A New Jersey man was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison after recently admitting his role in the 1978 murder of five teenagers in one of the state's longest-running cold cases.
Under 1978 sentencing guidelines applied to the case, Philander Hampton is only required to serve 20 percent of the sentence before being eligible for parole. Hampton has been jailed since his March 2010 arrest, making him eligible for release in a matter of months.
The 54-year-old Jersey City resident told police three years ago that he and a cousin, Lee Evans of nearby Irvington, lured the teens to an abandoned house in Newark with the promise of odd jobs, then locked them inside and set the house on fire.
The attack allegedly was prompted by stolen drugs.
As part of his plea agreement, Hampton has agreed to testify against Evans, whose trial is set to begin later this month.
Evans, who is out on bail and is representing himself, has maintained his innocence.
The five teenagers — Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor, Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson and Michael McDowell — were last seen on a busy street near a park where they had played basketball on Aug. 20, 1978.
Their bodies were never recovered.
The case went cold until Hampton's comments to police in 2008, when prosecutors say Hampton took detectives to the former spot of the abandoned house in an area that has since been redeveloped. The blaze destroyed nearly all evidence and hampered the investigation from the outset because the fire occurred before the five boys were reported missing and no connection was made between the two, authorities said at the time of Evans' and Hampton's arrest last year.
Family members of the teenagers spoke Monday at Hampton's sentencing hearing in state superior court in Newark, according to The Star-Ledger newspaper.
Booker Murray, Melvin Pittman's brother, told the court the punishment was too lenient for the murder of five boys.
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