Murder counts tossed in Texas yogurt shop slayings

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas – A judge on Wednesday dismissed murder charges against two men awaiting retrial in the 1991 slayings of four teens at an Austin yogurt shop, after prosecutors admitted they weren’t ready to take the case to a jury.

Robert Springsteen was sent to death row in 2001 after he was convicted in capital murder slaying of one of the girls. Michael Scott had been convicted in her death previously and sentenced to life in prison.

Both convictions were overturned when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said Springsteen and Scott were unfairly denied the chance to cross-examine each other. They had implicated each other in statements to investigators.

The men were released on personal bond in June after new DNA tests could not match them to the crime scene and revealed the presence of an unknown male.

Judge Mike Lynch had ordered Travis County prosecutors to say Wednesday whether they would be ready to proceed to trial by January.

District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said the state is still testing the DNA to find a match and admitted prosecutors weren’t ready for a trial. Her office filed the motion for dismissal of all charges, and Lynch approved.

“Make no mistake, this is a difficult decision for me and one I would rather not make,” Lehmberg said after the hearing.

After Lynch ordered the charges dismissed, Springsteen and Scott smiled at each other and silently shook hands. Scott hugged his wife, Jeanine.

“This has been a long time coming,” Scott said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Bob Ayers, the father of 13-year-old victim Amy Ayers, was in the courtroom, but showed no emotion and did not comment to reporters afterward.

The investigation of one of Austin’s most notorious crimes has been bedeviled from the beginning by damage to the crime scene, bungled interviews and prosecution missteps.

Amy Ayers, Eliza Thomas, 17, and sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, ages 17 and 15, were bound, gagged and shot in the head at the “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt” store where two of the girls worked. The building was then set on fire.