The Austin Chronicle

Yogurt Shop DNA Saga Continues, Part 2

By Jordan Smith, March 27, 2009, News

Travis Co. District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg says DNA evidence is extremely important to have, to test, and to use, whenever possible. But, she said, her office is still considering the significance of DNA evidence found in connection with the infamous yogurt shop murders.

Last week, Joe James Sawyer, an attorney for yogurt shop defendant Robert Springsteen, told reporters that prosecutors are ignoring the discovery of DNA that proves his client is innocent. Sawyer also said he would seek a bond hearing in the hope of having Springsteen released from jail while awaiting retrial for the grisly 1991 quadruple murder.

At issue is male DNA found last year in the body of the youngest yogurt shop victim, 13-year-old Amy Ayers, that does not match any of the four original defendants – Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce, and Forrest Welborn – or anyone else known to be at the crime scene, inside a North Austin yogurt shop. Prosecutors requested the testing that first revealed the male DNA profile in March 2008, and since then, both prosecutors and defense attorneys have sought further testing on that profile and on other pieces of evidence found at the crime scene.

Defense attorneys say the additional testing has revealed at least one male DNA profile, if not two or possibly three. The discovery of the DNA, they say, proves that their clients are not guilty.

But Lehmberg isn't sure that's what the DNA suggests – at least not yet – but she says that testing available DNA is important to her office in this and every other case. "What I know right now from the expert we've hired is that we have one unknown male donor," she said. "It is unclear what the significance of some of the other tests are. There may or may not be, as the defense claims, more than one" donor. Indeed, right now, she said, there's still work to be done. "When, and we hope real soon, we know the [answers] we're seeking ... we'll act accordingly," she said. "If that means going to trial with the evidence we have, we'll do that." However, she said, "if it leaves us in a situation where we have reasonable doubt, I'll step up and suggest a bond."

Lehmberg says her office has in fact been in the forefront of using DNA evidence to prosecute cases and has long sought to use DNA to exonerate the innocent. Indeed, Carlos Lavernia, who was convicted as the Barton Creek rapist and sentenced to 99 years for a 1983 assault he did not commit, was ultimately exonerated after DNA cleared him in 2000. In that case, Lehmberg notes, the D.A.'s office worked with Austin Police to have DNA testing completed. "It is absolutely untrue that we discount the value of DNA evidence," Lehmberg said. "We test for DNA whenever we can, and we value it, [we] believe in it, and [we] use it."

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.