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Man acquitted in Newark cold case murders

GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 11/30/2011, 2:15 p.m.

In a stunning Thanksgiving Eve verdict, Lee Evans was found not guilty in the 1978 disappearance and murders of five Newark teens in a packed Newark courtroom last week.

A jury decided on Wednesday afternoon that Evans, 58, did not lure five teens to an abandoned house in the Brick City during the summer of 1978, lock them in a closet and torch the house. The bodies of the victims were never recovered. Evans represented himself and had long been a suspect in the case that riveted Newark and the state for decades.

The key witness for the prosecution, Evans' cousin Philander Hampton, testified that he and Evans murdered the teens in a dispute over money and some missing marijuana. At the time, Evans was a local contractor and occasionally hired the teens to work odd jobs. Hampton accepted a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.

Several family members of the victims attended the month-long trial and wept after the not guilty verdict was announced. Many said Evans had long been the main suspect in the teen's disappearance, despite continuing to live and work in the area. "It's a disgrace," said one courtroom observer, who refused to give her name to a reporter. "This is not justice-he murdered those boys and he got away with it!"

It remains unclear if the families of the victims will bring civil charges against Evans.