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Florida Man Convicted Of Wife's 1987 Bone Valley Murder Maintains Innocence
Leo Schofield remains in prison for the stabbing murder of his wife, Michelle Saum Schofield, even though a convicted murderer whose fingerprints were found inside the victim's car has repeatedly confessed to killing her.
Advocates in Florida continue to rally around a man who remains behind bars for his wife's 1987 murder, even after a convicted killer confessed multiple times to the crime.
Leo Schofield Jr. was 21 when prosecutors allege he killed his newlywed, Michelle Saum Schofield, 18, in a fit of rage. But, as highlighted in a recent exclusive interview he gave to "20/20," many — including the Innocence Project of Florida — say Leo wasn’t the man who stabbed Michelle 26 times.
“‘Innocent’ [means] no part in it, no plan in it, didn’t know it was happening,” said the now-56-year-old prisoner from the Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green, Florida.
The case began on Feb. 24, 1987, when Michelle clocked out of work at around 8:15 p.m. from Tom’s Drive-In restaurant but never returned to her Lakeland, Florida, home — about 30 miles west of Tampa — according to a clemency application from the Innocence Project of Florida. In her absence, Leo and his father, Leo Schofield Sr., began asking locals if they’d seen Michelle.
Some reported that she’d purchased $3 of gasoline across the street from her job.
Three days later, Michelle’s body was found face down under a piece of plywood in a canal in Bone Valley, a region in Central Florida know for its fossil beds and prehistoric history. Michelle had suffered extensive blood loss, with many stab wounds to her neck and back.
“I was so angry at God at that moment,” Schofield told "20/20." “I ripped my shirt off. I punched a tree, punched the ground, I was pulling grass out of the ground.”
Following an investigation that took more than a year, authorities arrested Leo in June 1988 —but the evidence used against him was “entirely circumstantial,” the Innocence Project claims. According to ABC News, much of the case was devoted to witnesses citing Leo’s temper, to which he admitted in court by claiming he twice smacked Michelle.
“Physical abuse is one type of abuse, and then you have the emotional abuse, which I’m guilty of,” Leo told 20/20. “I did a lot of yelling, and I wasn’t beyond punching a wall and being very theatrical.”
Another major factor in the case was the testimony of a woman named Alice Scott, whose claims of hearing the couple fighting on the night of Michelle’s disappearance were challenged in court because the timeline didn’t fit.
Former State’s Attorney Jerry Hill, who presided over the original case, told "20/20" that “you’re going to find some discrepancies with witness testimony” no matter who it is.
Although there was no physical evidence tying Leo to his wife’s murder, he was found guilty 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 to their adopted child, reexamined the case and soon discovered fingerprints inside Michelle’s vehicle that hadn’t been identified.
In 2004, the prints were submitted into 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 a 1988 murder. According to the clemency application, the canal in which Michelle’s body was found was described as Scott’s “lair” and a place he allegedly took his former girlfriend “for sexual trysts.”
After Michelle's murder, Jeremy Scott had been convicted of murdering Donald Morehead, 37, after beating his head with a bottle and strangling him with a telephone cord before stealing $20 and a car.
According to the Innocence Project, Scott had also charged with another murder but was never convicted in that case. Prison records reviewed by Oxygen.com show he has several other convictions under his belt, including a 1986 arson and multiple burglaries from the late 1980s.
Despite the new fingerprint evidence, which advocates say could prove Leo wasn’t responsible for Michelle’s murder, Leo was denied a new trial.
In 2016, one of Leo’s new attorneys claimed he spoke with Scott, who allegedly confessed to killing Michelle on a phone call from prison. A private investigator assigned to the case also talked to Scott.
In that conversation, Scott allegedly claimed that Michelle offered to give him a ride before the pair began to struggle.
“Scott did not have a car, so he frequently hitchhiked and bummed 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 being “extremely violent.”
But there were also inconstancies in Scott’s story: He claimed he fatally stabbed Michelle in her 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 evidentiary hearing, Scott confessed to the murder but then took it back, declaring, “I didn’t do that” when seeing postmortem photos of Michelle.
According to "20/20," Scott went back to stating that he had killed Michelle in a prison interview with the “Bone Valley” true crime podcast, which premiered earlier this month.
Scott is eligible for parole in 2023.
“I have a lot of anger about it,” Leo told "20/20." “He murdered 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.