The Austin Chronicle

What's Next?

By Jordan Smith, June 15, 2001, News

Robert Springsteen's conviction really only brings an end to the first chapter in the legal history of the yogurt shop case. Springsteen's death sentence carries with it an automatic appeal, and two other suspects remain to be tried.

The next trial will be that of Michael Scott, scheduled to begin in October. Like Springsteen, Scott could face the death penalty if convicted. Again, prosecutors will lack any physical evidence tying Scott to the crime, and will rely on Scott's confession, obtained after 18 hours of interrogation over four days in September 1999. And again, likely to arise are questions about police coercion. A notorious still photo taken from Scott's confession -- widely reproduced in the media -- shows APD Detective Robert Merrill standing behind Scott, apparently holding a gun to the back of his head. Merrill has testified that he was only trying to "role-play" with Scott -- to jog his memory as to what exactly occurred at the yogurt shop on Dec. 6, 1991. Merrill has also said that while he did have a gun in the interrogation room, which Scott had seen, he never held it directly up to Scott's head, but only placed his fingers up to the back of Scott's head while holding his gun down at his side.

It may be even harder to prosecute the third defendant, Maurice Pierce. Unlike Springsteen and Scott, Pierce never made any statement implicating himself to police. Without any physical evidence, it's unknown how the D.A. plans to convince a jury that Pierce was involved. Pierce, who was a juvenile at the time of the crime, would not face the death penalty if convicted; instead, the maximum punishment would be life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years. No date has yet been set for Pierce's trial.

Meanwhile, Springsteen's lawyers say they are already preparing his appeal. The strongest legal grounds will probably be Judge Mike Lynch's decision to allow jurors to hear portions of Scott's confession. Springsteen's lawyer Joe Sawyer contends that letting the jurors hear Scott's confession violated Springsteen's constitutional right to cross-examine witnesses against him. He said he has found several Supreme Court cases that support his claim.

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