2nd murder trial starting in quarter-century-old East Texas KFC mass
When Darnell Hartsfield saw the inside of a Texas prison cell for the 1st
time in 1984, it was for an aggravated robbery he committed the previous
year. But prosecutors contend the Tyler man was involved in a far more
heinous crime just three days before his arrest for that September 1983
Hartsfield, 47, goes on trial this week for his part in one of Texas'
oldest unresolved mass murder cases – the slayings a quarter-century ago
of 5 people abducted during a robbery at a Kentucky Fried Chicken
restaurant in East Texas.
Prospective jurors were to gather Monday at the Brazos County Courthouse
in Bryan, where Hartsfield faces trial on 5 capital murder charges.
Hartsfield's cousin and co-defendant, Romeo Pinkerton, took a plea deal
midway through his capital murder trial last year, avoiding a possible
death sentence by accepting 5 life prison terms.
Hartsfield apparently is not negotiating a plea, said State District Judge
J. Clay Gossett.
Pinkerton's deal did not compel him to testify against Hartsfield.
The 5 victims were found dead along an oilfield road about 15 miles from
the KFC restaurant in Kilgore where they were abducted during a holdup the
previous night, Sept. 23, 1983.
Killed were David Maxwell, 20; Mary Tyler, 37; Opie Ann Hughes, 39; Joey
Johnson, 20; and Monte Landers, 19. All but Landers worked at the
At Pinkerton's trial, lead prosecutor Lisa Tanner disclosed for the 1st
time that DNA evidence confirmed that a 3rd person was involved and that
one of the victims was raped.
Tanner said Pinkerton hinted in a secretly recorded conversation with a
fellow prison inmate that he knew of that 3rd person. He hasn't identified
him, she said.
The Texas Attorney General's Office announced in December that KFC Corp.
had reinstated a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and
conviction of the 3rd person. The restaurant company had issued a similar
reward after the slayings but the reward never was claimed.
The attorney general's office has declined to say whether the renewed
reward offer has generated tips, citing the continuing investigation and
the judge's order barring everyone involved in the case from talking about
it outside the courtroom.
Without elaborating, prosecutors said earlier this year they would not
seek the death penalty for Hartsfield, who since 1995 had been serving a
40-year sentence for drug dealing. Hartsfield was convicted 3 years ago of
perjury in a KFC-related case and given a life sentence.
Pinkerton had been to prison at least 5 times and had been out of prison
just 2 days when the crime occurred.
DNA technology not available until recently showed Pinkerton's blood was
found on a napkin at the scene. Hartsfield's blood was found on a box of
cash register tapes.
Pinkerton's lawyers challenged the evidence at his trial, eliciting
testimony that showed the crime scene had been contaminated and evidence
gathering 25 years ago wasn't as sophisticated as it is today. The few
crime scene photos that weren't ruined during faulty processing don't show
the napkin or box of register tapes, and testimony from investigators
described a crime scene that had been left unprotected and trampled before
detectives could preserve it.
A retired Texas Ranger testified at Pinkerton's trial he saw the box and
the napkin but didn't collect either. A former FBI agent hired as a
special investigator in the long-stalled case found the items among
evidence that had been kept. The retired agent, George Kieny, subjected
them to DNA testing and those results ultimately led to the arrests of
Pinkerton and Hartsfield.
(source: Los Angeles Times)