Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time for DA to eat crow on Yogurt shop murder prosecutions

Big news yesterday in Austin's Yogurt Shop murder case. Reports AP, "Two men awaiting retrial in the 1991 murders of four teenage girls at an Austin yogurt shop were released from jail Wednesday while prosecutors search for a match to new DNA evidence that didn't come from either of them."

The Travis DA now says there was a "fifth man" involved - what one courthouse wag called an "unindicted co-ejaculator" - someone who was never mentioned in the supposed confessions or the prosecution's theory of the case.

More than 50 other people falsely confessed to the crimes in addition to the suspects and no evidence links the pair to the offense besides their confessions.

AP says "Prosecutors insist the DNA does not exonerate [Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen] as suspects and both still face capital murder charges." But IMO it's time for DA Rosemary Lehmberg to chow down on a super-sized helping of crow and give up on these cases: Either the recanted confessions were true or they're not. Prosecutors can't claim some self incriminating parts were true but not Springsteen's now disproven rape confession or key details like who was with them. They don't get to have it both ways.

Now that Travis prosecutors have DNA from the actual perpetrator, that's who they need to be pursuing.

MORE: From Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle.

23 comments:

elvez1975 said...

I was at the hearing on the motion for continuance and on the conditions for personal bond. I was pretty shocked that the DA didn't ask for the electric ankle monitor, given the nature of the crimes alleged (and that they didn't object more strenuously to the granting of the PR bond even though it was pretty much a given that Judge Lynch was going to grant them).

I think if you listen carefully to some of the word choice at that hearing and at Ms. Lehmberg's press conference after the hearing, you'll notice that they're starting to use a lot of more general pronouns and word choices when referring to the perpetrator(s) of these crimes.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you be calling our Ronnie Earle on this??????????

Anonymous said...

The real story is the horror that happened to those girls. Let's not gloat too much that the perps have been difficult to identify or smirk at the frustrations of those trying to solve this horror story. Some of us identify with these girls and their families and would like to see some justice for them after all these years.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:11 - a) Rosemary is the one responsible for the most recent actions and b) she ran Ronnie Earle's office before she succeeded him, anyway.

10:18 - I think everyone identifies with the girls and their families and wants the police to find the real killer(s). However I don't believe locking up somebody who didn't do it benefits the girls' families at all. This case was botched from the very beginning - literally from the night it happened - and it's time for authorities to begin accepting responsibility for those mistakes instead of pretending they were right all along when they obviously were not.

Texas Lawyer said...

10:18:

While my heart hurts for the victims' families, I disagree with your suggestion that this is not a "real story" or that it merely evidences the "frustrations of those trying to solve this horror story."

These men spent seven or eight years imprisoned for the crime. Maybe it's my professional bias bleeding through, but it sure looks like their claims of innocence have been (somewhat) vindicated. At least part of the reason the families have not yet seen "some justice" is that "those trying to solve this horror story" fixated on these defendants, to the exclusion of actual perpetrators.

Anonymous said...

The real story is the horror that happened to those girls.

The people posting here are the ones wanting justice for them, and for the ones falsely convicted of their murders. This is not mutually exclusive.

And the larger tragedy may actually be the number of innocent men in prison based on these same tactics, who may very well outnumber the number of victims in the yogurt shop.

You may be willing to overlook the larger tragedy here, but I'm not.

Gadfly said...

Anon @11:24, if you're the same anon as 10:18, you're missing the point of Texas Lawyer; even if not, you are missing the point he made to that person. The possible false imprisonment of people for 8 years is **a real story.**

Anonymous said...

Not only did they spend 7 or 8 years imprisoned, they spent some of that time on DEATH ROW. TDCJ is no cake walk no matter how you slice it, but the Row is different.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am glad that these two guys were able to find justice for themselves. For the family of the girls killed, they have been denied justice all this time due to a Police department and DA that decided that they 'had their men'.. Instead of testing all theories. As more and more people begin to question the authority Texas Law has over cases, and begin questioning the people that prosecute these laws, I think more and more of these sort of cases are going to come out, and real numbers of people that have spent their lives in Prison, or worse murdered in prison. will begin to show that the system is broken and must be fixed.

Anonymous said...

The possible false imprisonment of people for 8 years is **a real story.**

And you missed mine. Not only is it a story, but combined with all of the others falsely imprisoned, and several falsely executed, that may be the larger of the two stories.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"that may be the larger of the two stories."

2:32, I think it's pointless to try to rank such tragedies. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Clearly the original murders were a terrible thing that shocked the conscience of the city. Then the authorities made matters worse through sloppy policing and a convict-at-any-cost prosecution mentality that compounded the tragedy. It's not a competition about which is worse.

ryanpaige said...

Has there been any attempt to match the Unknown DNA profile with any of the other 50 or so people who confessed to the crimes?

It seems like the effort so far has been to attempt to prove that the Unknown DNA is contamination or a mistake, which would seem to make the focus on propping up the current theory of the crime rather than seriously attempting to make sure the right people are being prosecuted.

Pat said...

Don't forget the DA going after Clare LaVey and her punk-rock grave-desecrating friends in front of network news cameras back in the 90s. This case has been an organized fiasco from day one, a textbook expose of the institutional incompetence of our cities top crime fighters.

Mr. OnthisissueandperhapsthisissuealoneIactuallywhatIamtalkingabout said...

Lets talk end game here. Because it is homicide, and because they have already been indicted, statutes of limitations do no good. Lynch lacks the power to dismiss an indictment, under State v. Terrazas (I think), but as the TCDA learned all too well in the KBH fiasco, he need not grant the state's motion to dismiss either. It doesn't look like the State is going to come up with the identity of the donor any time soon, since at least one plausible boyfriend has been excluded, and they are running out of altperps with any connection to the defendants. They've had a year or so since they got the first hit, and they havent found it yet. I'm betting they wont find it.
That means Lynch could, and likely will, enforce a trial date or compel a motion to dismiss. If he was feeling especially generous, and really doesnt think they are guilty, he could deny a motion to dismiss and force them to go to trial period on the evidence they have. Lynch strikes me as averse to conflict, so I think the former is more likely. As I've noted, statutes of limitations do no good, and the TX speedy trial act has been held unconstitutional under Separation of Powers. This leaves only constitutional sppedy trial guarantees to bring the accused some closure here.
Does anyone know if there is any pre-trial enforcement of speedy trial possible? Ie, do they have to wait to be reindicted, suffer a conviction (or not!) and then appeal. Or can they compel a dismissal with prejudice at some point?

Anonymous said...

When these guys are cleared, the tax payers will be paying out the ass for the Austin Police Departments screw ups.su

Anonymous said...

This is just one more example of the Travis County DA's office intransigence. They try to convey the message that they are somehow the premier DA's office in TX, but leave a trail of questionable prosecutions behind them - from Lacresha Murray, to Ochoa and Danziger, to their absurd pursuit of the death penalty in the David Powell case - an individual who has demonstrated over the many years of his incarceration that he presents no threat of future violence, which is the sole criterion for imposing death under TX law. But of course they have to go on pursuing what the police want, regardless of what the right thing to do might actually be.

Ironically, just last night I was reading "Mortal Justice" the story of Jeanette Popp, whose daughter's murder at the Reinli Lane Pizza Hut resulted in the wrngful conviction of Ochoa and Danziger - not only did the DA's office drag its feet for years, even when faced with written confessions from the real perpetrator. Rosemary Lehmberg's behavior towards the victim's family was incredibly insensitive and dictatorial. So hats off to Mike Lynch for finally doing the right thing in this case and letting these men go home. Does anyone want to lay bets that they will ever actually be retried, let alone reconvicted? No? I didn't think so.

Buns said...

Since there is no limitation on a murder indictment the only way to clear their name will be an expunction based on a manifest injustice lack of probable cause.

Mr.OnthisissueIactuallyknowalittleaboutwhatI'mtalkingabout said...

Hmm...it occurs to me that the speedy trial clock probably doesnt run during the period an indictment has been dismissed. Or if it does run, there probably isn't a remedy until they are re-indicted. Expunction (which they won't get) might "clear their names" but it won't eliminate TCDA's right to re-indict.
This case used to be the Bed of Procrustes ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes )(kid comes in gives you a story where they came in the front door, tied them up with extension cord, and started the fire on the bodies, talk to him for 40 hours (the 20 hour figure is just the amount of time on tape, there is an equal amount of time spent off the tape) until he says they came in the back door, and tied them up with their clothes, and then get an ATF agent to say the fire did indeed start on the bodies),
now its the Sword of Damocles ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damocles )....

Buns said...

Sure TCDA could re-indict but without new evidence it will be

Quash. Expunge. Repeat.

Oh, and then a civil case for malicious prosecution and Rosemary could be personally liable for that.

Mr. OnthisissueIactuallyknowalittleaboutwhatIamtalkingabout said...

For good or ill I dont think thats the case. Prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability based on actions taken in connection with the judicial phase of trial, including charging decisions.
http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-854.pdf

Buns said...

To re-indict without new evidence after an expunction due to no probable cause ... well now you are getting into the realm of Harassment or even Official Oppression. Criminal behavior is definitely outside the realm of prosecutorial immunity.

Mr.OnthisissueIactuallyknowalittleofwhatI'mtalkingabout said...

Ever seen the feds indict a state prosecutor for civil rights violations? I havent.

There's another problem that would weigh in my mind if I were in the YSM defendants' shoes. After Achim Marino confessed to the DePriest murders, the Rangers spent four years after the DNA came up a match scouring the country for someone that would connect him to Ochoa and Danziger. They had a DNA match, which contradicted the confessions they relied on, the confessions were unrecorded, and Marino out of the clear-blue-sky voluntarily confessed that he acted alone. And they spent years trying to say, based on nothing but a Polanco confession (who had already been investigated for multiple false confessions), that Marino, Ochoa, and Danziger did it together.
I think the DNA is likely the perp, and DNA databases may come along enough to match him if he's still alive. If not, there is always the chance that the .380 will be found and matched, and traced to the killer. He may not be as contrite as Marino, and if he's been following the coverage, he'll be aware of who almost took the rap for him. He might prefer life to death, and have a reasonable idea about how to get it... Would it happen that way? Probably not. But when the dismissal-euphoria wears off, these guys have a lot of psychological work to do feeling safe again (like everyone else involved in this goddamn case).
Is the point I'm trying to make here.

selea said...

I remember there were VERY FEW details about the crime scene in the Statesman but there were tons of rumors full of grisly details supposed to have come from officers or firemen.

Years later, by the time of the actual confession, I’d bet that half of Austin knew at least 1 detail not released by police. I’d say a confession containing “unreleased details” is not exactly a good place for this DA to hang her hat.