Death by FroYo

Diana Carmona, Reporter

One minute you’re doing petty crime to make a dollar, the next you’re sitting in a small room with two investigators for hours with no end in sight. You begin to believe that if you tell the investigators what they want to hear, they’ll stop accusing you of being accused of brutally murdering four4 girls and being forced to confess.

Friday, December 6th, 1991 after 7 p.m. in Austin, Texas, 17 year-olds Eliza Thomas and Jennifer Harbison were at their job at a local yogurt shop. Later that day Jennifer’s younger sister, 15-year-old Sarah Harbison, and her friend, 13-year-old Amy Ayers were walking from the mall to the yogurt shop to help and hang out with the girls. 

A woman later said when she walked in an hour or two before closing at 11 p.m., she noticed two suspicious-looking guys sitting across from each other in a booth. The woman said that she felt uncomfortable with the guys there alone with the girls, as the guys were the only other customers in the store.

While Eliza and Jennifer were cleaning at around 10:30, two more customers came into the shop, a man and a woman who also noticed the same suspicious men sitting down. The man and woman left at 10:47, once again leaving the men to be the only customers in the store. 

  What happened between 10:47 and 11:48 is unknown to this day. What we do know is at 11:03 the cash register opened on Eliza’s account, and the killers took $500. At 11:48 a cop sees smoke coming from the shop and calls it in to dispatch. 

 Assuming it was an accidental fire, and having no clue of the horrors that had happened, the firefighters went in.  A firefighter later said the image that pops into his head whenever talks or even thinks about the case, is what he saw while he was walking through the smoke putting out the fire with water, a human foot.

   The girls were found in the back of the store with the back door propped open. Their bodies had been burned so badly that they melted into the floor becoming part of it. 

Due to not smelling anything on the bodies, walls, or shelves, they didn’t swab the bodies for accelerant Austin, Texas was not ready for that type of crime. Original M.E’s report 3 of the girls claimed they had possibly been shot before set on fire.

At one point police arrested 16-year-old Maurice Pierce, 15-year-old Forest Wellborn, and 17 year-olds Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen on the suspicion that Pierce was found with a similar bullet to the crime,  which was later proven to not be the murder weapon.  

After the case went cold, new detectives took over seven years to go back to the four men, and reinvestigate.  After hours of interrogation and the detectives coursing the men, Scott and Springsteen falsely confessed. After reviewing interrogation transcripts, many believe Scott was clearly being led by the investigators. The same thing happened to the other three men but Pierce and Wellborn did not confess.  

 With the confessions that detectives coerced, a timeline was built, and even though the confessions did not match each other, jurors took notice. Only three-fourths of men were taken to trial with no physical evidence.  Eventually, the charges were dropped against Pierce and they tried to take Wellborn to trial but two juries would indict him and all charges were dropped.  

Pierce and Wellborn tried to recant the confessions due to coercion but it was too late because their confessions would be used against each other in the trial. The investigators led the men to falsely confess.

 The detectives and prosecutors didn’t have the actual men there in person, just their recording. They didn’t want them there for fear of coercion. By not having the men there in person, the prosecutors were denying a constitutional right for Pierce and Wellborn to confront their accusers.