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West Memphis Three' freed in '93 slayings

Posted by on Aug. 19, 2011 at 8:28 PM
  • 10 Replies

The men known as the "West Memphis Three," who served more than 18 years behind bars for the notorious 1993 murders of three young boys — and became a cause celebre among actors and musicians who doubted their guilt — won their freedom in an Arkansas courtroom Friday after new evidence arose to potentially challenge their convictions.

Their legal absolution, however, was not clear-cut. In an agreement with prosecutors, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley, both 36, and Jason Baldwin, 34, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges but will also able to claim they are innocent, a rare arrangement known as an Alford plea.

"It's not perfect by any means," Echols, pale and in tinted shades, said at a news conference after the hearing. "But at least it brings closure.... We can still try to clear our names. The only difference is now we can do it from the outside."

Echols, the alleged ringleader, had been on death row. Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life sentences.

The gruesome slayings of the 8-year-old boys — Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Michael Moore — terrified the small city of West Memphis, Ark., leading to rumors that a Satanic cult was responsible. After disappearing one afternoon in May 1993, the second-graders were found "naked, bound and in horrific condition, submerged in a creek in the woods," according to a court filing.

Later, the convicts' plight became an enduring issue among musicians and Hollywood actors who were concerned that the suspects, teenagers at the time, were persecuted for being different. Their black clothing and preference for heavy metal music had been presented by prosecutors as part of an argument that they were Satanists who had engaged in "an occult murder."

Singers Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who had publicly called for a new trial, attended Friday's court hearing.

Scott Ellington, the prosecuting attorney in Jonesboro, Ark., said that with new revelations in the case, it was likely the men would have received new trials — and that it would have been "practically impossible" to put on a proper trial 18 years after the slayings. He noted that two of the victims' families had also decided over time that the men were wrongly accused.

After the slayings, West Memphis police interviewed Misskelley, who told them he watched as Baldwin, then 16, and Echols, then 19, killed the boys. One detective said Misskelley had also talked about being in a cult.

The three were convicted in 1994 but have been behind bars since their arrests shortly after the killings.

Supporters said Misskelley's confession was false and coerced, and have noted that he's mentally disabled. Misskelley later recanted the confession.

More recently, attorneys for the men raised other issues that would have likely been brought up in fresh trials. The Arkansas Supreme Court found that none of the recent DNA testing of material at the crime scene pointed to the convicted men. (There had been no such testing at the time of the trial.) The high court had ordered new hearings scheduled for December.

Attorneys for Echols, in a February filing, said that DNA testing of a hair on a cord used to bind one of the victims was consistent with the DNA of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of victim Steven Branch.

Hobbs has denied seeing the three victims on the day of their disappearance, but Echols' attorneys said they had found three eyewitnesses who said Hobbs was "the last adult seen with the victims" on the night they disappeared.

Hobbs told a local TV station that he had "done nothing wrong." The Times was unsuccessful in contacting him Friday.

Ellington, the prosecutor, said that Hobbs was not a suspect and that he considered the case closed.

"As far as the state's concerned ... there is no further investigation," he said in a phone interview, adding that he would consider compelling new information if it surfaced.

An Alford plea is so called because it derives from the 1970 Supreme Court case Alford vs. North Carolina, in which the court ruled that a valid guilty plea does not necessarily require admitting guilt. It is sometimes agreed upon when both defense and the prosecution have reasons for wishing to avoid a jury trial.

Judge David Laser had surprised followers of the case Thursday in scheduling the hearing. On Friday, celebrity supporters said they were shocked and relieved by the fast-moving turn of events.

James Hetfield of Metallica, interviewed by phone from Hawaii, called the outcome "amazing." He said the band became interested in the case — and agreed to let their music be used in an HBOdocumentary — because it seemed like a case of "judging the book by its cover."

"The way you dress, the things you listen to ... I can basically speak for myself, growing up, that that was just a sign of wanting to be creative and be different," he said.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-west-memphis-3-20110820,0,5874148.story

by on Aug. 19, 2011 at 8:28 PM
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Replies (1-10):
mommywho28
by Sarah on Aug. 19, 2011 at 9:16 PM

The state made them plea guilty, if the state believed for one minute they really were guilty they would still be in jail. It's stupid, but it fits in the books. Arkansas wasn't going to let them go and ruin political careers built on the case and was NOT going to compensate for years of life lost to injustice. At least they are free now. I just wish they were looking for the real killer.

Sassy01
by on Aug. 19, 2011 at 9:48 PM

Arkansas was simply covering thier ass.

am anxious for "Paradise Lost 3; Pergatory" to come out In November.

LauraKW
by "Dude!" on Aug. 20, 2011 at 12:54 AM

I cried when I heard the news.  I've been following this story for a while now - I remember when it happened.  I'm from eastern Oklahoma, this was really big news in that corner of the world.  These three men have not seen justice, and I'm afraid the actual killer(s) will never have to pay for his crimes.  There is no happy ending to be found here, but at least  three innocent men are no longer in prison.

stormcris
by Christy on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:25 AM

I feel this way and even worse for the families who were so set that these were the ones that they cannot understand them being released.

Quoting LauraKW:

I cried when I heard the news.  I've been following this story for a while now - I remember when it happened.  I'm from eastern Oklahoma, this was really big news in that corner of the world.  These three men have not seen justice, and I'm afraid the actual killer(s) will never have to pay for his crimes.  There is no happy ending to be found here, but at least  three innocent men are no longer in prison.


Everyone is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will think it is stupid.
im23vaughn
by Silver Member on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:29 AM

can someone please point me to some unbias pages that explain why they are innocent. I have never heard of this case and would like to research it. Thank you!!

stormcris
by Christy on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:32 AM

Here is the ABC version....the DNA did not match any of them.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/west-memphis-three-freed-dna-evidence-feeds-doubts/story?id=14340244

Quoting im23vaughn:

can someone please point me to some unbias pages that explain why they are innocent. I have never heard of this case and would like to research it. Thank you!!


Everyone is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will think it is stupid.
im23vaughn
by Silver Member on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:46 AM


Quoting stormcris:

Here is the ABC version....the DNA did not match any of them.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/west-memphis-three-freed-dna-evidence-feeds-doubts/story?id=14340244

Quoting im23vaughn:

can someone please point me to some unbias pages that explain why they are innocent. I have never heard of this case and would like to research it. Thank yo

Thank you

Momniscient
by Obama licker on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:48 AM
Wow.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
Iconoclast
by on Aug. 20, 2011 at 2:55 AM
Yep! I watched the documentaries when they first aired on hbo I could not believe that they were convicted on nothing and the evidence against the stepdad they just ignored. I was 14 and even at that young age knew that the case was bunk. I'm glad they are free but couldn't fathom being an innocent man locked away for 18 years. I would be even more horrified if I was the person that put them there.


Quoting mommywho28:

The state made them plea guilty, if the state believed for one minute they really were guilty they would still be in jail. It's stupid, but it fits in the books. Arkansas wasn't going to let them go and ruin political careers built on the case and was NOT going to compensate for years of life lost to injustice. At least they are free now. I just wish they were looking for the real killer.


Posted on CafeMom Mobile
AMBG825
by on Aug. 21, 2011 at 6:47 AM


Quoting im23vaughn:

can someone please point me to some unbias pages that explain why they are innocent. I have never heard of this case and would like to research it. Thank you!!


Crime library has one of the best discussions of the case. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/famous/memphis/index_1.html

 

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Always remember to pillage before you burn.

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