A man named Larry Swearingen drew his last breath on Wednesday in a Texas state penitentiary.
For the most part, when a 48-year-old man loses his life, it's sad. The premature death of an individual makes one think of lost potential. In this case, the lost potential had nothing to do with Larry Swearingen's miserable existence. The true loss was that of Melissa Trotter.
Twenty years ago, Swearingen kidnapped, raped and murdered Trotter. Her body wasn't even found until a month after the heinous act. She was just 19 years old.
Swearingen maintained his innocence until the bitter end. But forensic science, skilled work by law enforcement and an iron-clad case built by Texas prosecutors proved otherwise. A Texas court pointed to a "mountain of evidence" in support of Swearingen's conviction in denying his appeal.
Kelly Blackburn, the trial bureau chief for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Swearingen, said Swearingen's efforts to discredit the evidence were unsuccessful because his experts' opinions didn't "hold water."
"I have absolutely zero doubt that anybody but Larry Swearingen killed ... Melissa Trotter," he said.
There are many opponents of the death penalty out there. Some people feel it is simply immoral to take a human life -- no matter what that person's crime. They will argue that life imprisonment is a better option.
While I do think capitol punishment should be reserved for the worst of the worst, I also believe it is necessary to promote a moral order.
Does the death penalty cross a constitutional line? The Eighth Amendment says "cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted."
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had this to say on the matter in 2015:
"Petitioners, sentenced to die for the crimes they committed (including, in the case of one petitioner since put to death, raping and murdering an 11-month-old baby), come before this Court asking us to nullify their sentences as 'cruel and unusual' under the Eighth Amendment," Scalia said. "They rely on this provision because it is the only provision they can rely on. They were charged by a sovereign State with murder. They were afforded counsel and tried before a jury of their peers--tried twice, once to determine whether they were guilty and once to determine whether death was the appropriate sentence. They were duly convicted and sentenced.
"Historically, the Eighth Amendment was understood to bar only those punishments that added 'terror, pain, or disgrace' to an otherwise permissible capital sentence," Scalia added. "I would not presume to tell parents whose life has been forever altered by the brutal murder of a child that life imprisonment is punishment enough."
I have to agree with the late Justice.
Cruel and unusual is the senseless murder of a young girl. Melissa Trotter and her family did not deserve what happened to them 20 years ago.
Swearingen got exactly what he deserved on Wednesday -- and his death was far less brutal than that of Melissa's.
What happened to Swearingen was neither cruel or unusual.
It was justice.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.