From AP REPORTS
HENDERSON, Texas (AP) – The judge presiding over the upcoming trial of one of two men accused in the notorious Kentucky Fried Chicken killings will remain on the case after a visiting judge rejected the defendant's request for a new judge.
Darnell Hartsfield, 47, is facing a possible death sentence when he is tried for five capital murder charges for the abduction and shooting deaths of five people from the Kilgore KFC in 1983.
Hartsfield argued that state District Judge J. Clay Gossett was biased after heading earlier grand juries related to the KFC slayings and presiding over the 2005 KFC-related case where Hartsfield was convicted of perjury and given a life prison sentence.
But visiting Judge Lisa Burkhalter, a former Angelina County court-at-law judge, denied Hartsfield's motion to remove Gossett during a hearing Thursday.
Hartsfield's cousin, Romeo Pinkerton, 49, of Tyler, pleaded guilty in October to his role in the slayings. In his plea, made in the midst of his capital murder trial that could have resulted in a death sentence, he accepted five life prison terms.
Testifying in last week's hearing, Hartsfield said he felt he could not get a fair trial from Gossett. He said Gossett overruled all of his attorney's objections during the perjury trial.
"During my perjury trial I felt Judge Gossett leaned toward the state and let (Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner) do what she wanted to do," Hartsfield testified. "I don't see how (Gossett) could be impartial."
Tanner disputed that argument.
"There's absolutely no evidence other than this defendant's own perceptions that the judge has shown any bias in this case," Tanner said.
After the hearing, Gossett met with attorneys from both sides and set Aug. 25 as a target date to begin jury selection for Hartsfield's trial.
Prosecutors have asked it be moved from Henderson because of publicity in the high-profile case that became one of Texas' longest unsolved mass murders. Gossett moved Pinkerton's trial to New Boston, in far northeast Texas.
Gossett has said he will attend a judicial conference in the coming weeks and planned to ask judges from the Dallas and San Antonio areas about moving the trial there and about availability of courtroom space.
The five victims were found dead along an East Texas oilfield road about 15 miles from the KFC restaurant in Kilgore where they were abducted during a holdup the previous night, Sept. 23, 1983.
Killed were David Maxwell, 20; Mary Tyler, 37; Opie Ann Hughes, 39; Joey Johnson, 20; and Monte Landers, 19. All but Landers worked at the restaurant about 25 miles east of Tyler and 115 miles east of Dallas. Landers was a friend of Maxwell and Johnson and was visiting them as the restaurant was closing for the night.
Tyler Morning Telegraph, http://www.tylerpaper.com
Longview News-Journal, http://www.news-journal.com