Released Murder Suspect Loses Compensation Claim

     AUSTIN (CN) – New DNA evidence got a man released from the prison where he had spent nearly 10 years, but he cannot sue to be declared innocent, a federal judge ruled.
     The 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders, as they came to be known, involved four young teenage girls who had been bound and gagged with their own clothes, shot in the head and left to burn in an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! shop.
     Police finally arrested four suspects for the murders in 1999, including 24-year-old Robert Springsteen IV of West Virginia and 25-year-old Michael Scott of Texas.
     Springsteen and Scott were ultimately convicted, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Springsteen’s conviction in 2006 after finding that his rights were violated because he had been unable to cross-examine Scott.
     While awaiting retrial, the trial court heard new evidence showing Springsteen’s DNA did not match any evidence from the crime scene or on the victims. Springsteen and Scott were released in 2009, and prosecutors dismissed the charges against them. Cold case detectives have reportedly taken over the case, while Springsteen sought compensation on the nine years he was wrongly imprisoned.
     Texas comptroller Susan Combs denied two applications from Springsteen, who then filed suit.
     In addition to compensation, Springsteen sought a ruling that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was incarcerated.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin recommended dismissal of the case Thursday, finding Springsteen’s claims have no place in civil court.
     Combs proved that, as a state official, the 11th Amendment grants her immunity against the suit “because it is settled that state officials are immune from state law claims for money in federal court,” according to the ruling.
     Springsteen tried to tailor his argument to fit a narrow exception to the 11th Amendment immunity of state officials by arguing that he was denied due process, the right to a speedy trial and equal protection under the law guaranteed by the constitution.
     Austin was unconvinced.
     “The failing of this argument is that these alleged violations are not related in any way to Springsteen’s claims against the Comptroller, but rather appear to arise out of his prosecution, conviction and imprisonment,” Austin wrote. “Whether or not he received a speedy trial, or due process, or suffered cruel and unusual punishment in his underlying criminal case has no bearing on whether Combs’ properly denied Springsteen’s request for compensation.”
     Springsteen also failed to show that the court’s declaration of his actual innocence would entitle him to compensation for time served, according to the ruling.
     Austin said that Texas’ Wrongful Imprisonment Act requires that such a finding be made in a habeas corpus proceeding.
     “Thus, even if this court had jurisdiction to consider some portion of Springsteen’s claims, the court lacks the authority to redress the wrong on which Springsteen bases this suit,” Austin concluded.

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