Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yogurt Shop Murders: charges dismissed today, part 2

Before I continue with today's observations, let me explain that the charges were dismissed "without prejudice", which means the charges against Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott may be refiled at any time--there's no statute of limitations for murder--but the state would still have to return to a grand jury if they refiled. The state maintains its position that Springsteen and Scott "are responsible for these murders..." More about the state's press conference in a minute.

Today's courtroom was packed--usually only one television camera is allowed inside and today there were many--and also included elected head District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, assistant DA John Neal, and police chief Art Acevedo. Bob Ayers, father of youngest victim Amy Ayers, was also there. I haven't seen any of the victims' family members attending any of these two years of pretrial hearings until today.

What led up to today's dramatic dismissals? In August, state District Judge Mike Lynch granted the state a continuance to continue its Y-STR DNA testing to try to identify newly discovered male DNA recovered from vaginal swabs taken from youngest victim Amy Ayers.

At that time, Lynch also issued an order designating today's hearing as the deadline for the state to give a "good faith determination" as to whether they'd be ready for a jury trial roughly set for January. Lynch told the state that he would not grant any more continuances for them based on the same basis of continuing its DNA testing.

Today, assistant DA Efrain De La Fuente announced that the state is not ready for trial, is still conducting its Y-STR testing, and has not yet identified the DNA's source. Therefore, De La Fuente said, "we have no other choice but to file an order for dismissal." The defense had no objection, of course, and even waived reading the state's motion before it was given to Judge Lynch.

Lynch signed the order, granting the dismissal motion "as to each indictment, as to each of the two defendants" and said that as soon as the order was filed with the clerk, Scott and Springsteen would be free from all their current bond obligations. And then we were in recess.

Defense attorneys briefly spoke to the press, encouraging everyone to have sympathy for the victims' families because they have suffered the most in this whole ordeal and expressing hope that continued DNA testing will identify the unknown male, that the killer "is still out there."

Robert Springsteen didn't stick around to speak to the press, but Mike Scott and his wife Jeannine answered a few questions. Scott said he was "glad to be where I'm at today" and when asked if or how he could not feel resentment, he simply said, "move forward." The couple said they couldn't comment now on whether they'd stay in Austin.

At the press conference in the DA's office, head DA Rosemary Lehmberg read from a written statement before taking some questions. In her statement, she said, "Make no mistake, this is a difficult decision for me and one I would rather not have to make. I believe it is the best legal and strategic course to take and is the one that leaves us in the best possible posture to ultimately retry both Springsteen and Scott."

Then police chief Art Acevedo spoke about the importance of DNA for properly convicting or exonerating, especially "in a state that leads the country in wrongful convictions." While saying that the state's focus is still on these suspects (Springsteen and Scott), Acevedo also said, "they are probably the right suspects."

When asked if Springsteen and Scott could now move to another state if they wished, Lehmberg said, "They're free to do whatever they want."


KMTBERRY said...

I read about this at the time and wondered what YOU thought. I just read the post, and I STILL DON'T KNOW!

What do YOU think? I kinda got the impression reading your other posts on the topic that you think they are Not Guilty. I have a vague impression myself that they are Not Guilty, because of the DNA.

Iris said...

I've always thought the prosecution's case was weak, even before the new unknown male DNA evidence was discovered. The new DNA creates reasonable doubt, at the VERY least--some would say it exonerates Scott and Springsteen, and I lean that way, too--so I think they are Not Guilty.

Anonymous said...

"charges were dismissed "without prejudice", which means the charges against Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott may be refiled at any time--there's no statute of limitations for murder--but the state would still have to return to a grand jury if they refiled."

i'm no genius when it comes to courtroom talk or lawyer talk, but i'm curious as to what this statement actually means. is there a term called "double jeopardy?" if these two men are brought back into the courtroom again they could be found not guilty. like i said, please explain this to me

Iris said...

I think you're asking why double jeopardy doesn't apply. I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is as follows. Double Jeopardy operates only in criminal matters and prevents someone from double prosecution. Convictions from Scott's and Springsteen's first trials were overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and Scott and Springsteen were awaiting their retrials (before the charges were eventually dismissed).

So, I guess it's as if the first trials never happened, so going to trial now or in the future would not be double prosecution (double jeopardy). The Austin Chronicle's Jordan Smith has covered the Yogurt Shop Murders extensively, so you might want to read more there: