Bombshell revelations revealed in decades-old Fort Bend County double-murder trial
RICHMOND – Mysterious details emerged last week in the Fort Bend County trial of 44-year-old Chiron Francis, a man who spent more than 20 years on the run as an international fugitive and now stands accused in the 1994 double-murder of two young Austin men in southwest Houston.
Testimony revealed mysterious ties to the Houston Police Officers Association including an HPOA sticker on one of the victim’s cars and an envelope full of money found in the victim’s safe deposit box. Crime report pictures presented as evidence revealed the envelope was from the Houston Police Department Federal Credit Union, a detail not noted in HPD investigator’s reports.
Prosecutors say Francis, 44, fled the country after he allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Douglas Schwartz and 19-year-old Eric Heidbreder, college students from Austin, on April 11, 1994. The victims were shot in the head while sitting in Schwartz’s 1992 red Mazda sports car in the 15700 block of Park Manor.
But key details put forward by prosecutors were called into question by Athena Scopelitis, who described herself as a former friend who traveled to the Dominican Republic with Francis shortly after the murders.
During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Mark Hanna, Scopelitis told jurors she discovered she was pregnant shortly after her arrival and had returned to Houston to seek treatment for medical complications with the pregnancy in October 1994. Prosecutors asked if she remembered being interviewed by Sgt. D.D. Shirley from the Houston Police Department when she returned.
“I remember being picked up by the police,” Scopelitis told jurors. “They took my passport. They called me all kinds of names and threatened to take my unborn son.”
When shown a handwritten statement Sgt. Shirley had filed with her signature, Scopelitis denied any knowledge of the document or its contents.
“I don’t remember writing this statement,” she said. “That’s my signature but the handwriting isn’t mine. They could’ve added my signature to that paper.”
During cross-examination by defense attorney L.T. “Butch” Bradt, it was revealed that an earlier suspect in the shooting, George Ward, was the baby’s father. Bradt told jurors, Ward, also known as Michael Griffith, was killed in a shootout with the Houston Police Department shortly after Scopelitis returned from the Dominican Republic.
On Monday, Jurors listened to a recording of Francis’ statement to federal agents in a Caracas jail, just days before he was extradited in June 2014 from Venezuela to Fort Bend County. Francis said he saw the two victims that morning, but insisted he hadn’t murdered anyone.
He told agents he sometimes sold marijuana to Schwartz.
“They were trying to score big so I told him to call BJ, my connection, who was with the Mexican mob,” Francis said in the recording.
After the two Austin men were murdered, Francis said he received death threats from Mexican mob members and decided to flee the country.
Judge Brady G. Elliot and the jury were scheduled to hear closing arguments Monday in the 268th District Court of Fort Bend County.
Because he was extradited from Venezuela, Francis is not eligible for the death penalty. If convicted, Francis could receive anything from probation to 99 years in prison according to prosecutors.
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