NEWARK, N.J. (CBS 2) — One of two men accused of killing five Newark teenagers more than three decades ago may walk out of Essex County Jail soon.
The main defendant in the cold case, Lee Evans, has made bail and could be released as early as Thursday.
For the relatives of the victims – all presumed murdered in 1978 – a welcomed sense of closure could be dashed away if Evans is released from custody.
“It’s unbelievable that this can happen,” said Terry Lawson, a sister to one of the victims.
An Essex County Superior Court Judge agreed Wednesday to let Evan’s family put up three properties to meet a recently lowered bail of $950,000 – down from the originally $5 million.
From the beginning, Evans was considered a suspect, but he passed a lie detector test and for years walked the streets of Newark without being charged.
A then-free Evans spoke to CBS 2 HD in 2009, defending his innocence.
“I passed it,” he said of his lie detector test.
But the family members of the victims don’t buy it.
“I sort of can sense what the judge may be feeling in that this man didn’t have any criminal background, any criminal convictions,” said Gerald McDowell, relative to a victim. “But there’s a first time for everything.”
And now, with Evans’ potential release, some feel a wound has been reopened.
“We are very disappointed and we are angry,” said Lawson. “Because we feel that we’ve victimized once again by Lee Evans.”
Detectives say it was a hot Sunday evening in August 1978 when Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner met Evans to help him load up his truck with boxes.
Investigators say Evans, along with one his cousins and another now-deceased accomplice killed the boys in an abandoned house and then burned it down because they thought the teens stole a pound of marijuana from one of the defendants.
Defense attorney Michael Robbins says the prosecution’s case rests on the less-than-credible account of Evans’ now-incarcerated cousin, and that his innocent client, Lee Evans, never ran and has nothing to hide.
“They say that the wicked flee and that the righteous and the innocent are bold as a lion,” said Robbins. “He’s gone nowhere, and will go nowhere.”
Meanwhile, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office considers Lee Evans a flight risk.
“This decision is disturbing,” Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino said in a statement. “We consider the bail insufficient in a case involving a man charged with killing five teenage boys.”