Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Still no DNA match in yogurt shop case

Thats title of Austin-American Statesman's article about pending retrial of Michael Springsteen for the 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Prosecutors in the cases against two men facing retrial in the 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders have yet to figure out whose DNA was discovered this year in swabs taken from one of the four teenage victims, according to lawyers in the case.

Joe James Sawyer, who represents Michael Springsteen, said after a pretrial hearing in a Travis County court on Wednesday that prosecutors have ordered the DNA compared with that of 90 people and found no matches. Later Wednesday, prosecutor Gail Van Winkle said that number was greatly inflated but declined to say by how much.

This year it was disclosed that investigators had discovered unknown male DNA in swabs taken from the body of 13-year-old victim Amy Ayers. It did not match co-defendants Michael Scott or Springsteen — or Forrest Welborn or Maurice Pierce, who were previously charged in the case.

Sawyer and Scott's lawyers say the evidence exonerates the men; Van Winkle disagrees.

The lawyers spoke about the evidence after the hearing in which state District Judge Mike Lynch, at the defense's request, clarified a recent order that relaxes restrictions on lawyers' out-of-court statements.

Lawyers now may discuss evidence in the case but may not share documents, photographs or other evidence with anyone not directly associated with the case.

Also at the hearing, Lynch told defense lawyers and prosecutors to declare by the next hearing, set for Oct. 29, what further forensic testing they want done. No trial dates have been set, but Lynch suggested that Scott's case could be set early next year, with Springsteen's to closely follow.

Ayers was killed along with Eliza Thomas, 17, and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, 15 and 17, during a robbery at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt store near Northcross Mall. The store was set on fire, destroying much of the physical evidence.

The case stymied police until 1999, when they arrested the four men.

Scott and Springsteen were both convicted of capital murder, based mostly on their confessions. Lawyers for the men said their statements were coerced and noted that police had received dozens of other confessions that were discounted.

Both convictions were tossed after appeals courts ruled that Scott's statement was inappropriately introduced at Springsteen's trial and Springsteen's statement was inappropriately introduced at Scott's. (Charges against Welborn were dismissed after a grand jury declined to indict him; prosecutors dismissed an indictment against Pierce.)

The cornerstone of Scott's and Springsteen's defense at trial will likely be the still-unknown DNA taken from Ayers' body.

Sawyer said the state has compared it with DNA profiles of Ayers' friends and family members, as well as of people who may have come in contact with Ayers' body or the sample, including police officers, lab technicians and prosecutors.

Van Winkle declined to say whose DNA has been compared with the sample taken from Ayers; she said the testing is ongoing.

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