- CRITTER TALK
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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.
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?