Prime suspect in yogurt shop murders wants back in court

A three-judge appeals court panel is trying to decide if the notorious yogurt shop murder case should head back to court. The hearing took place Wednesday morning before the Texas Third Court of Appeals.

Robert Springsteen did not attend because he was home in West Virginia with his wife, according to attorney Jim Hackney.

"This is like the old Greek parable, like the sword of Damocles hanging over your head, ‘cause there is no Statute of Limitations on Murder, he doesn't know from one day to the next that somebody might show up on his front door and arrest him and bring him back here."

Robert Springsteen is one of four men who was accused of being responsible for the 1991 yogurt shop murders. It all began with the report of a fire near what was Northcross mall.

The bodies of four teenagers were found inside the shop; sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison as well as their friends Amy Ayers and Eliza Thomas. Of the four suspects, only Springsteen and Michael Scott were tried. But their convictions were later reversed because of mistakes made by prosecutors and investigators.

In 2009, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg decided not to re-try the case after a new analysis of DNA evidence did not match any of the four men.  Now, based on that decision, Springsteen wants to have his name officially cleared.

"The Statute requires either the District Attorney or the Judge to declare actual innocence, and they both refuse to do that … I'm not trying to force their hands I’m trying to ask a court to make that declaration that they should make,” said Defense attorney Broadus Spivey.

The mother of the Harbison sisters spoke to me by phone regarding the possibility of a new trial. Barbara Ayers-Wilson said; "A trial is so painful ... My heart sinks (at the possibility of a new trial), but my mind says, sure lets do it."

She still agrees with prosecutors that Springsteen was involved in the crime, saying; "He is living with the mistakes of his past and is having to live with the consequences."

A ruling of actual innocence opens up the opportunity for Springsteen to get money out of a special fund that pays people who are wrongly convicted. That cash is managed  by the Comptrollers office which has already denied two requests by Springsteen, for $771,000.

Andrew Williams, who represents Travis County, argued if this is all about money they are in the wrong place.

"The remedy is a Mandamus to the Supreme Court, or have the law changed as Anthony Graves did."

State lawmakers made that special exception for Graves in 2011 because he was convicted on testimony that was later recanted. Graves spent almost 20 years in prison and was paid $1.4 million. Springsteen's claim, though, is not so clear cut as pointed out during the hearing by appeals court Justice Bob Pemberton. The Justice cautioned the defense attorneys that the DNA results may prove someone else was involved in the murders, but it doesn't mean Springsteen wasn't there.

A ruling from the appeals court may take several weeks if not months.