DA: Man convicted of 1992 murders of two teens should get new trial
Richard Kussmaul, 45, who was convicted of capital murder in the 1992 shooting deaths of two teenagers near Moody, should be granted a new trial, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told a judge in a summation late Thursday afternoon, adding that he doesn’t think Kussmaul is innocent.
Reyna said he thinks Kussmaul should be given a new trial on the basis of evidence presented during the original trial that might have “left a false impression in the jury’s mind about certain aspects of DNA.”
A letter read during the hearing earlier Thursday said that Kussmaul’s trial attorney had DNA evidence, but chose not to present it because it was inconclusive.
The summation came at the end of a two-day hearing that will determine whether Kussmaul and three codefendants who testified against him, should be granted new trials or even exonerations.
Reyna, however, doesn’t think the other three men should be given new trials because all three pleaded guilty to rape charges in the violent incident in 1992.
Leslie Murphy, 17, was raped and then she and Stephen Neighbors, 14, were both shot in the back with a high-powered rifle in March 1992 at a mobile home near Moody.
Kussmaul is serving a life term for the rape-murders and 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 original trial that they and Kussmaul sexually assaulted Murphy and that Kussmaul then used the rifle to shoot both victims.
Shelton, Pitts and Long agreed to plead guilty to the crimes in exchange for a promise of probation.
After Kussmaul's conviction in May 1994, then 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, which they claimed in testimony Wednesday were coerced and choreographed by McLennan County Sheriff’s investigator Roy Davis.
They each detailed Wednesday how Davis "coached them" to ensure they told matching stories during the 1994 trial and they all said they were threatened with the death penalty if they didn't confess to being involved in the brutal crime.
Davis, who retired from the sheriff’s office after 30 years, denied Thursday that neither he nor anyone else involved in the case coerced any of the three men.
"It didn't happen" he said.
In fact, he said, he didn’t have enough evidence to “prove up” sexual assault charges against any of the four men.
He said DNA evidence neither included nor excluded anyone.
Leslie Murphy’s mother, Pamela Thomas, sat silently through more than five hours of testimony Wednesday, and late Thursday afternoon, she took the stand.
When asked if she thought authorities should be looking for her daughter’s real killer, she answered, “No, I think we got the killers.”
She burst into tears after leaving the courtroom.
Allen, who's now retired, will now make a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Actual Innocence Clinic in Austin had pushed for new DNA samples in the case and Allen ordered the new testing.