death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 25


2 suspects freed in Texas yogurt shop murder case

Facing new DNA evidence, a judge on Wednesday ordered the release from
jail of 2 suspects awaiting retrial in the 1991 rape and murder of 4
teenage girls at an Austin yogurt shop.

Michael Scott, 35, and Robert Springsteen, 34, were convicted in the death
of one of the girls, Amy Ayers, 13. Scott was sentenced to life in prison,
and Springsteen was originally sent to death row.

However, both convictions were overturned on appeal, and at Wednesday's
hearing state District Judge Mike Lynch ordered them released on personal
recognizance bonds pending their new trials.

New DNA tests on evidence from the victims using technology not available
in 1991 revealed the presence of an unknown male. Defense attorneys say
that proves Scott's and Springsteen's innocence. Prosecutors insist the
DNA does not exonerate them as suspects and both still face capital murder

Conditions of their release include staying in Travis County and avoiding
contact with witnesses or the victims' families.

Lynch's order came during a hearing for Scott's retrial, which was
scheduled for July 6. Prosecutors asked that the trial be delayed until
2010 while they try to determine the source of the DNA.

Although Springsteen had not yet been scheduled for retrial, the judge
ordered both men released and they walked out of the Travis County Jail
about 5 hours later.

Scott held hands with his wife, Jeannine, and hugged her but didn't speak
to reporters. Springsteen said, "I'd like to thank God, my family and my
attorney for this opportunity. Thank you."

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 them worked. The building then was set

Springsteen, Scott and 2 other men were arrested in 1999. Charges against
the two others were dropped, and they are not implicated by the new DNA

Scott and Springsteen were tried separately in 2001 and 2002. The
convictions were overturned because in each case, the defense had been
unable to cross-examine the co-defendant about his purported confession.

Springsteen, who was 17 when the girls were killed, had been sentenced to
death, but the U.S. Supreme Court later banned execution of defendants who
were juveniles at the time of the crime.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said investigators have
conducted at least 100 new DNA tests and need more time to keep testing.
She said the DNA evidence doesn't exonerate Scott and Springsteen and
suggested a previously unknown 5th suspect participated with them in the

(source: Associated Press)


Jury struggling in wrongful conviction case

A federal judge ordered jurors to resume deliberating today after the jury
indicated Wednesday that it was at an impasse in the case of George
Rodriguez, who sued the city of Houston for $35 million for its role in
his wrongful conviction.

A Houston Police Department crime lab analyst gave false testimony in
Rodriguez's 1987 trial, and Rodriguez was imprisoned for more than 17
years before DNA evidence exonerated him.

The jury of 5 women and 3 men sent U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore a
note Wednesday afternoon, after about 6 hours of deliberations. The panel
said it is at an impasse on the question of whether, as police chief, Lee.
P. Brown was deliberately indifferent to the lack of training and
supervision in the crime lab and the chance a violation of someones
constitutional right to a fair trial would result.

To get to this point, the jury had to already find that the crime lab
employee's testimony played a substantial role in Rodriguezs conviction
and that the city had an official policy or custom of allowing the crime
lab personnel to be inadequately trained and supervised.

If the jury can agree that Brown was indifferent to the constitutional
risks, it has 2 more questions to address.

It has to decide if the problems with the lab were "the moving force"
behind the violation of Rodriguez's rights and, if so, how much the city
should pay Rodriguez.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Death penalty considered in slaying

Prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty against a man
accused of killing a Tulia woman in November.

Wally Hatch, 64th District attorney, said Wednesday his office likely will
seek the death penalty against Rogelio "Roger" Duran, 41. Hatch said he
hasn't filed the required paperwork with the state because his office is
waiting for some information, including lab work.

Duran was indicted by a Swisher County grand jury on a capital murder
charge Jan. 22. He's accused of killing Valerie Cross, who was in her 50s,
on Nov. 22 in her home in the 700 block of Northeast First Place.

Hatch said Cross was sexually assaulted, which is why prosecutors filed
capital murder charges.

He said he couldn't release many details about how Cross died because it
might jeopardize the case.

No trial date has been set. He said the public defender's office out of
Lubbock is slated to represent Duran.

Cross's daughter, Chandra White, said Wednesday she's requested
authorities seek the death penalty.

"Not only did this man take my mom," she said, "he took my best friend. He
took my everything."

She remembers the November day when she and Tulia police found her mother

They had gone to the home to check on Cross. White's nephew squeezed
through the window and discovered his grandmother – White's mother – lying
on the floor.

Authorities forced their way in and found Cross's body along with blood
and wads of hair throughout the home, White said.

She said police told her Cross was beaten to death. White said Cross'
official cause of death was blunt trauma to the head.

Duran was immediately named a person of interest in the case. He was
dating Cross at the time of her death, White said. He was arrested Nov. 24
in Hale County, authorities said.

White said Duran and Cross met 3 months to the day before Duran allegedly
killed her. Cross was working as a counselor, Duran was a motivational

"He charmed her from day one," she said. "(He) treated my mom like a
queen. I never, never would have expected this. He was supposed to be this
very Christian man."

However, the week before Cross's death, Cross told White that Duran was
getting jealous. Duran told Cross the two would never spend a Thanksgiving
together, White recalled.

Days later, Cross was found dead.

"He shows no remorse whatsoever," she said. "I want to know what my mom's
last words (were)," White said, "and why he killed her."

(source: Amarillo Globe)