- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NEW BOSTON, Texas (AP) — Nearly 24 years after the bodies of five persons shot execution-style were found along a remote road, the first trial has begun in what became one of the state’s oldest unsolved mass murder cases.

Romeo Pinkerton, 49, a convicted robber, faces a death sentence in the killings known as the Kentucky Fried Chicken murders.

Pinkerton’s cousin, Darnell Hartsfield, 46, who also has an extensive criminal record, is charged in the case as well. His trial is to be held some time next year.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors contend that Pinkerton and Hartsfield entered the KFC restaurant near closing time on the night of Sept. 23, 1983. Police said they robbed it, then forced the five victims into a van, drove about 15 miles to an oil field road and fatally shot them.

“The case has been represented by a lot smarter people than I as the most significant unsolved case in the state of Texas,” said George Kieny, a former FBI investigator brought into the long-stalled case.

Mr. Kieny collected DNA samples from Pinkerton and Hartsfield that ultimately led to the capital-murder indictments against them in November 2005.

Four of the victims worked at a KFC in Kilgore, about 25 miles east of Tyler and 115 miles east of Dallas. The fifth was a friend of one of the employees.

The victims were Mary Tyler, the restaurant’s 37-year-old assistant manager; co-workers Opie Ann Hughes, 39, and Joey Johnson and David Maxwell, both 20; and Monte Landers, 19, a friend of Mr. Johnson’s and Mr. Maxwell’s.

Police were summoned to the restaurant after Mrs. Tyler’s daughter came to pick up her mother but found no one there. Investigators found blood on the floor and a cash-register tape showing that about $2,000 was missing from the cash box.

Preliminary jury selection in Pinkerton’s trial began Monday in New Boston, where state District Judge J. Clay Gossett moved the trial because of publicity about the case in the Kilgore area, about 90 miles away.

Pinkerton, wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt over a long-sleeved white undershirt, said little in the nearly empty courtroom Monday.

Judge Gossett, who sent out 350 jury summonses, has said the trial could take as long as three months. Individual questioning of potential jurors, a tedious task likely to take weeks, is to begin next week.

The case remained open until April 1995, when a Kilgore man convicted of federal drug-trafficking charges was indicted for capital murder after a torn fingernail thought to be his was found on one of the victims’ bodies. Subsequent DNA tests, however, exonerated him. Charges were dropped, and the case remained unsolved.

Then in late 2001, Mr. Kieny, taking advantage of newly developed DNA technology, took samples from Hartsfield and Pinkerton that tied the pair to the KFC murders.

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