A judge in Polk County has ruled that Leo Schofield, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1989, should not get a new trial, despite new evidence that "might give one pause in an evaluation of whether reasonable doubt exists."
The evidence in question — fingerprints belonging to Jeremy Scott, who is serving a life sentence for murder — was found in the orange Mazda where victim Michelle Schofield was last seen in 1987 in Lakeland and where her blood was found. Scott had a history of violent felonies, and Schofield had a clean record when his wife was murdered. But Circuit Judge Keith P. Spoto said that he believed Scott's fingerprints in the car do not weaken the case enough "to give rise to a reasonable doubt."
Even though the evidence against Schofield, who is serving a life sentence for the murder, is "circumstantial," said Spoto, he believed it was "substantial and convincing" and would outweigh the fingerprint evidence, making it unlikely that Schofield would be acquitted at a new trial.
Spoto listed several pieces of evidence he said outweighed the fingerprint evidence: witness testimony at the original trial that Schofield "had a history of domestic abuse"; a neighbor of the Schofields' testifying that she heard Leo and Michelle "involved in a physical confrontation"; that neighbor testifying that Leo carried something covered to the Mazda that was the size of a "sleeping child."
The St. Petersburg Times wrote about Schofield's case and the new fingerprint evidence in a 2007 story called "Doubt."
Police found Michelle's orange car abandoned on Interstate 4 in Polk County, with Scott's fingerprints in it. But the fingerprints were not identified for almost two decades. The judge noted in his ruling that the stereo was missing from the car and that Jeremy Scott said he stole stereos.
"Although Mr. Scott may not be an entirely credible witness in many respects, the Court found his explanation of why his fingerprints were found in the victim's car to be credible," wrote the judge.
Chip Thullbery, a spokesman for the Polk state attorney, said that prosecutors "believe the judge came to the correct result."
Said Schofield's attorney, Scott Cupp: "While we remain respectful of the court, we find the ruling difficult to understand on many levels."
Cupp will appeal the decision immediately, he said.