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Sunday, July 10th, marked the thirty-sixth birthday of Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Jr. , who spent half his life in prison for as one of the alleged West Memphis 3 murderers. The advocates, believe he and his co-defendants, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols—now known collectively as the West Memphis 3—are innocent of the triple based on DNA evidence.
On May 6, 1993, news rocked West Memphis of the discovery of the mutilated bodies of 3 eight-year-old boys. Soon, word spread that boys were stabbed and raped. One boy’s genitals were severed from his body. Many of these rumors were based on inaccurate police assumptions. At noon the following day, police questioned their first suspect, Damien Echols. Several weeks later Jessie Misskelley, confessed to the murders, implicating his friends Echols and, Jason Baldwin. Following a confession by Misskelley, the West Memphis, the 3 teenagers were arrested and charged with the murders of James M. Moore, Steven E. Branch and Christopher M. Byers. They became known as the West Memphis killers.
The West Memphis citizens, relieved that the alleged monsters were apprehended, believed justice would be served. The rumors were augmented by “common knowledge” that West Memphis 3 committed this crime because they participated in a Satanic ritual. Details of their exploits were well known, but Memphis police gathered no viable evidence. The case was tried in local community papers, which fed the community’s blood-lust, with stories of Satanic abominations appearing on a regular basis.
On January 19, 1994, Wednesday 19 January 1994, Jessie Misskelley was tried. Two weeks later, the court found him guilty on one count of first degree capital murder and two counts of second degree capital murder. He was 17-years old when he was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole.
The trial of Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols were sentenced to three counts of capital murder. The court sentenced Jason, 16, to life imprisonment. Damien Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Damien Echols claims he was found guilty by the press long before the trial began. The West Memphis community considered him “weird” because he practiced the Wicca religion and listened Satanic groups such as Metallica. Jason believes his confession was coerced: that he had told police whatever they had wanted so that they would let him go.
On July 18, 2011, 18 years after the original sentence of the West Memphis 3 an Arkansas police officer stated that new DNA refutes Damien Echols’, Jason Baldwin’s, and Jessie Misskelley’s guilt.
Captain Peck, co-founder of Arkansas Take Action, a civic group working to free the West Memphis found evidence to the contrary. Peck stated This newly discovered DNA evidence that excludes Damien, Jason and Jessie, combined with all other evidence of their innocence, will hopefully lead to a new trial. A DNA status report was filed on Monday, July 25, in Craighead County Circuit Court in Jonesboro, Arkansas, linking the murders to two unidentified men. And additional hair was linked to a third, unidentified person.
Defense attorneys requested and received the following evidence collected at the scene:
In July 2007, this new forensic evidence was presented in the case, including evidence that none of the DNA collected at the crime scene matched the defendants, but did match Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, as well as a friend of Hobbs’, with whom he had been with on the day of the murders. The State and the Defense team stated on July 17, 2007 that: Although most of the genetic material recovered from the scene was attributable to the victims of the offenses, some of it cannot be attributed to either the victims or the defendants.
Lonnie Soury with Arkansas Take Action stated, I’ve been following that case for 17 years. I cut out all the articles I see and I know those boys didn’t do it.. He noted the DNA evidence is further proof that they were not at the crime scene, nor were they involved in the murders.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court, in what legal experts said was a rare move, unanimously ordered a new evidentiary hearing in the case last November. The judge reversed the 1993 order and remanded all three defendants to determine whether new trials should be ordered. The Arkansas Attorney General said in June 2011 he won’t fight evidence of Juror Misconduct in the West Memphis 3 case.
Questions regarding the guilt or innocence of the West Memphis 3 continues to generate celebrity activism. Last summer, Patti Smith, Johnny Depp, Black Flag, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder appeared at a benefit for the West Memphis 3 in Little Rock.
Craighead County Court Judge David N. Laser, who was not the original trial judge, banned cameras in the courtroom. There is an online petition drive to allow cameras. We would certainly support any effort to have cameras in the courtroom and the hearing being available to the public, Soury said. This trial needs to be as transparent as possible.
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