Ken Paxton

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Attorney General Abbott, Prosecutors Win Grand Jury Indictments In 22-Year Old Kentucky Fried Chicken Murder Case

HENDERSON - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today appeared before a Rusk County grand jury, which returned indictments against two Tyler men on charges of capital murder for the execution-style slaying of five victims who were kidnapped from a Kilgore Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in September 1983.

Darnell Hartsfield, 44, who was convicted of aggravated perjury linked to this case and sentenced to life in prison last month, and Romeo Pinkerton, 47, who is in jail on unrelated charges, were indicted today by the grand jury on five counts each of capital murder. The development is the latest in this notorious robbery/multiple murder case known as the KFC murders that has mystified law enforcement officials for more than two decades.

Justice has eluded the families of these victims for too long, and these indictments put us a giant step closer to that day, said Attorney General Abbott. Prosecuting Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner and I deeply appreciate the assistance of Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson, and we extend our special gratitude to former District Attorney Kyle Freeman, who initially asked for our assistance in 1993 and has tirelessly supported our efforts ever since.

Attorney General Abbott continued: As Ms. Tanner clears this major hurdle in a long and arduous investigation, we look forward to an aggressive prosecution and jury trial to bring justice to these grieving families and the community.

The case has been one of Attorney General Abbott’s priorities since he took office in December 2002. Tanner, who took the lead in the case, worked with Attorney General’s investigators and the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the murders of David Maxwell, 20, Joey Johnson, 20, Monty Landers, 19, Mary Tyler, 37, and Opie Hughes, 38. Kilgore police and Texas Rangers discovered the bodies shot in the head and back on a rural oil lease on the night of Sept. 23, 1983.

The team worked to reconstruct the crime scene, reconnect the evidence and gather DNA from the two men indicted today in an effort to build a solid case with the grand jury.

Hartsfield had previously told a grand jury he had never visited the fast food restaurant, but DNA evidence obtained from the crime scene placed him there the night of the murders. Tanner subsequently obtained an indictment against him for aggravated perjury, and because of his criminal history, Hartsfield was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on these charges on Oct. 27.

Pinkerton remains in the Smith County Jail after being arrested by the Attorney General’s Fugitive Unit in Tyler in August. He was wanted on an outstanding warrant for a parole violation on an unrelated offense. He is allegedly linked to the crime scene by DNA evidence as well.

Other law enforcement agencies that have assisted the Attorney General’s Office in investigating this historic case are the Kilgore Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety Laboratory System, the FBI, the Tyler Police Department and the Smith County Sheriff’s Office.

If convicted on capital murder charges in Texas, defendants can be sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection.