AUSTIN — A second conviction stemming from Austin's "Yogurt Shop Murders" was overturned on appeal today, leaving prosecutors with no convictions from one of the city's most notorious crimes in which four teenage girls were killed.
A divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today ruled that Michael Scott got an unfair capital murder trial because he was not allowed to cross-examine co-defendant Robert Springsteen IV, who had given a statement to police incriminating him.
A lower appeals court ruled against Scott, but the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-4 to order a new trial. The court had the same margin when it overturned Springsteen's capital murder conviction last year.
Springsteen, who was 17 in 1991 when the crime was committed, was sent to death row 2001, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled executing juvenile killers is unconstitutional. Scott was convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to life in prison.
Both raised appeals that they were convicted based on statements they gave to police and their constitutional right to confront their accuser was violated.
Killed during the robbery of the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt store were Eliza Hope Thomas, 17; Amy Ayers, 13; and sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, ages 17 and 15. The store was then set on fire.
It was one of the city's most notorious crimes, sending detectives chasing thousands of leads, some as far as Mexico.
The case went cold until 1999, when police following old leads returned to question Scott and Springsteen, who had moved to Charleston, W. Va.
Police arrested both men and two other defendants, but prosecutors have struggled to make their case ever since. Charges against the other two men were dismissed.
Because the fire at the shop destroyed most of the physical evidence, the confessions from Springsteen and Scott that implicated each other were vital to the case.
Springsteen's confession was secretly recorded during a pre-arrest interview with police. Scott talked with investigators for nearly 20 hours. His statements were recorded, and he signed a written version of his comments.
They were tried separately for Ayers' murder, and their lawyers fought unsuccessfully to keep the statements out of court.
Both men accused police of coercing the confessions and exercised their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying at trial.
Prosecutors said the statements merely corroborated details in the confessions and did not harm the defendants' constitutional rights.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
We hope that you will join us in this fight for fairness and social justice.Please join our email list and become one of the more than 20,000 people receiving information through our network.