AUSTIN (KXAN) — As attorneys for Robert Springsteen began another attempt to clear his name for any responsibility in the 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders, an interested on-looker sat and watched from a seat towards the back of the Third Court of Appeals.
Attorney Tony Diaz was not involved in the hearing, but he also has spent years helping another suspect, Michael Scott, recapture a life and reputation left stunted and sullied by a murder conviction for the brutal killings of four young girls. He showed up to Wednesday’s hearing to support attorney Broadus Spivey who asked the Court of Appeals to grant a court setting for Springsteen to prove his actual innocence.
“I am so proud of Broadus,” said Diaz. “His heart is where my heart is on this case.”
Seven years ago, Diaz was with Michael Scott as they walked away from the Travis County Jail when the charges against Scott and Springsteen were dropped pending further investigation by the district attorney’s office. On Wednesday, he walked out of the hearing alongside members of Scott’s family.
In Diaz’s office is a framed replica of an equivalency diploma Scott earned in 2011 along with a photo of Scott’s new family.
“We did have a conversation yesterday and we have had many over the years,” Diaz said, at times getting emotional. “Please do not count Mike out.”
But the attorneys for both Diaz and Springsteen say that is exactly what everyone wants to do. Finding jobs, escaping the stigma and moving on from their connection to the case has been difficult, especially when the DA’s office still considers them suspects.
Springsteen was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death row in 2001. The next year, Scott was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Both convictions were overturned when their confessions, their attorneys claim coerced, were ruled unconstitutional in 2006. But they did not walk free until DNA evidence taken from a sexual assault swab of victim Amy Ayers returned an unknown profile, excluding all known suspects.
Still, the DA’s office maintains other evidence from the crime indicates the involvement of Scott and Springsteen. Barbara Ayres Wilson’s daughters, Jennifer Harbison, 17, and Sarah Harbison, 15, were two of the four teenagers murdered and she still believes the right suspects were originally charged.
If Springsteen’s attorneys succeed in their efforts to have him declared innocent, he could be entitled to more than $700,000 in compensation for the time he served. Previous attempts in other venues have failed, but Broadus Spivey says they are also seeking his peace of mind.
“It is not just money at stake,” Spivey said. “This is hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. Every morning he has to wake up and this is there.”
More DNA not publicized
Hours after Wednesday’s hearing, Diaz was back at his office looking through a 2009 PowerPoint presentation a jury was never given the opportunity to see.
“The public has not seen this and [the DA] does not want them to see it,” he said as he clicked through the slides containing DNA profiles and how they compared to the profiles of Springsteen and Scott.
Each DNA profile looks like a chart with multiple numbers assigned to different portions of the DNA strand. The DNA profile collected from Amy Ayers body, the same profile that led to charges being dropped, is complete and given the name “X-1” But Diaz said an expert report showed two more partial DNA profiles, X-2 and X-3, taken from the bodies of the Harbison sisters. But even though the profiles are partial, Diaz said determinations that would exclude all known suspects can still be made.
“It is enough to have one,” said Diaz. “But here you have three [unknown profiles].”
In the DA’s office memo announcing the dismissal of charges, it references “reliable” DNA analysis produced the profile of one unknown suspect. By dismissing the charges but still claiming Scott and Springsteen as suspects, Diaz believes the DA’s office can avoid re-trials where the DNA evidence would have embarrassing results while at the same time avoiding the cost and payout which would come with exoneration.
“To say they are suspects, but not pursue them, I think is tantamount to an act of cowardice.”
The Yogurt Shop Murders is a case Diaz says is indelible in his mind. Not just because of the horrible deaths of four young teenagers, but also the following events which led to the implication of four young men, the consequences of which Springsteen and Scott felt the most. He holds out hope the truth will lead to justice for the young girls and the now-grown men, but he has his doubts.
“The way it has been handled, I think the likelihood is it may not occur.”
Whether the case is ever solved and the killers found, Diaz said he is fighting for Scott because he, too, deserves justice.
“We believe the state has to figure out a way to recompense these men for the pain they incurred.”