K-F-C Slayings: Guilty Plea

News Release:

Texas Attorney General's Office

NEW BOSTON - One of two defendants charged with the 1983 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant murders today pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Romeo Pinkerton, 49, of Tyler will serve five life terms in prison for his admitted role in the 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 Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in conjunction with Rusk County District Attorney Micheal Jimerson.

Pinkerton's plea ends his capital murder trial, which began with a lengthy jury selection process last August.

"Romeo Pinkerton's admission of guilt ends decades of uncertainty for the families of five innocent victims," said Attorney General Abbott. "For too long, justice eluded these families. With another trial pending, we will stay focused and be prepared to prosecute the remaining defendant in this case."

Attorney General Abbott added, "Our successful investigation and prosecution would not have been possible without collaborative efforts by the Rusk County Sheriff's Department, Rusk County District Attorney Jimerson, former Rusk County District Attorney Kyle Freeman and the Texas Department of Public Safety Laboratory System. I want to thank Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner for her tireless work in this case. Her leadership and dedication to the victims' families helped make this possible. This guilty plea will not bring back the lives lost in 1983, but today marks a critical milestone on the path to justice."

A second defendant, Pinkerton's cousin Darnell Hartsfield, 46, also from Tyler, is awaiting trial in early 2008 on the same capital murder charges. Hartsfield pleaded not guilty.

The more than 20-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.

At the defendants' request, prosecutors agreed to move Pinkerton's trial from Rusk County to New Boston in Bowie County, about 20 miles west of Texarkana.

Prior to his trial, Pinkerton was incarcerated at the Rusk County Jail. In August 2005, he was arrested by the Attorney General's Fugitive Unit on an outstanding warrant for an unrelated parole violation.

NOTE: We have a news crew on the scene and will have continuing coverage of this story tonight on East Texas News Nightcast at 10.