Attorneys say new evidence in the 1988 deaths of six firefighters points to different suspects

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Attorneys for two people serving life in prison for the deaths of six Kansas City firefighters say new evidence throws their clients' convictions in doubt.

The attorneys Laura O'Sullivan of the Midwest Innocence Project and Cheryl Pilate say substantial new evidence will exonerate all of the defendants, according to a news release Thursday.

The blast occurred in the pre-dawn hours on November 29, 1988 at a construction site near 87th Street and Blue River Road.

A pickup truck and a trailer filled with explosive material had been set on fire and two fire companies went to knock down the flames.

The explosion killed fire department members James Kilventon Jr., Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, Michael Oldham, Thomas Fry and Robert McKarnin. 

Retired KCMO firefighter Ray Elder knew all of the victims, and remembers reporting to the fire station the day of the explosion.

"It was such a somber day.  Everyone was just sad. I really don't like to talk about it cause I get a lump in my throat," he said.

It took nearly a decade to charge five people with those deaths.

A jury convicted Darlene Edwards, Bryan Sheppard, Frank Sheppard, Richard Brown and Skip Sheppard.

Skip Sheppard has since died.

All were sentenced to life in prison.

The Midwest Innocence Project and Pilate say a 2011 Department of Justice investigation found new information that points to others in the case. They want a grand jury to hear the new evidence.

But according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas City, the Justice Department's investigation found only that additional parties may have been involved in the arson -- in addition to those already convicted.

"None of the information Pilate has presented to the United States Attorney's Office to date indicates that the defendants in the firefighters case were wrongly convicted," they said in a statement early Thursday evening.

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