West Memphis 3 released from prison

West Memphis 3 released

After 18 years, the West Memphis 3 are freed, but not completely exonerated.

The Los Angeles Times reported that at 1:51 p.m. EDT today, the West Memphis 3, imprisoned for 18 years, won their freedom. The release today comes after new evidence cast a doubt on their participation in the murders of three children. The evidentiary hearing was originally scheduled for December 2011. Judge David Laser rescheduled the court date for today.

Echols, Miskelley, and Baldwin freed under Alfred Plea

The three men known as the West Memphis 3 were imprisoned for 18 years for their alleged guilt in a gruesome 1993 child-murder case. Damien Echols is now 36, Jason Baldwin is 34, and Jessie Misskelley is 36. Echols’ wife, Lorri Davis, sat in the front row beside Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines sat a few seats away.

The men agreed to plead guilty but can claim innocence under an Alford plea for the murders of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore. Under an Alford plea, a defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists which could convince a judge or jury to exonerate defendants based on reasonable doubt.

As part of the plea and sentence negotiation defendants received an 18-year sentence with credit for time served, followed by 10 years SIS or Suspended Imposition of Sentence.

The prosecutors’ issued a statement that, Since the original convictions, two of the victims’ families have joined forces with the defense, publicly proclaiming the innocence of the defendants. The mother of a witness who testified about Echols’s confession has publicly questioned her daughter’s truthfulness, and the State Crime Lab employee who collected fiber evidence at the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died

Scott Ellington, prosecutor for Craighead County, Arkansas, said in a prepared statement, Today’s proceeding allows the defendants the freedom of speech to SAY they are innocent, but the FACT is, they just plead GUILTY.

Misskelley initially confessed to police that he, Echols and Baldwin attacked, raped, and murdered the children. Supporters argue that the confession was coerced and indicate that he has a low IQ.

The local media sensationalized coverage of the prosecutors’ case. Articles indicated that the killings were part of a satanic ritual, cited and the teens’ personal taste in black clothing, heavy metal music and horror literature as an indication of their guilt.

Defense attorneys submitted a motion for a new hearing to consider the new evidence. The Arkansas Supreme Court determined, based on DNA evidence at the scene, conclusively excluded the West Memphis 3, in addition to evidence indicating jury misconduct, was uncovered.

Byers’ adoptive father, John Mark Byers, said the West Memphis 3 are innocent. There’s certainly no justice for the three men that’s been in prison or my son and his two friends. To me, this is just a cop-out from the state for not wanting to admit that they made a mistake.

Others disagreed with Judge Lazer. Steve Branch, father of one of the murdered boys, stood up near the end of the hearing to urge the judge not to accept the deal. Before deputies escorted him out, Branch said, You’re wrong your honor. You can stop this right now before you do it.

The lead prosecutor in this case issued the following statement:

Since the original convictions, two of the victims’ families have joined forces with the defense, publicly proclaiming the innocence of the defendants. The mother of a witness who testified about Echols’s confession has publicly questioned her daughter’s truthfulness, and the State Crime Lab employee who collected fiber evidence at the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died.

In light of these circumstances I decided to entertain plea offers that were being proposed by the defense. I NEVER considered ANY arrangement that would negate the verdicts of those two juries. Guilt or Innocence was NEVER ON THE TABLE.

Today’s proceeding allows the defendants the freedom of speech to SAY they are innocent, but the FACT is, they just pled GUILTY. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today. On behalf of the State I have preserved the verdicts of those juries and averted more prolonged and costly trials and appeals in this case.

The West Memphis 3 are free to try and clear their names. Echols said [The defense attorney] wanted to keep fighting, he didn’t want to take this deal in the beginning. I recognize and acknowledge that he did do it almost entirely for me.
Echols’ also commented on the plea: It’s not perfect by any means, but at least it brings closure to some areas and some aspects. We can still bring up new evidence and we can still continue the investigations we’ve been doing. We can still try to clear our names. The only difference is now we can do it from the outside instead of having to sit in prison and do it.

The West Memphis 3 case is a cause célèbre with musicians and actors supporting the accused.

Henry Rollins, former Black Flag singer and poet, was among many musicians who recorded and released a benefit album for the West Memphis 3 to aid in their defense. In an email to the L.A. Times today, Rollins wrote the news made him Literally dizzy. I am happy for the guys but so much has been lost. Three boys were killed. In my opinion, the wrong people were incarcerated and the person or persons who did it are still out there, alive or dead, still not brought to justice. As noted in a previous post, Johnny Depp stated the West Memphis 3 were an easy target.

Has justice been served in the case of the West Memphis 3?

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Posted by on August 19, 2011. Filed under Crime,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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5 Responses to West Memphis 3 released from prison

  1. Leslie Parsley

    August 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I’m glad they’re free but I have to say this is the most confusing case I’ve ever heard of.

    • Michael John Scott

      August 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      I agree and still don’t believe they are innocent, just that the evidence can no longer prove their guilt.

      • Bradley Scott

        August 19, 2011 at 7:25 pm

        Three children were violently raped and murdered, yet in all the evidence gathered from the scene not one piece could be lnked to any of the three, but did have DNA traces consistant with two other people with whom the victims were connected, but you don’t believe they’re innocent? The evidence- factual evidence- NEVER DID prove their guilt. A confession can be coerced rather easily out of most people, and from nearly everyone, depending on how hard you’re willing to try.
        It’s a sad state of affairs that our court system has the personality of a sociopath, victimizing easy prey for it’s own ends, utterly convinced of it’s rectitude, and willing to stoop to any chicanery to keep from having to admit a mistake.

      • Dorothy Anderson

        August 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm

        Bro, you already know under Alford, the court can call them guilty, but they can legally say their innocent. They were not, and could not, be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. You know a lot more about criminal justice than I do. Normally, I would be suspect of the defendants, but there’s too many bits and pieces that don’t add up.

        Only one of the three parents, Steven Branch believed they were guilty. They need to be begging to let them stay in there ‘cause they don’t want to come out here, I don’t think. If they get released, I’m sure there will be one question in Echols’ mind, and I’ve got the answer to his question, there is no place.

        Father of victim, Christopher Byers, John, has been outspoken over the years in supporting their release.

        Most curious of all is Pamela Hobbs’ support, who was the mother of one of the victims. She supported the men being freed and said yesterday she would be happy if that happened. Initially, she said I think they did it.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nro9QjePHng&feature=related

        Here’s the catch.

        The DNA evidence exonerates them, but certainly they could have been at the scene. The hair strand tested for DNA, used to bind one of the victims was consistent with Terry Hobbs (Pamela’s husband), who denied seeing the three victims the day of their disappearance.

        Did Pamela know something we don’t?

        Three eyewitnesses provided sworn statements that they saw Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore with Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Steven Branch, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5, 1993, immediately before the boys disappeared. The witness screamed loudly at the children and ordered them to return to his house. The new evidence establishes that the last person who had custody of the three boys before they vanished and died was Terry Hobbs.

        Police never questioned Terry Hobbs during the original investigation until his DNA was found at the crime scene. He was questioned by police in 2007.

        Jamie Clark Ballard, who lived only three doors down from Terry and Pam Hobbs, supplied a sworn affidavit, as have both her mother and her sister.

        I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this story…

        • Bradley Scott

          August 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm

          Sadly, Dorothy, I’m not sure we haven’t heard the last of this story. With the guilty verdict not being overturned, and the “guilty” parties serving out their sentences of ten years SIS probation, if not the case, is not the investigation at least, closed? I would like to believe in the one crusading police detective who will not let such an injustice pass, not on his watch. The tough, hard-bitten lawman who keeps the case file in his top desk drawer and persues every new lead, digs for every clue, and sifts through all the reports, statements, depositons, field notes and lab analyses until something coalesces from exhaustive research, some one talks, some one guilt ridden cracks…I’d like to believe. What I do believe is that the facts are in abeyence as long as the verdict and sentence of the three stands, so any movement, if there is any, is at least ten years down the road, if ever.