Accused killer Lee Anthony Evans doesn’t have a law degree and knows little, if any, legal lingo, but he delivered a solemn and remotely convincing opening argument to a crowded Newark courtroom last week at what will likely become the trial of his life.

Evans, 58, is on trial with his cousin, Philander Hampton, for the gruesome murder of five Newark teens in August 1978. At the time, Evans was a local contractor who had frequently hired the teens to work odd jobs. After a dispute about money and some missing marijuana, Evans and Hampton are accused of luring the five teenage boys into an abandoned house in central Newark, beating them and locking them in a closet before setting the house on fire.

The house burned to the ground and the bodies of Michael McDowell, Randy Johnson, Alvin Turner, Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor were never found. The boys’ disappearance riveted the Brick City and the case remained cold until March 2010, when Evans and Hampton were arrested and charged with the murders. Officials said a credible tip and some dogged police work led to the cracking of the case.

In a published interview, Evans said he chose to represent himself despite pleas from family and friends not to do so. “My character is big-win or lose, I’m still gonna stand up for myself,” Evans said in an interview with local media.

According to police reports, the state’s strongest evidence against Evans is his co-defendant Hampton, a drifter with a lengthy rap sheet, who reportedly accepted a plea deal for testimony against Evans. Hampton admitted to five counts of felony murder; however, under the plea bargain, he could be paroled in less than a year.

The trial is expected to last several weeks. If convicted on all charges, Evans could face life in prison.