NJ Man Accused in Murders of 5 Newark Kids in '78 Free on Bail

Saturday, Aug 21, 2010  |  Updated 11:30 AM EDT
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Lee Evans (l) and Philander Hampton (r) were charged with murder in connection with the boys' disappearance.

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One of the men charged with murdering five New Jersey teens who disappeared in 1978 has been freed from jail after relatives posted his reduced bail.

Lee Evans, of Irvington, left the Essex County jail around 8 p.m. Friday. He had no comment as he got into a pickup truck driven by his son.

Prosecutors say the 56-year-old Evans — who maintains his innocence — and his 53-year-old cousin, Philander Hampton of Jersey City, killed the teens in a dispute over missing drugs by herding them at gunpoint into an abandoned building and setting it on fire. It is one of the longest-running cold cases in the state's history.

Law enforcement officials, including some who investigated the teens' disappearance in 1978, have said the inquiry was hampered at the outset because the fire occurred before the five boys were reported missing and no one connected the two.

The investigation languished, unsolved, for nearly three decades until authorities said there was a major break in the case about two years ago, though they have not fully explained what the break entailed.

Evans and Hampton each face five counts of murder and one count of arson. Hampton remained jailed Saturday on $5 million bail.

Evans' bail was lowered this week to $950,000 from its original $5 million. His attorney, Michael Robbins, said Evans' family members put up three properties to spring him from jail while he awaited trial.

Prosecutors opposed the lower bail, arguing that Evans has an incentive to flee because he could face five consecutive life sentences.

The 16- and 17-year-old victims — Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor, Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson and Michael McDowell — were last seen on a busy Newark street on Aug. 20, 1978.

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