Ken Paxton

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kentucky Fried Chicken Murder Defendants Arraigned In Rusk County; Attorneys Appointed In Capital Murder Case

HENDERSON - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s criminal prosecutor Lisa Tanner attended the court arraignment Tuesday of two Tyler men charged with capital murder in the brutal slaying of five victims kidnapped from a Kilgore Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in September 1983.

Darnell Hartsfield, 44, who was convicted of aggravated perjury in connection with this case and sentenced to life in prison in October, and Romeo Pinkerton, 47, who is in jail on unrelated charges, were arraigned in Rusk County District Court.

I am heartened by the fact that the court is proceeding in a reasonable manner so that we can move on to trial and seek justice for the families of the victims, said Attorney General Abbott.

The two were indicted by a grand jury in November on five counts each of capital murder. Bond was set at $5 million at that time for each defendant. The development is the latest in this notorious robbery/multiple murder case known as the KFC murders. Suspects have eluded law enforcement officials for more than two decades.

Judge Clay Gossett appointed two Tyler attorneys to represent the defendants. Don Killingsworth will represent Hartsfield and Jeff Haas was picked as counsel for Pinkerton.

The case has been one of Attorney General Abbott’s priorities since he took office in December 2002. Tanner, the Assistant Attorney General who has headed the investigation, 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.

Hartsfield 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.

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