Suspects ordered freed in Texas yogurt shop case - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Suspects ordered freed in Texas yogurt shop case

By JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas - Facing new DNA evidence, a judge on Wednesday ordered the release from jail of two suspects awaiting retrial in the 1991 murder of four teenage girls during a botched robbery at an Austin yogurt shop.

Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen were convicted in the death of one of the girls, Amy Ayers, 13. Scott was sentenced to life in prison, and Springsteen was originally sent to death row.

However, both convictions were overturned on appeal, and at Wednesday's hearing state District Judge Mike Lynch ordered them released pending their new trials.

New DNA tests on evidence from the victims - using technology not available in 1991 - revealed the presence of an unknown male. Defense attorneys say that proves Scott's and Springsteen's innocence.

Lynch's order came during a hearing for Scott's retrial, which was scheduled for July 6. Prosecutors asked that the trial be delayed until 2010 while they try to determine the source of the DNA.

Although Springsteen had not yet been scheduled for retrial, the judge ordered both men released.

Ayers; Eliza Thomas, 17; and sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, ages 17 and 15, were bound, gagged and shot in the head at the "I Can't Believe It's Yogurt" store where two of them worked. The building was then set afire.

Police chased thousands of leads and received several false confessions. Springsteen, Scott and two other men were arrested in 1999. Charges against the two other were eventually dropped, and they are not implicated by the new DNA test.

Although Scott will be out of jail for the first time in nearly 10 years, his wife was angered by the delay.

"The big day will be when 12 people declare my husband not guilty so that this nightmare for our family is over," Jeannine Scott said.

Scott and Springsteen initially confessed, and each man implicated the other. But both men quickly recanted and said their statements were made under pressure by police.

They were tried separately in 2001 and 2002. The convictions were overturned because in each case, the defense had been unable to cross-examine the co-defendant about his purported confession.

Springsteen, who was 17 when the girls were killed, had been sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court later banned execution of defendants who were juveniles at the time of the crime.

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