By KENNETH DEAN
NEW BOSTON — A detective testified Tuesday that it was three weeks after the Kentucky Fried Chicken murders in 1983, before his superiors named him as lead detective. Until then, there was little semblance of a hierarchy in the case, he said.
“The detectives and all the agencies were going in their own directions,” former Kilgore Detective Danny Pirtle said on the stand Tuesday afternoon.
Pirtle was testifying at the capital murder trial of Romeo Pinkerton, who along with his cousin, Darnell Hartsfield, are the two people charged in the slayings of five people abducted from a Kilgore eatery on Sept. 23, 1983.
Pirtle said as one of the first detectives on the scene, he went through the restaurant, made note of what he saw and gathered some evidence, including two employees hats and a note to one of the male victims from a girlfriend.
However, Pirtle said he never saw a box or a paper napkin in the restaurant that are two key pieces of evidence in the state’s cases.
Pirtle added he gathered the note and two employee’ caps from the floor in the kitchen area so he could “maintain the evidence.”
Lisa Tanner, Texas Attorney prosecutor leading the state’s team, asked Pirtle if he had ever been made aware of the existence of the box and napkin. He said some weeks later, he became aware, though he did not know who had collected the pieces of evidence.
The box and napkin the state contends has blood belonging to Hartsfield and both pieces of evidence were key in securing an aggravated perjury conviction against Hartsfield and the indictments for capital murder against the two men.
Pinkerton and Hartsfield are charged with the deaths of Mary Tyler, 37; Opie Ann Hughes, 39; Joey Johnson, 20; David Maxwell, 20; and Monte Landers, 19. Their bodies were found the next day. Each had been shot at least twice — “execution style.”
Pirtle was not the only law enforcement officer to say he did not see the napkin or the box.
Former Kilgore Officer Wayne Reynolds said he was dispatched to the restaurant after family members called police stating the employees were missing.
Reynolds testified he entered the building and took note of some blood in several areas, but he emphatically stated that he did not note any bloody napkin in his notes that night.
“There were other paper-type products and things on the floor that would be in the restaurant, but I don’t remember a specific one,” he said. “I didn’t make a notation of it in my report.”
Defense Attorney Jeff Haas began his cross-examination by going over Reynolds’ employment history, which included several years as a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper.
He then began questioning Reynolds about the napkin.
“There is nothing in your original report about this, is there?” Haas asked.
“No there isn’t,” Reynolds answered.
Haas then asked if there were problems with crime scene integrity.
“You learned that other people had already been in the restaurant, correct?”
Haas asked if one of the victim’s family members had been into the business before police arrived.
“Yes they had,” he answered.
Pinkerton just looked on as his team of attorneys whispered, amongst themselves, after the questioning of Reynolds.
During the testimony of former KFC Manager LeAnn Killingsworth, the defense honed in on the fact there had been petty thefts occuring in the restaurant for several weeks.
Defense Attorney David Griffith began questioning Killingsworth about the missing money from the cash register that had been taking place for a period of time. “You thought quote un quote that someone was tapping the till. Is that right?”
“Yes sir,” she said.
“Wasn’t there significant problems with Kim (Mary Tyler’s daughter and a KFC employee) and her mother?” Griffith asked.
“There were problems, but I wouldn’t say significant,” she replied.
“Wasn’t her mother concerned about the crowd, a rough crowd that she hung around?” he asked.
“That’s what she said,” was her reply.
Griffith then began asking if Killingsworth had any connection with Jimmy Earl Mankins Jr., and she answered no.
Mankins had long been a suspect by some law enforcement officers and was indicted for the murders in 1995. His record was later expunged when DNA testing ruled him out as a suspect.
“Everyone knew him (Mankins) because he was sort of an outlaw,” she said.
However, in her opening arguments Monday, Tanner made it clear there was no physical evidence tying Mankins to either of the crime scenes.
Mankins’ parents, former State Representative James Mankins Sr. and his wife, Virgina, have been attending the trial and say they feel relieved their son is no longer a suspect.
“We felt all along he didn’t have anything to do with this,” Mankins said. “We are relieved, but we will continue coming to the trial to see what happens. It has been a part of our lives for so long.”
Family members of the victims embraced each other again Tuesday afternoon, during Pirtle’s testimony under Tanner’s questioning about the location of the bodies and how they were positioned.
Pirtle is scheduled to be cross-examined when testimony begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston. The trial was moved to the small town 120 miles northeast of Tyler due to extensive media coverage for the past two decades.