conditions such as those reported ... The gastric mucosa and intestinal mucosa do not decompose in a living organism due to the protective enzymes that these tissues secret while functioning. After death, these tissues quickly disintegrate. In Trotter's case, the conditions in which the mucosa were preserved allowed Dr. Carter to identify them, examine them for pathology, and subject them to mechanical processes such as dissection and rinsing. It is a medical certainty, that these tissues would not have retained the integrity seen at autopsy unless the body had been left ... less than ten days prior to the date of recovery. Indeed, it is very unlikely that Dr. Carter would have found these tissues in the condition described at autopsy unless the body had only been exposed in the woods for substantially less time -- a matter of 3 to 4 days. ...
13. Dr Carter found that the breast tissue was "firm and intact." She was able to remove breast tissue, section it serially and examine it for pathology. The condition of this tissue corroborates conclusions that follow from Dr. Carter's description of internal organs.
14. Dr. Carter's descriptions ... and photographs depicting the external appearance of the body also supports the conclusion that Trotter's body was in the Sam Houston National Forest no more than ten days at the very longest. ...
15. Furthermore, crime scene reports indicate that the body did not have an odor even though daily high temperatures from December 29, 1998 through January 2, 1999 consistently approached 70 degrees Fahrenheit and average temperatures were near 60°.
16. Dr. Carter's ... reported that the weight of the body clothed was 113 lbs while the nude body was 105 lbs. Medical records show that approximately two weeks before December 8, 1998, Trotter weighed 109 pounds at her doctor's office. The weights are remarkable in that they demonstrate very insubstantial or no loss in body weight, Even if a corpse is not scavenged, and there was remarkably little scavenging in this case, a body will lose up to 90% of its weight, in less time than 25 days, when exposed under temperature conditions prevailing in the Conroe area ...
17. Dr. Carter states that the brain was in a semi-liquid state, and states further, that upon removal, there was complete loss of normal tissue architecture. However, the report shows that the brain retained sufficient integrity even upon removal to enable Dr. Carter to make judgments regarding the presence or absence of subdural and subarachnoid hematomas. Dr. Carter was also able to examine the parenchyma and exclude preexisting lesions. Her report indicates, too, that the ventricles were discernible and normal in appearance.
18. Under conditions prevailing in the Conroe area were the body was found, the brain in this case would have completely liquefied in a matter of days. If Trotter's body had been placed in the woods as late as December 23, 1998, Dr. Carter would not have been able to remove the brain for examination; it would have been a soup incapable of being examined for lesions or abnormalities. ...
19. Positive findings by autopsy establish that Trotter's body was not left exposed ... until December 23, 1998, at the very earliest. Besides positive findings, the absence of expected decompositional changes indicates exposure well after the date on which Mr. Swearingen was incarcerated. Bloating, for example, normally occurs after two or three days. It distorts breast and genital tissues, causing them to inflate grossly out of proportion. It also causes perforation of the stomach and intestines. However, Trotter's body did not exhibit any of the distorting changes caused by bloating and her gut was intact.
20. In wilderness areas ... considerable scavenging by birds and mammals take place, but the body from the neck down did not exhibit any insults that could clearly be attributable to animal activity even though crime scene photos show that the body was found with torso exposed, as were the upper extremities, which again, did not exhibit any scavenging at all.
21. The following forensic conclusion is therefore not reasonably debatable amongst competent forensic pathologists: Without question, Mr. Swearingen was not the person who left Ms. Trotter's body in the Sam Houston National Forest.

In summary, Dr. Larkin claims the following features of Mellissa Trotter's corpse preclude any possibility that she was killed earlier than December 23, 12 days after Swearingen had been incarcerated:

* Pancreas had not liquefied
* Spleen had not autolyzed (digested itself)
* Liver had not been perforated by its own bubbles
* Lining of gastrointestinal tract still retained its integrity
* Breast tissue still firm and intact
* Body has lost only 4% (not 90%) of its weight!!
* Brain was not liquified
* Body showed no signs of bloating; it did not smell
* Body not scavenged by animals, though torso and arms exposed

Dr. Larkin then all but dares any reputable forensic pathologist to challenge his conclusion that Melissa Trotter was killed after Larry Swearingen was incarcerated. While I'm distressed that he did not mention anything about the stomach contents, I'm unwilling to dispute him.

So too was the original pathologist, Dr. Joye Carter. She had, by the time Dr. Larkin wrote his addendum to her autopsy report, moved on to become the Chief Forensic Pathologist for Marion County, Indiana. She actually prepared an affidavit agreeing with Dr. Larkin that she had incorrectly placed the date of death way too early. I include a few segments from her affidavit below.

At trial in Mr. Swearingen's case I was asked if I had formed an opinion about the date of death in this case. Review of my trial testimony shows that I testified that I had formed an opinion that the date of death was 25 days prior to disappearance. As reflected in my testimony, this opinion was based primarily on the external appearance of the body. ...

Review of my trial testimony reveals that I was not asked by prosecutors, or by defense counsel, to address the significance of my internal examination of Ms. Trotter's body. Nor was I asked to address in detail the question of how long Ms. Trotter's body had been left exposed in the Sam Houston National Forest. ...

For the purpose of making this statement, I have reviewed ... several pieces of forensically important information that ... were not made available to during trial or pretrial proceedings. This information includes ... medical records giving Melissa Trotter's weight before she was reported missing ...

The medical record shows that Ms. Trotter weight 109 pounds at her doctor's office on November 23, 1998, two weeks before the date she was reported missing. ...

The forensic opinions, herein, address the significance of autopsy findings made during the internal examination of Ms. Trotter's body in the context of the foregoing information. They represent what I would have testified to at trial if I had been provided this information and if attorneys for the state and defense had asked me to address the significance of findings made pursuant to the internal examination of Ms. Trotter's body. ...

... The autopsy report reflects that internal organs were in their usual anatomic positions. Several of these organs, including the pancreas, the spleen and the liver, were dissected out, sectioned, examined for pre-existing pathology, photographed and described. Organ weights were near or within normal range.

Pancreas, spleen, and liver tissues is know to autolyze [self-digest] quickly. At room temperature, it is not unusual for these organs to liquefy within days. ... These internal findings support a forensic opinion that the body had not been exposed more than two weeks in the forest environment.

... The gastrointestinal system was found intact. Furthermore, gastric mucosa, a fragile tissue which decomposes quickly, was still present and was rinsed and described. ...

The weight of the Trotter's corpse at autopsy increases the level of confidence that can be placed in the forensic conclusions drawn from findings made during the internal examination of the body ... and supports a forensic opinion that Ms. Trotter's body was left in the woods within two weeks of the date of discovery.Well that certainly wasn't easy for her to write. I give her enormous credit for attempting to correct a grievous error, but I give her a low score for her efforts to explain away the error. She blamed the prosecutor and the defense attorney and everyone else as well for not telling her about Trotter's weight. (Assuming the body loses about 90% of its weight in 25 days, perhaps she believed Trotter weight 1050 pounds before she was killed.)

Well, that certainly wasn't easy for her to write. I give her tremendous credit for attempting to correct a grievous error. I give her substantially less credit for her efforts to put the blame on the attorneys for not asking the right questions, or for all the anonymous people who failed to tell her about Trotter's pre-death body weight of 109 pounds. Given that a body can lose 90% of its weight in 25 days, perhaps Dr. Carter believed Melissa Trotter weighed 1050 pounds just before she was killed.

Dr. Carter also claimed she was asked only about the external condition of the body. No way, I say. I remember specifically that she testified about the stomach contents, and I'm pretty sure that those are on the inside. And by the way, if the body loses 90% of its weight in 25 days, I'm guessing the stomach contents lose at least that much. In other words, I'm going to claim my suspicion about the stomach contents was correct.

We're not yet done with the case of Larry Swearingen. We still need to discuss why the people of Texas intended to execute him, even though it's now clear he could not have killed Melissa Trotter."


The post can be found at:


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;;