Naked City

Prosecution Rests in Scott Case

On Sept. 11 prosecutors rested their capital murder case against Michael Scott, after APD Detective Robert Merrill testified to details in the confession of Scott's co-defendant Robert Springsteen. Scott, Springsteen, and Maurice Pierce (jailed awaiting trial since 1999) are charged with the deaths of four girls in the infamous 1991 yogurt shop murders. Springsteen was tried and sentenced to death last summer for his role in the crimes. Perhaps most controversial in Springsteen's trial -- and most damaging to the defense -- was the court's decision to allow redacted segments of a confession made by Scott to be read into evidence. Springsteen's attorneys objected vociferously, stating that reading Scott's confession would violate Springsteen's Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine witnesses against him. Indeed, since Scott was awaiting trial, he could not be compelled to testify against himself. The court ruled to allow the testimony.

Last week, prosecution witness Merrill entered into testimony a summary of the salient portions of Springsteen's confession -- portions in which Springsteen detailed his own involvement in the grisly murders. The state says that details only the killers would know, offered by each suspect, confirm that the confessions are the result of dogged police work and not coercion, as the defense claims.

Police say some details -- such as Scott's statement that a key remained in the yogurt shop door, and Springsteen's assertion that a .380 semi-automatic weapon was one of two guns used in the crime -- were never made public and therefore tie the killers to the crime. Unfortunately, it will likely be forever unknown exactly what details were actually kept secret. APD Sgt. John Jones, first on the scene of the crime on Dec. 6, 1991, testified at both Springsteen and Scott's trials that the APD homicide unit -- which in 1991 only had six detectives -- was overwhelmed and unprepared for what they found inside the yogurt shop. The investigation quickly got out of control, and information and speculation about the crimes filtered through the community. Jones testified last summer that so many crime scene details were coming back to detectives in the form of random, and false, confessions that the police suspected there was an internal departmental leak. In short, it may be impossible to ensure that any given detail was withheld.

Defense attorneys have tried to hammer that idea home while casting doubt on the techniques used to elicit the confessions. At press time, the defense had called four investigators to the stand, grilling them on what they said to, and asked of, Scott during his marathon interrogation sessions, which lasted more than 20 hours over several days. On Sept. 16, defense attorney Carlos Garcia asked APD Detective John Hardesty why he kept pressing Scott to come up with details of a night he repeatedly told officers he didn't have much recollection of. Hardesty and other officers have said they kept grilling Scott, through his many protestations, because they were certain he actually knew more than he was saying. "If I asked you about January 5, 1997, would you be able to remember?" Garcia asked. "Well, probably not," Hardesty said, "unless something significant happened to me on that date."

Testimony continues this week, but court sources speculate that defense attorneys may rest their case Friday afternoon.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle