Innocence Lost: The Yogurt Shop Murders
Polish riot police detain a Russian soccer fan prior to the Group A Euro occer championship match between Poland and Russia in Warsaw, Poland , Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski)
In June 2009, nearly 18 years after the yogurt shop murders, Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen - who spent 10 years of their lives in prison - walked out.
When the district attorney admitted that she was not yet prepared to take the men to trial, the judge ordered that the two men be released while they waited; no bail necessary.
Blog: "The Case I Can't Forget"
Photos: Yogurt Shop Case
Case Timeline: Austin Statesman.com
Book: "Murdered Innocents" by Corey Mitchell
Springsteen was allowed to sign his name and walk out of prison. I've never seen anything like that. Here was a man who was once on death row - who was convicted of four murders - walking out pending trial; allowed out on his own recognizance.
"I didn't really quite exactly believe it," Springsteen told me.
The families of the victims couldn't believe it, either.
"I cried for days about it," Maria Thomas said. "When I was told they were let out, I was just angry. I wanted to hit something."
"You just take a breath, and you go, "OK, this is one more thing to deal with," said Barbara Ayers-Wilson.
Until District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg knows whose DNA was found on one of the murdered girls, she said she won't risk taking either Springsteen or Scott to trial.
"My concern right now is that we identify this unknown male donor," she said. "We're prepared to try the cases again once that's done."
When asked how long that could take, Lehmberg replied, "I can't answer that. It takes as long as it takes."
Springsteen realizes he remains in a sort of limbo - the case could go on for years.
"I really wish we could start trial tomorrow instead of just waiting and waiting and waiting," he said. "I want my name cleared."
Then, on Oct. 28, 2009, when pressured to set a trial date, Lehmberg did the unthinkable. She asked the judge to drop all criminal charges against Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott.
This time, they were really free men.
"Make no mistake," Lehmberg paused while addressing reporters, "this was a difficult decision and one I'd rather not have to make."
This is the last thing any D.A. would want to do - set free two men she is absolutely convinced are killers. But she doesn't have any choice. She either has to identify that male DNA or find new evidence against Springsteen and Scott.
"There is no statute of limitations for murder," Lehmberg continued. "We will continue until the persons responsible for these horrible murders are brought to justice."
"They can come arrest me tomorrow or next year or 15, 20 years down the road and start this process all over again," acknowledged Springsteen.
"I didn't have anything to do with this crime," Michael Scott said outside of court following his release. "I am innocent and I am glad to be at this point where we are at. I'm just ready to move forward."
Original investigator John Jones, now retired, believes he was right all those years ago when he released Springsteen, Scott and the other two teen suspects in 1991 for lack of evidence.
"I guess this day was inevitable," he said. "Until you got the proof, you have no case. Sometimes you just have to accept that and move on."
Eighteen years have now passed since the girls were killed in the yogurt shop.
"This thing's not near over," Bob Ayers said. "Believe me, it's just started. And if it takes a little more time to find the information that we need to find, then so be it."
Said Barbara Ayers-Wilson, "We're gonna get through this. We're gonna figure it out and the girls will be happy. They'll smile down on us when it happens."
As tough as this has been to cover, I hope I will be around to report the final chapter of this case. I think about the girls all the time: Sarah, Jennifer, Eliza and Amy. They'd be in their 30s now… maybe with children of their own.
"The missing - the missing is the hardest part," Maria Thomas said. "I just wish I could have more memories. I'd like to have more memories."
Produced by Gail Abbott Zimmerman and Peter Henderson
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