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DNA Helps Prosecutors Secure Indictments

November 18, 2005

HENDERSON, Texas (AP) _ DNA evidence helped prosecutors win capital murder indictments in the slayings of five people who were kidnapped from a fast-food restaurant more than two decades ago.

Thursday’s indictments of Darnell Hartsfield, 44, and Romeo Pinkerton, 47, were the result of years of work by investigators, including a former sheriff who was a childhood friend of one of the victims.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

The two were indicted on five counts each in the September 1983 slaying in East Texas city of Kilgore. The five victims were taken at gunpoint from a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and found the next day in an oil field with gunshot wounds to the head.

Authorities re-examined evidence in recent years, using DNA and other technology that was unavailable two decades ago, and uncovered new evidence, Abbott said.

Among those who worked on the case was former county Sheriff James Stroud _ a childhood friend and then pallbearer of 20-year-old victim David Maxwell.

Stroud hired retired FBI agent George Kieny part-time after meeting him in 1998, and together they gathered evidence and statements and pieced them together.

Hartsfield was convicted last month of aggravated perjury related to the murder case. He previously told a grand jury he had never been to that restaurant, but DNA evidence showed he was there the night of the killings, authorities said.

Hartsfield was sentenced to life in prison on the perjury conviction because of a long criminal record that included aggravated robbery and engaging in organized crime.

Pinkerton remains jailed after being arrested in Tyler in August on an outstanding warrant for a parole violation.

The murder investigation remains open, Abbott said.

Along with Maxwell, the victims were Opie Hughes, 38; Joey Johnson, 20; Monty Landers, 19; and Mary Tyler, 37.

Another man was indicted in the case in 1995, but the indictment was expunged after DNA testing contradicted earlier findings that a fingernail found at the scene belonged to him.

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