Trial for Infamous KFC Murder Set to Start in Bryan

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

HOUSTON -- When Darnell Hartsfield saw the inside of a Texas prison cell for the first time in 1984, it was for an aggravated robbery the year before.

Now, prosecutors accuse the Tyler man of a far more heinous crime just three days before his arrest for the September 1983 robbery that earned him 25 years in prison.

This week, the 47-year-old inmate goes on trial for his part in one of the state's oldest unresolved mass murder cases. That's the notorious slayings a quarter-century ago of five people taken from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the East Texas city of Kilgore.

Prospective jurors gather Monday at the Brazos County Courthouse in Bryan, where Hartsfield faces trial on five capital murder charges. The trial was moved to Bryan, about 150 miles southwest of Kilgore, because of local publicity.

Hartsfield's cousin and co-defendant, Romeo Pinkerton, took a plea deal midway through his capital murder trial near Texarkana, avoiding a possible death sentence by accepting five life prison terms.

Hartsfield is apparently isn't in any similar negotiations.

Killed in the 1983 KFC holdup were David Maxwell, Mary Tyler, Opie Ann Hughes, Joey Johnson and Monte Landers. All but Landers worked at the restaurant about 25 miles east of Tyler. Landers was a friend of Maxwell and Johnson and was visiting them as the restaurant was closing for the night.

Key dates in KFC slayings case:

- Sept. 21, 1983: Convicted burglar Romeo Pinkerton of Tyler is paroled.

- Sept. 23, 1983: Five people - four employees and one friend of a worker - are reported missing at 11:30 p.m. from the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kilgore. The restaurant was to have closed at 10 p.m. A Rusk County couple reports hearing gunshots about 11 p.m.

- Sept. 24, 1983: An oilfield worker at 10:20 a.m. finds the bodies of the five missing people along an oil lease road near a well off Rusk County Road 231 just northwest of Henderson, about 15 miles south of Kilgore. All had been shot in the head.

- Sept. 26, 1983: Pinkerton's cousin, Darnell Hartsfield, commits aggravated robbery in Smith County.

- Sept. 27, 1983: Reward for information about the slayings reaches $50,000, half of the total offered by the restaurant chain. It is never claimed.

- Nov. 10, 1983: Hartsfield commits burglary in Smith County.

- Feb. 13, 1984: Hartsfield is sentenced to nine years for burglary and 25 years for robbery.

- May 8, 1984: Pinkerton is sent to prison for 25 years for January 1984 Smith County burglary while on parole.

- Jan. 27, 1988: Pinkerton paroled.

- June 8, 1989: Pinkerton parole revoked for April 1988 burglary while on parole. He gets 50 years.

- March 6, 1992: Hartsfield paroled.

- May 31, 1994: Hartsfield parole revoked.

- Oct. 7, 1994: Hartsfield released on mandatory supervision.

- March 1995: Rusk County grand jury begins hearing KFC testimony.

- April 27, 1995: James Earl Mankins Jr., son of a former state legislator, indicted on five counts of capital murder after fingernail recovered from clothing of KFC victim said to match Mankins.

- Aug. 11, 1995: Hartsfield mandatory supervision revoked; taken to prison with 40-year sentence from Smith County for delivery of controlled substance and engaging in organized criminal activity.

- Nov. 13, 1995: Charges against Mankins dropped after fingernail evidence determined to not be his.

- Dec. 1, 1998: Pinkerton paroled.

- December 2000: Rusk County Sheriff James Stroud hires a former FBI agent, George Kieny, to work on the KFC case. He finds evidence scattered at labs from Austin to Dallas.

- Sept. 11, 2001: Kieny requests DNA test on blood-stained box that held cash register tape rolls at KFC restaurant. The splatter on the white box, about the size of a dress-shirt gift box, had never been tested. Hartsfield's blood is identified.

- Sept. 2003: Rusk County grand jury begins hearing KFC testimony. Five months later, grand jurors released.

- Nov. 10, 2004: Hartsfield indicted on aggravated perjury charges for lying about whether he was in KFC restaurant the night of the abductions in 1983.

- Dec. 8, 2004: Pinkerton paroled.

- July 30, 2005: Pinkerton arrested in Tyler for burglary of school.

- Oct. 26, 2005: Jury convicts Hartsfield of aggravated perjury; sentenced to life because of six earlier felony convictions.

- Nov. 17, 2005: Texas attorney general announces capital murder
indictments against Hartsfield and Pinkerton for the KFC slayings.

- Aug. 5, 2006: Pinkerton's capital murder trial moved from Henderson to New Boston on change of venue approved by State District Judge J. Clay Gossett.

- Aug. 6, 2007: Jury selection begins in New Boston.

- Oct. 29, 2007: Pinkerton admits to the killings and receives a life sentence for each of the five deaths in a plea deal with prosecutors.

- Dec. 5, 2007: KFC Corp. reinstates $25,000 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of a third suspect.

- Jan. 22, 2008: Hartsfield's request to remove trial judge J. Clay Gossett denied.

- May 16, 2008: Prosecutors say they won't seek death penalty against Hartsfield.

- Sept. 8, 2008: Jurors report to Brazos County Courthouse in Bryan for Hartsfield's capital murder trial.

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