HENDERSON, Texas – A convicted burglar pleaded guilty Monday to the deaths of five people who were abducted from a fast-food restaurant in one of Texas' most notorious and longest-unsolved mass murder cases.
Romeo Pinkerton, 49, admitted to the deaths as part of a plea bargain offered by the Texas Attorney General's Office. In exchange for the plea, Pinkerton received a life sentence for each of the five deaths.
Judge J. Clay Gossett said in a brief news release that the families of the victims approved the plea bargain.
"Romeo Pinkerton's admission of guilt ends decades of uncertainty for the families of five innocent victims," state Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a release.
"This guilty plea will not bring back the lives lost in 1983, but today marks a critical milestone on the path to justice," Abbott said.
Pinkerton and his cousin, Darnell Hartsfield, were accused of abducting the victims during a holdup of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kilgore on Sept. 23, 1983.
The victims were found dead the next morning along a remote oilfield road about 15 miles away in rural Rusk County.
Four of the victims worked at the KFC in Kilgore, about 115 miles east of Dallas. The fifth was a friend of one of the employees.
If convicted at trial, Pinkerton faced a possible death sentence.
Hartsfield is expected to stand trial on the same charges sometime next year. He has pleaded not guilty. Hartsfield has been in a Texas prison since 1995 on a 40-year sentence on delivery of a controlled substance and engaging in organized criminal activity convictions.
A call to Hartsfield's attorney, Donald Killingsworth, went unanswered Monday night.
While the case was moved to Bowie County, about 100 miles from Kilgore, Pinkerton entered his plea Monday in Henderson. The judge gave the families of the victims a chance to make victim impact statements after he imposed the sentence.
The judge gave the families of the victims a chance to make victim impact statements after he imposed the sentence.
During the statements, Pinkerton sat emotionless in the courtroom while relatives talked about how they suffered from the deaths of their loved ones, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported on its Web site.
"You're not only a murderer, you are a coward to let this continue all of these years," Kathy Hamilton, whose brother David Maxwell was among those killed, told Pinkerton.
Jack Hughes, husband of victim Opie Hughes, lashed out at Pinkerton.
"You had no right," he said. "No one has the right to be the animal that you are. I want you to think of me for the next 100 years. When you draw your last breath of life, that's when your punishment will begin."
David Maxwell, 23, said he never knew his father but felt a sense of relief mixed with sadness.
"We're glad we're finally moving on and hopefully this will help us all finish moving on," he said in a story for Tuesday's Morning Telegraph. "Knowing kind of what happened, maybe I can move past that. I think a lot of the anger comes from the fact that there was nothing for so long. Every time you thought you were at that point, you weren't."