Carrying his belongings, Lee Evans walks down the ramp away from the Essex County Correctional Facility Friday evening August 20, 2010, because his bail was lowered. Evans was charged with killing 5 boys from Newark back in 1978.
NEWARK — The man charged with killing the five teenagers who vanished from a Newark street 32 years ago walked out of Essex County Jail tonight, to the relief of some, the anger of others.
Lee Anthony Evans, 57, stepped out of the jailhouse at 8:03 p.m. exactly 32 years after the day on which he and his two cousins allegedly killed the boys. The teenagers were last seen the night of Aug. 20, 1978 climbing into Evans’ green pickup truck on Fabyan Place.
Stone-faced and silent, Evans carried two large garbage bags filled with personal items as he left the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark. Sporting a plaid shirt and brown pants, he walked down the ramp from the jail’s main entrance to the parking lot, stopping once to adjust his grasp on the bags before entering a green Dodge pickup truck driven by his son, Lee Evans Jr.
Evans ducked his head, keeping out of sight as the car whisked past a group of reporters and corrections officers and disappeared down Doremus Avenue.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Peter Vazquez lowered Evans’ bail from $1.25 million to $950,000, a sum his family posted in the form of three pieces of property.
Evans’ original bail, set at the time of his arrest in March, had been $5 million. The reduction led to a strong objection from Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, who called the decision "disturbing" and the new bail "insufficient."
"Our hearts go out to the families of these five young men who have waited for over 30 years to see that justice is done in this matter," Laurino said. He added Evans represents a flight risk because of the charges and financial means at his disposal. Jury selection in the trial is to begin in January. The prosecutor’s office said it will not appeal the judge’s decision.
Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) voiced his displeasure over Evans’ release and reiterated his complaint that "there is a different level of justice in Essex County as to other counties."
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, who has been involved in the case since his days as a lieutenant with the Newark Police Department, said he understands some people might be upset with Evans’ release, but also offered a stern warning to the 57-year-old.
"The case resonates with all of us, but people are entitled to bail. This is our justice system," he said. "Is he a flight risk? We always think they are flight risks, but if he decides to flee, we will track him down and bring him back. That’s a guarantee."
Superior Court Judge Patricia Costello, assignment judge for Essex County, supported the handling of Evans’ bail.
"All defendants have a Constitutional right to have bail set, and periodically reviewed, while awaiting trial," she said.
A grand jury indicted Evans and his cousin, Philander Hampton, 53, in July, charging them with five counts each of murder and arson in the deaths of Randy Johnson, Alvin Turner and Michael McDowell, all 16, and Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor, both 17.
The two men are accused of luring the teens into the truck that night with promises of a job moving boxes and furniture – Evans was then a contractor and often gave neighborhood kids odd jobs – then forcing them into an abandoned house on Camden Street. There, Evans, Hampton and a third cousin who is now deceased, restrained the boys at gunpoint, locked the doors, then burned down the house, prosecutors said. No bodies were recovered and no physical evidence exists.
Evans’ attorney, Michael Robbins, said, "This is a guy who has gone nowhere for the past 32 years. He’s lived, worked, raised a family within a stone’s throw of where these events are said to have occurred.
"In that time, he’s earned a reputation as a hard-working law-abiding and respected member of the community. The bail that’s set is most appropriate."
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Robbins declined to speculate on Evans’ plans until his next court date.
The March 22 arrests came more than a year after Hampton made statements to police implicating him and Evans.
Hampton, of Jersey City, remains in Essex County Jail on $5 million bail.
Though he and Evans have been charged together, only Evans was arraigned Wednesday in Superior Court. Hampton’s arraignment is to take place Sept. 2, and as the state’s key witness, prosecutors may be working out a deal with his attorney.
The prosecutor’s office has not commented on any possible deal, and Hampton’s assigned public defender, Joseph Krakora, has not discussed the case.
Evans’ release comes after two days of delays in processing one of the three properties his family put up as bail. The properties include two homes owned by his in-laws and an industrial building that houses the contracting business in Irvington he runs with his son.
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