More than 23 years after 2 UT students murdered, accused killer stands trial

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than 23 years since the execution-style murders of two U.T. students in southwest Houston, their accused killer is facing a jury.

Douglas Schwartz, 20, and Eric Heidbreder, 19, were found shot to death inside Schwartz's car on April 11, 1994, in the 15700 block of Park Manor. Police said they were there during a break from school. Investigators say they were shot by someone in the back seat of the vehicle.

Early on, police identified Chiron Frances as a person of interest. They said the victims were trying to buy marijuana from him. During opening statements, Frances' attorney told the jury it was around $24,000 worth of pot.

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An accused killer is standing trial two decades after two UT students were killed.

Eyewitnesses said they saw a man shoot inside that red car and run off.

Despite their best efforts, including exhaustive door-to-door searches and thousands of dollars in reward money offered by the victim's families, Frances stayed under the radar for 21 years. Only in 2015 was he recognized by authorities in Venezuela. Investigators haven't yet said how.

SEE ALSO: Double murder suspect behind bars after 21 years on the run

"He was on the lam. He was a fugitive from justice longer than both Douglas and Eric had lived on this planet. That speaks volumes," said City of Houston victim's rights advocate Andy Kahan.

Prosecutors say Frances confessed to a friend shortly after the attack. Prosecutor Matthew Banister told the jury Frances confided in a friend: "Did you hear about those two white boys that got shot?... I did that. I set it up."

Attorneys for Frances say eyewitnesses can't identify him as the shooter. They question police work at the time and claim certain evidence previously in custody went missing.

Frances' lead defense attorney, Butch Bradt told the jury, "The case just does not make sense. The case is simple as A-B-C. Anything but competent, anything but complete, anything but conclusive."

The extradition from Venezuela means Frances is not eligible for the death penalty.

Attorneys say this case should last about two weeks. If convicted, prosecutors say Frances could receive anything from probation to 99 years in prison.

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