Men convicted in 1992 deaths of 2 area teens get new day in court

(Left to right) Richard Kussmaul, James Edward Long, Michael Dewayne Shelton and James Wayne...
(Left to right) Richard Kussmaul, James Edward Long, Michael Dewayne Shelton and James Wayne Pitts, Jr. (Texas Dept. of Corrections photos)(KWTX)
Published: Jul. 7, 2016 at 6:32 PM CDT
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Four men convicted in a violent incident in 1992 in which a teenage girl was raped and then she and her runaway friend were killed will return to court next week for a new hearing after the completion of tests on new DNA samples.

Leslie Murphy, 17, was raped and then she and Stephen Neighbors, 14, were both shot in the back in March 1992 at a mobile home near Moody.

Richard Kussmaul, 45, was convicted of capital murder in the rape-slaying and is serving a life term.

He won’t be eligible for parole until 2028.

Michael Dewayne Shelton, 46, James Wayne Pitts, Jr., 45, and James Edward Long, 45, all testified in Kussmaul’s trial that they and Kussmaul sexually assaulted Murphy and that Kussmaul then used a high-powered rifle to shoot both victims.

Shelton, Pitts and Long agreed to plead guilty to the crimes in exchange for a promise of probation and then testified against Kussmaul.

After Kussmaul's conviction in May 1994, State District Judge George Allen rejected their plea deals and sentenced each to serve 20 years in state prison for sexual assault.

All three have since been released and all have recanted their confessions.

The Actual Innocence Clinic in Austin pushed for new DNA samples in the case and now retired Judge Allen ordered the new testing.

In October 2014, Allen issued a ruling that said if modern DNA testing had been available in at the time of the original trial, Kussmaul might never have been found guilty.

The results of the tests on the new samples are in and according to one source familiar with the case, they’re similar to old DNA samples that were never used in Kussmaul’s 1994 trial.

The samples did not reveal any of the four convicted men's DNA.

Allen will sit on the bench Wednesday and after testimony, will make his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will ultimately decide whether to order new trials or to exonerate one or more of the four defendants.