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Newark Man Acquitted Of 1978 Child Murders

11/23/2011 04:11 PM ET

Newark Man Acquitted 1978 Murders - A Newark jury acquitted Lee Anthony Evans of murder charges Wednesday in the case of five boys who disappeared in 1978 and were believed to be burned alive, leaving unresolved one of the city’s coldest cases.

Evans, 58, a mason who has lived most of his life in the Newark area, a fact that he used in his defense as a sign of his innocence, showed little joy in the verdict. “If you smash something up, tear something up, you can’t put it back together,” he said.

Relatives of the boys gasped quietly in the courtroom as the verdict was read Wednesday morning, after about 14 hours of deliberations over several days.

In acquitting Evans, the jurors rejected the testimony of his cousin, Philander Hampton, a petty criminal who pleaded guilty to the murders before the trial began. His words alone linked Mr. Evans to the boys’ disappearances.

The verdict followed two weeks of testimony and arguments from the Essex County prosecutor’s office and Evans, who chose to represent himself through most of the cross-examinations, lending a from-the-hip, if at times meandering tone to the proceedings.

A defense lawyer, Olubukola Adetula, was assigned by the court to assist Evans, an opportunity of which the defendant seemed to avail himself only toward the trial’s conclusion.

Evans was charged with the murders of five boys — Alvin Turner, 16; Melvin Pittman, 17; Randy Johnson, 16; Ernest Taylor, 17; and Michael McDowell, 16 — on the night of Aug. 20, 1978.

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