A New Jersey man has been acquitted of killing five teenagers who went missing in 1978 in what was one of the state's longest-running cold cases.
A jury in Newark on Wednesday found Lee Evans not guilty of 10 murder-related counts in the deaths of the teens, whose bodies were never found.
Evans represented himself and denied killing the boys."It's a situation where I heard him say: `not guilty,' but the fact is, they put this horrible thing on you, and you still feel guilty," a visibly stunned Evans said outside the courtroom moments after the verdict was read. He said he didn't feel vindicated by the verdict, as that the case had destroyed his life and livelihood.
"I'm literally tore up, ripped up inside from the case," he said. "How can you get past that?"
Several family members of the missing teenagers, who had packed the courtroom throughout the trial, wept and hugged one another.
"Not guilty does not mean innocent," said Terry Lawson, who was 11 when she saw last saw her older brother, Michael McDowell, climb into Evans' truck on the night he disappeared. "Mr. Evans may escape the law, but never the Lord."
McDowell said the families felt some relief learning so much more about what happened to the boys.
"We are grateful this case has been brought before a jury, understanding it's difficult to ask 12 people to go back 33 years without the technology and DNA avail today," she said, adding, "We know in our hearts what happened to the boys, and we know that Mr. Evans is a guilty man walking free today."
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said they were disappointed in the verdict.
"This is a case that has bothered the collective conscious of the Newark police force over 33 years," Murray said. "This case was never forgotten, it was never put on a back burner."
A key witness testified he helped Evans 33 years ago lure the boys to a vacant Newark home and trap them in a closet. He claimed Evans then set the house on fire.
The bodies of Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor, Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson and Michael McDowell were never found.
Earlier in the day, the jury passed a note to the judge saying it was deadlocked. But the judge told them to continue.