New DNA testing approved for 1992 murder and sexual assault trial
by Adam Shear
WACO - New DNA testing was approved for four men who were sentenced in 1994 for raping a teenage girl and then murdering her and a friend.
Four guilty pleas in 1994 found that in 1992 Richard Bryan Kussmaul murdered 17-year-old Leslie Murphy and 14-year-old Steven Neighbors with a high powered assault rifle near Moody, TX.
Kussmaul was helping pick the teenagers up for a friend, when the teens were on their way from San Antonio to Dallas.
Three other men, who were with Kussmall that night, were sentenced for raping Murphy. James Pitts Jr., Michael Dewayne Shelton, and James Edward Long, all admitting to sexually assaulting the 17-year-old girl, prior to Kussmall pulling the trigger.
Despite all four men pleading guilty initially, they now say they are innocent and the defense attorneys believes the advanced DNA testing that Judge George Allen approved Friday will prove that.
"Independently of one another [the four men] were coming forward and claiming they were innocent," said Tiffany Dowling, Kussmall's attorney. "After looking at the evidence and looking at the different possibilities for testing it, it looked liked a case that was strong for testing with the newest DNA testing that is available."
In 1994 DNA evidence could not connect the group to the crimes, but the men's testimonies were all similar enough that they were all sentenced.
Long, Shelton, and Pitts Jr, all received 20 years for sexual assault and Kussmall was sentenced to life for capital murder.
Kussmaul, Pitts, and Long have filed for DNA testing in the past, but were denied by Judge Allen.
"Judge Allen was the judge who originally tried this case. He is in the best position to make this decision [for new DNA testing]," said McLennan Co. District Attorney Abel Reyna, in a statement. "We respect the judge's ruling and will gladly comply with the judge's orders."
Shelton was released from prison in June 2011.
The defense attorneys argued that DNA testing in 1994 was not comparable to today's testing technology.
The defense also said the men all claim they were told in 1994 that they could either get the death penalty if they went to trial or plea guilty and receive probation for the crime. According to the defense, the threat of the death penalty, lead the men to accept the plea, despite knowing they were innocent.
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