Lawyers in Florida continue to rally around a man who remains behind bars for the 1987 murder of his wife, even after a convicted killer repeatedly confessed to the crime.
Leo Schofield Jr. was 21 when prosecutors claimed he killed his newlywed, 18-year-old Michelle Saum Schofield, in a fit of rage. But, as a recent exclusive interview he gave to “20/20“, many – including the Florida Innocence Project — to say Leo wasn’t the man who stabbed Michelle 26 times.
“‘Innocent’ [means] no part in it, no plan in it, I had no idea this was happening,” said the now 56-year-old prisoner of the Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green, Florida.
The case began on February 24, 1987, when Michelle stopped work around 8:15 p.m. from Tom’s Drive-In restaurant, but never returned to her home in Lakeland, Florida, about 30 miles west of Tampa, according to a leniency request of Florida’s Innocence Project. In her absence, Leo and his father, Leo Schofield Sr., began asking locals if they had seen Michelle.
Some reported that she bought $3 worth of gas in front of her job.
Three days laterMichelle’s body was found face down under a piece of plywood in a canal at valley of bones, an area of central Florida known for its fossil beds and prehistoric history. Michelle had suffered significant blood loss, with numerous stab wounds to her neck and back.
“I was so mad at God at that point,” Schofield told “20/20.” “I ripped off my shirt. I hit a tree, I hit the ground, I was pulling grass out of the ground.
Following an investigation that lasted more than a year, authorities arrested Leo in June 1988, but the evidence used against him was “entirely circumstantial”, claims the Innocence Project. According to ABC News, much of the case was devoted to witnesses citing Leo’s temper, which he acknowledged in court by claiming he punched Michelle twice.
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“Physical abuse is a type of abuse, then you have emotional abuse, which I’m guilty of,” Leo told 20/20. “I screamed a lot, and I wasn’t beyond hitting a wall and being very theatrical.”
Another major factor in the case was the testimony of a woman named Alice Scott, whose claims to have heard the couple fight the night of Michelle’s disappearance were challenged in court because the timing did not match. not.
Former state’s attorney Jerry Hill, who presided over the original case, told “20/20” that “you’re going to find discrepancies with the testimony” no matter who it is.
Although there is no physical evidence linking Leo to the murder of his wife, he was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison.
But two years later, he met Crissie Carter, a probation officer turned therapist who believed Leo when he said he was innocent. Carter, who eventually became Leo’s wife and the mother of their adopted child, re-examined the case and soon discovered fingerprints inside Michelle’s vehicle that had not been identified.
In 2004, the prints were submitted to a database and linked to a man named Jeremy Scott (no relation to the Schofields’ neighbor who testified against him), who was serving a life sentence for murder in 1988. According to the clemency petition, the canal in which Michelle’s body was found was described as Scott’s “den” and a place where he allegedly took his former girlfriend “for sex dates”.
After Michelle’s murder, Jeremy Scott was convicted of murdering 37-year-old Donald Morehead after hitting his head with a bottle and strangling him with a phone cord before stealing $20 and a car.
According to the Innocence Project, Scott had also been charged with another murder but was never convicted in that case. Prison records reviewed by Oxygene.com show that he has several other convictions to his credit, including arson in 1986 and multiple burglaries in the late 1980s.
Despite the new fingerprint evidence, which lawyers say could prove Leo was not responsible for Michelle’s murder, Leo was denied a new trial.
In 2016, one of Leo’s new lawyers claimed to have spoken with Scott, who allegedly confessed to killing Michelle during a phone call from jail. A private investigator assigned to the case also spoke to Scott.
In that conversation, Scott allegedly claimed that Michelle offered to drive him before the couple started to struggle.
“Scott didn’t have a car, so he often hitchhiked and went on rides,” according to the Innocence Project.
Scott allegedly admitted to being “heavily under the influence” of pills at the time of the murder and had a girlfriend who described him as “extremely violent”.
But there were also inconsistencies in Scott’s story: He claimed to have stabbed Michelle to death in his car, but no blood was discovered inside the vehicle, according to the clemency report.
Scott also told state investigators he would confess to any murder for $1,000, according to ABC News.
During a later hearing, Scott confessed to the murder, but then took it back saying, “I didn’t do that” upon seeing post-mortem photos of Michelle.
According to “20/20”, Scott came back to the fact that he had killed Michelle during a prison interview with the “valley of bonestrue crime podcast, which premiered earlier this month.
Scott is eligible for parole in 2023.
“I have a lot of anger about it,” said Leo ’20/20′. “He killed my wife. It’s a hard thing to forgive.
The decision to deny Leo a new trial was upheld by the appeals court in 2020.