Former Yogurt Shop Suspect Seeks Compensation for Wrongful Conviction

Springsteen sues in federal court

Clockwise from top left: Sarah Harbison, 15; Amy Ayers, 13; Eliza Thomas, 17; and Jennifer Harbison, 17, were found murdered inside the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in North Austin on Dec. 6, 1991.
Clockwise from top left: Sarah Harbison, 15; Amy Ayers, 13; Eliza Thomas, 17; and Jennifer Harbison, 17, were found murdered inside the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in North Austin on Dec. 6, 1991.

Since Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg in 2009 dismissed all charges against Robert Springsteen in connection with the notorious 1991 yogurt shop murders, Springsteen has twice sought from the state compensation for being wrongfully convicted of the quadruple murder. Twice he's been denied. Now he's taking his case to federal court.

Indeed, in a petition filed May 23 in federal district court, Springsteen argues that he has been "dangling under the sword of Damocles" ever since October 2009 when the charges against him and another defendant, Michael Scott, were dismissed in connection with the grisly murder of four teen girls – Eliza Thomas, 17, Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, 17 and 15, and Amy Ayers, 13 – inside a North Austin yogurt shop. The charges against him have been dropped, but without a declaration that he's actually innocent, state Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office administers state funds that compensate the wrongfully convicted, has now twice declined to release funds.

The charges against Springsteen and Scott were dropped after new DNA testing revealed the profile of an unknown male,taken from inside the youngest victim. That profile, found in 2008, has not been matched to any suspects and its presence directly contradicts the so-called "confessions" obtained by Austin police from Springsteen and Scott in which they implicate each other and two others, but make no mention of a fifth man. Springsteen and Scott have each said repeatedly that the confessions were coerced after hours of intense questioning by Austin detectives; Springsteen was sentenced to die for the murders. (That sentence was overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders could not face execution. Springsteen and Scott were both teens at the time of the crime.) Scott was sentenced to life in prison. To date, the case remains open and unsolved. Springsteen "was not involved in these crimes and is absolutely innocent," reads the lawsuit, filed on Springsteen's behalf by Austin lawyers Broadus Spivey. (Former state Judge Charlie Baird and attorneys Amber Farrelly and James Hackney have also signed onto the case.) And he "requests the Court declare that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was wrongfully imprisoned" for roughly nine years, including four on death row.

Because he is no longer incarcerated, Springsteen cannot prove his innocence via the appeal process and he has "exhausted" the administrative remedies available to him. Now he is asking the federal court to hold a hearing and to declare him "actually innocent of the crimes for which he was wrongfully imprisoned," reads the lawsuit. In all, the suit asserts that Springsteen is due more than $700,000 in compensation and other benefits earmarked for the wrongfully convicted.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Courts, Austin Police Department, Criminal Justice, Cops, yogurt shop murders, Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Rosemary Lehmberg, Eliza Thomas, Sarah Harbison, Jennifer Harbison, Amy Ayers, murder, wrongful conviction, DNA, Broadus Spivey, Charlie Baird, Amber Farrelly, police, false confession

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