Waco judge rules that 4 men convicted in deaths of teens are innocent

(From left) Richard Kussmaul, James Edward Long, Michael Dewayne Shelton, and James Wayne...
(From left) Richard Kussmaul, James Edward Long, Michael Dewayne Shelton, and James Wayne Pitts, Jr. (Photos by John Carroll)(KWTX)
Published: Aug. 19, 2016 at 5:23 PM CDT
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The final decision rests with the state’s top criminal court, but retired State District Judge George Allen ruled Friday that four men convicted in the 1992 rape of a 17-year-old girl and the shooting deaths of her and her 14-year-old friend are actually innocent, and would not have been convicted had modern DNA testing methods been available at the time.

The ruling and the entire case record will be forwarded to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will have the last word in the case.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said in a statement that his office and the families of the two teenagers are disappointed with the recommendations.

“These recommendations, while advisory to the Court of Criminal Appeals, are not binding. They could be accepted, in whole or in part, or rejected by (the court).”

“The McLennan County District Attorney’s Office will continue to advocate for the victims of this violent crime,” he said.

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.

Richard Kussmaul, 45, is serving a life sentence for capital murder in the deaths of the two teenagers.

Michael Dewayne Shelton, 46, James Wayne Pitts, Jr., 45, and James Edward Long, 45, all of whom pleaded guilty to sexual assault, have completed their sentences.

They testified in Kussmaul’s original trial that they and Kussmaul sexually assaulted Murphy and that Kussmaul then used the rifle to shoot both victims, but they later recanted their confessions, which they claimed in testimony during a two-day hearing before Allen in July were coerced and choreographed by McLennan County Sheriff’s investigator Roy Davis.

Shelton, Pitts and Long agreed to plead guilty to the crimes in exchange for a promise of probation, but after Kussmaul's conviction in May 1994, Allen, who was then serving as a state district judge, rejected their plea deals and sentenced each to serve 20 years in state prison for sexual assault.

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