Blood found at a fast-food restaurant in 1983 linked a convicted burglar to one of Texas’ oldest unsolved mass murders, a court was told.
Records show Romeo Pinkerton had been out of prison just two days when a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was robbed and five people taken out and shot along a remote road.
Investigators believed at least some of the victims had put up a struggle before they were taken from the restaurant.
DNA tests showed Pinkerton’s blood was found on a napkin at the KFC, prosecutor Lisa Tanner told the jury in New Boston.
Blood from Pinkerton’s cousin, Darnell Hartsfield, who was arrested for aggravated robbery three days after the killings, was found on a box of cash register tapes, Tanner said.
Pinkerton, 49, is charged with capital murder. Hartsfield, 46, also of Tyler, is charged with the same five murder charges and will probably go to trial next year.
Hartsfield has been in a Texas prison since 1995 on a 40-year sentence for delivery of a controlled substance and engaging in organised criminal activity.
In 2001, a former FBI investigator brought in to help with the long-stalled case took advantage of newly developed DNA technology that led to the charges against Hartsfield and Pinkerton, who has been to prison at least five times for various crimes.
In a secretly recorded conversation with a fellow prison inmate, Pinkerton hinted he knew about a third person involved in the crime, a detail authorities had never revealed, said Tanner, an assistant attorney general.
The identity of that person remains unknown but was confirmed when DNA tests showed one of the victims had been raped, which was also never revealed publicly, said Tanner, who prefaced her remarks by apologising to several dozen relatives of the victims seated in the court.
Pinkerton’s lawyers suggested in opening statements that the evidence had been contaminated in an era when authorities were not as sophisticated.
“A trial should be a search for the truth,” defence lawyer Jeff Haas said. “It’s not going to be in this case because so many things are out there that can’t be answered.”
Pinkerton’s other lawyer, David Griffith, also attacked the evidence collection and resulting DNA tests.
“Evidence was picked up by people who had no idea DNA would be important 24 years later,” he said. “We wouldn’t do it that way now.”
Haas also said the prison informant could not be trusted.
“This isn’t the first time he’s acting as a jailhouse snitch,” he said of the prisoner who was wired and taped a conversation with Pinkerton.
Haas said the prisoner made a deal to sweeten his own confinement and that the recording was difficult to understand.
“I’d be surprised you can make heads or tails of anything said,” he said. “Nowhere on that tape Romeo Pinkerton said, ’I did it’.”
Four of the victims worked at the 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 Johnson and Maxwell.
The trial was moved to Bowie County in far north-east Texas because or publicity in the Kilgore area, about 90 miles to the south.