Ken Paxton

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kentucky Fried Chicken Murder Defendant Hartsfield Found Guilty of Capital Murder

BRYAN A jury found the second of two defendants guilty of committing the 1983 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant murders in Kilgore. Darnell Hartsfield, 46, of Tyler will serve five life terms in prison for the capital murders of David Maxwell, 20; Joseph Johnson, 20; Montgomery Landers, 19; Mary Tyler, 37; and Opie Hughes, 38.

The investigation and prosecution of this long-unsolved case was led by the Office of the Attorney General in conjunction with the Rusk County District Attorney's Office.

Twenty-five years after a brutal crime that shook an entire community, Darnell Hartsfield has been convicted of brutally murdering five innocent victims at the Kilgore Kentucky Fried Chicken, said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The jury's guilty verdict in this case helps answer long unresolved questions for the victims' families. This conviction will not bring back the five lives that were taken in 1983, but it does mark a critical milestone on the path to justice.

Attorney General Abbott added, The successful prosecution of this case reflects a lengthy, cooperative effort by state and local officials. We are grateful to Rusk County Sheriff Glen Deason, Rusk County District Attorney Jimerson, former Rusk County District Attorney Kyle Freeman and the Texas Department of Public Safety Laboratory System for their commitment to this case.

Within the Office of the Attorney General, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner has tirelessly pursued justice for the victims and their families. As the lead prosecutor in this case, she has consistently sought the truth and, with unwavering help from lead investigator Missy Wolfe, has uncovered answers in this very difficult case.

Although Hartsfield previously told a grand jury he had never visited the fast food restaurant, DNA evidence placed him inside the restaurant on the night of the crime. As a result, a Rusk County Grand Jury subsequently indicted Hartsfield for aggravated perjury. Because of his prior criminal history, Hartsfield was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of perjury on Oct. 27, 2007.

Another suspect, Hartsfield’s cousin Romeo Pinkerton, 49, also from Tyler, pleaded guilty to murder charges in the case in October 2007. Pinkerton was also sentenced to five life terms in prison for his role in the KFC murders.

The 25-year-old case began when the five victims were found on rural property the night of Sept. 23, 1983. The Office of the Attorney General has been involved in the case since 1993, when then-Rusk County District Attorney Kyle Freeman requested investigative and prosecutorial assistance.