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Man convicted of wifes 1987 murder shares first days with family outside of prison

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(NEW YORK) — Leo Schofield has spent the last 35 years behind bars, convicted of the 1987 murder of his wife Michelle. Schofield filed four appeals while in prison, amidst new forensic evidence and a confession from a convicted killer. Each time he was denied.

But in April Leo Schofield was granted parole by the Florida State Commission on Offender Review.

Leo Schofield spoke with ABC News’ John Quiñones following his release on parole, saying he is now learning to “be in the moment and just enjoy” the time he is living outside prison.

“It doesn’t take long in prison before you realize that you were taking a lot of things for granted,” Leo Schofield said to Quiñones, “and then you’re fighting for the next 36 years to get them back.”

A new “20/20” airing Friday, June 7, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC Network and streaming the next day on Hulu, features the latest details of Leo Schofield’s case and examines what happened to Michelle Schofield.

Leo Schofield, now 58, has maintained his innocence from the very beginning.

“I love Michelle with all my heart to this day,” Leo Schofield said in a prison interview with “20/20” in 2022. “She was a victim of a cruel and heinous crime, but not one committed by her husband.”

On Feb. 24, 1987, 21-year-old Leo Schofield was waiting to get picked up by his then 18-year-old wife, Michelle Schofield. Hours passed without any sign of Michelle. Two days and a massive search later, police found her car, abandoned and missing its stereo speakers, along a highway exit ramp. The following day, her body was found underneath a plank of plywood in a drainage canal. She had been stabbed 26 times.

Leo Schofield recalled the flood of emotions he felt in the moments after Michelle’s body was recovered.

“I was so angry at God at that moment,” Leo Schofield said. “I ripped my shirt off. I punched a tree, punched the ground. I was pulling grass out of the ground.”

Leo Schofield was arrested fifteen months later, in June 1988.

During his trial in 1989, the prosecution argued that Leo regularly acted violently towards Michelle throughout their relationship. They brought in 21 character witnesses who testified about incidents of physical abuse by Leo towards Michelle, including slapping her and pulling her by the hair.

While on the stand, Schofield denied the claims made by the witnesses but admitted to slapping his wife twice.

Despite there being no forensic evidence linking Leo Schofield to the crime, the jury returned their verdict in two hours. Leo Schofield was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

About four years into his life sentence, Leo Schofield met Crissie Carter, a former state probation officer. The two married in 1995.

While researching Leo Schofield’s case, Crissie Schofield couldn’t stop thinking about the discrepancies in timelines presented at trial and the set of unidentified fingerprints found in Michelle Schofield’s car, both of which Leo Schofield’s defense attorney raised in court. Due to a lack of forensic technology, the fingerprints couldn’t be matched… until 2004.

The prints belonged to Jeremy Scott, a convicted murderer who was serving prison time for an unrelated crime. Scott lived less than 2 miles from where Michelle Schofield’s body was recovered.

Leo’s appellate attorney made a request for a new hearing based on this evidence. The court denied their request, arguing that Jeremy Scott’s fingerprints alone would not likely have led to an acquittal on retrial, and ruled there were no issues with the trial evidence that would have led to Leo’s exoneration.

In 2005, two detectives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Jeremy Scott. He denied any role in the murder of Michelle Schofield.

In 2017, Leo Schofield’s defense attorney, Andrew Crawford, enlisted an investigator to interview Scott again.

It was during this interview that Scott claimed that Michelle Schofield offered him a ride, and there was a struggle after a knife fell out of his pocket. The details recorded during this conversation led Leo Schofield’s legal team to request a retrial, which led to an evidentiary hearing.

At a 2017 evidentiary hearing, Jeremy Scott testified to the court that he murdered Michelle Schofield.

During cross-examination, the prosecution pointed out multiple times over the years where Scott denied any role in Michelle Schofield’s murder, as well as certain details that he could not recall or got wrong in his testimony, such as the clothes she wore that night.

Ultimately, Leo Schofield was again denied a new trial. The court ruled that the evidence did not meet the legal threshold for a new trial and made a finding that the testimony of Jeremy Scott was not credible.

In 2023, Leo Schofield became eligible for parole again. He was denied but was given an extension for his case to be reviewed again in 2024.

In the year leading up to his review, Leo Schofield was transitioned to a minimum-security facility in South Florida, one with a transitional program that helps prepare inmates for a life outside of prison walls.

“We’ve been walking in a tunnel in utter darkness for 35 years,” Leo Schofield told Gilbert King, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who is the host of a podcast about the case, “Bone Valley,” after the 2023 parole hearing. “We have never had a light at the end of this tunnel, ever… Yesterday, a big, bright light was lit.”

In April 2024, a parole board voted to release Leo Schofield. Now, more than three decades later, he’s being given a taste of freedom.

Leo Schofield was released on parole from a medium security correctional facility in the Everglades on April 30, 2024.

“I saw him come around the building,” Crissie Schofield told “20/20” about the day Leo Schofield was paroled. “After all these years and dreaming and hoping and waiting, it was just the most glorious, magical experience of my life.”

Leo Schofield’s legal team said he must reside in a halfway house for a year, enter a community outreach program and undergo mandatory mental health, substance abuse, anger and stress evaluations. He also has 18 months of curfew restrictions and is not allowed to contact Michelle Schofield’s family.

Leo Schofield told John Quiñones that he still thinks about his first wife Michelle Schofield “every single day.”

“This is not yet complete justice for her, and she deserves justice. She deserves better than this,” Leo Schofield said.

According to Crissie Schofield, the next step for her husband is exoneration. He is still technically a guilty man in the eyes of the law. The members of his legal team, many of whom come from the Florida Innocence Project, are fighting for full exoneration.”It’s wonderful that he’s out, but he’s not free. This isn’t over,” Crissie Schofield said.

Former Florida Judge Scott Cupp is another of Leo’s many supporters. Cupp made headlines after he stepped down from the bench in 2023 to focus on Leo’s fight for freedom.

“I finally made the decision that I’m going to step off and go back to being his lawyer and represent him at the parole hearing,” Scott Cupp told John Quiñones. “… because this guy’s innocent.”

Leo Schofield recently celebrated his 29th wedding anniversary to Crissie Schofield, played guitar for her at her birthday party and held one of his grandsons, the son of his daughter Ashley Schofield, for the very first time. Quiñones asked Leo Schofield how the future looks to him, to which he replied, “very bright.”

“I’m not going to ever take that for granted again,” Leo Schofield told Quiñones. “I’m missing 36 years’ worth of moments. I’m not going to miss another 36 years.”

ABC News’ Kaitlin Amoroso, Gail Deutsch, Jonathan Leach, Brian Mezerski, Emily Moffet, Lydia Noone, Jeff Schneider, and Brooke Stangeland contributed to this report.
 

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