On June 24, 2009, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott were released on bond, more than nine years after falsely confessing to participation in the widely publicized killings of four teenage girls in an Austin, Texas yogurt shop in 1991. Robert was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in 2001. Michael was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.
Robert and Michael were among several individuals initially questioned in connection with the killings, but it wasn’t until eight years later, when new detectives took over the case, that they were charged. Those new detectives elicited confessions from both Robert and Michael, which became the primary evidence used to convict them; no physical evidence ever connected either man to the murders.
Robert and Michael confessed following lengthy coercive interrogations with Austin police detectives in September 1999. Each defendant’s confession was used against the other in their separate trials. Robert later explained, “I was berated and berated and berated by the police officers. Until they obtained what it was they wanted to hear, they were not going to allow me to leave. And basically, they broke me down.” A photo (below) shows a police officer holding a gun to Michael’s head during his interrogation.
Volunteer attorneys from Holland & Hart and Morgan Lewis & Bockius agreed to represent Robert and Michael in their post-conviction proceedings. They succeeded in convincing appellate courts to overturn both convictions. The courts found that the trial court erred in allowing the State to use one man’s confession as evidence in the trial against the other, thereby denying their Sixth Amendment confrontation rights. Both had recanted their statements to police and maintained their innocence.
After the court ordered new trials for both defendants, the State attempted to renew its prosecution of Michael and Robert by testing DNA samples from the crime scene. When these tests revealed that none of the DNA belonged to Robert or Michael, prosecutors declared they were unprepared to go to trial. State investigators tested more than 100 people, but they have been unable to find a match to the DNA. In October 2009 the charges against both were dismissed, and Michael and Robert walked out of prison as free men.