NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey man who was acquitted of murder charges in one of the state’s longest-running cold cases is suing those he says put him on trial.
Lee Evans filed a civil suit in Superior Court in Newark against the Essex County prosecutor’s office, the Newark Police Department and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who was mayor during the 2011 trial, The Newark Star-Ledger reported.
Evans, who is seeking unspecified damages, claims police had no evidence tying him to the arson murder of five teenage boys from Newark who disappeared in 1978. Prosecutors relied heavily on a statement given by Evans’ cousin and co-defendant, Philander Hampton, who agreed to testify after pleading guilty in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence and $15,000 in relocation money. It was Hampton’s comments to authorities in 2008 that helped revive the long-dormant case.
Spokespeople for Booker and the Police Department declined comment. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond.
Prosecutors tried to prove that Evans killed the teens and set fire to a vacant home after the boys stole marijuana from his apartment. Evans, who ran a handyman business, often hired the teens for odd jobs and paid them in marijuana, prosecutors argued. But jurors didn’t believe it and acquitted him of 10 murder-related charges.
Evans represented himself in the trial.
The bodies of 17-year-olds Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor and 16-year-olds Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson and Michael McDowell were never found. The boys were reported missing after the fire and authorities at the time never connected the two events or examined the fire site as a crime scene.
The case, originally classified as a missing-persons case, went cold for decades until a pair of Newark detectives on the cusp of retirement decided to rework it as an unsolved homicide.
Several family members of the missing teenagers, many of whom attended every day of Evans’ trial, said they had long believed Evans had killed their loved ones.
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