The 5-4 ruling at the CCA broke along familiar lines in this sharply divided court: Judge Keller wrote the dissent and Paul Womack wrote the majority opinion. Both are good reads (as such documents go) and provide much more background for those interested.
The debate boiled down to whether the judges feel false confessions are possible when not overtly coerced and whether they agree it's possible that information from the crime scene was leaked. Womack answered in the affirmative on both, while Keller insisted the defendant had no motive to lie (which ignores resarch about why people falsely confess) and that no evidence was presented at trial about leaked information, which of course doesn't mean it didn't happen. Rebutting that assertion, Judge Womack wrote:
In this case, a repudiation of a confession may have more than the usual weight. Police investigators had obtained other confessions to these murders that included non-public information, and the investigators had decided the confessions were not true. Within days of the murders, police were inundated with tips and leads. Many people knew facts that a witness called "the kind of information that should have remained at the crime scene." The appellant introduced several stories that the local newspaper published in December 1991 that contained "non-public" facts about the crime. An investigator testified that within weeks of the murders, "too many people [knew] too much about [the] crime scene." Many teenagers frequented the mall area near the yogurt shop, and information that the police had withheld quickly spread among "kids talking to each other about what they thought they knew about the case." Another investigator testified that "perhaps as many as 60 teenagers in that first week or two after these murders were brought in for questioning." He and another investigator testified that the investigation was derailed when too many teenagers began providing too much confidential information. The investigators had to investigate the leakage of information from their own investigation. Several investigators were removed from the case, one after being investigated by the internal affairs division.Indeed, more than 50 different people confessed to the Yogurt Shop murders over the years, quite a few of them presenting information police had held back from the media, but police ultimately latched onto two of the confessors - Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott - who were tried and convicted of capital murder. No physical evidence from the crime scene links them to the event, however, and both men later recanted. DNA evidence finally tested last year also failed to match the defendants and contradicted the prosecution's theory of the case at trial, leading many folks (though not police and prosecutors) to conclude that these were also false confessions.
In February and March 2002, Alex Briones and Shawn Pearson Smith confessed to the murders. The appellant introduced these confessions, which contained non-public, "hold-back" facts. Despite the confessions, police investigators decided that neither Briones or Smith had committed the crime.
False confessions happen a lot more often than you might think: About 25% of DNA exonerees nationally either confessed or pled guilty to crimes it was later proven they didn't commit. One of the worst false confession cases in the nation, in fact, also arose out of Austin and involved some of the same detectives from the APD homicide squad.
This has been an incredibly long and difficult legal saga that seems destined for a particularly unsatisfying conclusion. Given new DNA evidence and the fact that the state can't use the defendants' confessions against one another, it's difficult to imagine prosecutors securing another conviction against Springsteen based on the disputed confession alone.