A Newark man charged with murdering five teenagers back in 1978 was acquitted Wednesday morning.
Lee Anthony Evans, 58, was found not guilty on five counts of felony murder in the deaths of 16-year-olds Michael McDowell, Alvin Turner and Randy Johnson and 17-year-olds Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor.
Evans' cousin, 54-year-old Philander Hampton, confessed to the killing in 2008 and implicated Evans as the mastermind of the slaying in exchange for a plea deal. Hampton said he and Evans lured the boys into an abandoned house and locked them in a closet while they set it on fire, burning it to the ground. He said he initially thought Evans just meant to scare the boys after they had allegedly stolen some marijuana from his home.
Due to the fact that the boys' bodies were never found and there was no DNA evidence linking either man to the crime, jurors were forced to rely solely on Hampton's testimony at the first trial in 2010. Evans and Hampton were both convicted of murder and Hampton was given a reduced sentence of 10 years in prison. He is expected to be released months earlier due to time already served and sentencing guidelines from 1978.
At Evans' second trial, in which he represented himself with the help of a legal advisor, the defense unraveled Hampton's testimony by pointing out his extensive criminal history, as well as the fact that he worked out a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony. In addition, Hampton admitted that he confessed to the crime after 13 hours of questioning from investigators.
While Evans was pleased with the verdict, he said it does not erase the pain of being accused of such a heinous crime.
"That was the jury, that wasn’t the people," he said, according to Nj.com "That’s not the same thing as someone destroying you. It’s like someone put you in the oven and burned you up. You can’t undo that."