August 19, 2011

"Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., ... the West Memphis 3, stood up in a courtroom... proclaimed their innocence and... walked out as free men."

The NYT reports, noting that Echols's case was "the highest-profile release of a death row inmate in recent memory."
Under the terms of a deal reached with prosecutors, Mr. Echols, Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Misskelley leave as men who maintain their innocence yet who pleaded guilty to murder, as men whom the state still consider to be child killers but whom the state deemed safe enough to set free.

Despite a half-hour of esoteric legal procedure, the courtroom was charged with raw feeling. Several of the relatives of the victims were ejected for their outbursts. One told the judge he was opening a Pandora’s box in allowing this deal; another shouted that the defendants were murderers and baby-killers....

Many residents of West Memphis often resented, and still resent, the presumption that outsiders knew the details of the horrific case better than they did.
Celebrities got involved. And there was an excellent documentary (which focused on the prejudice against teenagers who liked heavy metal music).
Under the seemingly contradictory deal, Judge David Laser vacated the previous convictions, including the capital murder convictions for Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin. After doing so, he ordered a new trial, something the prosecutors agreed to if the men would enter so-called Alford guilty pleas. These pleas allow people to maintain their innocence and admit frankly that they are pleading guilty because they consider it in their best interest.
(You can read the Alford case here.)
The district prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington, said afterward that the state still considered the men guilty. But he acknowledged they would probably be acquitted if a new trial were held, and he expressed concern that if the men were exonerated at the trial, they could sue the state, possibly for millions of dollars.
So... the state is shielding itself from a big suit for damages. This way the prosecutor can avoid that lawsuit and also act as if there was no miscarriage of justice here. The 3 men are taking the deal, because it's in their interest too. They get out of prison (and in Echols's case, the death penalty), avoid further proceedings, and can go on to do something with the lives that have been shorn of an 18-year chunk of youth.

(I highly recommend the documentary: "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills / Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.")


bagoh20 said...

So who did it?

chickenlittle said...

(I highly recommend the documentary: "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills / Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.)

Sorry, Althouse but the last movie you highly recommended sucked.

Paul said...

I've been looking at the case.

I guess they felt SOMEBODY HAD TO PAY, and these three were all they had.

Yes they might have done it, but may very well not have.

Sad they spend so much of their life and were forced to either stay in prison and maybe die or get out and not one penny compensation.

But there is no justice system that is 100 percent.

I hope they clear their names and the real killers are caught.

Robert said...

No Judge in his right mind would allow an Alford plea in a murder case especially one like this. Heck, I've seen it denied in shoplifting cases. Presumably there is enough evidence to support the indictment. If not it should be dismissed, simple as that.

The Crack Emcee said...


I saw both films and they're excellent.


If I remember correctly (it's been awhile) it looked like a local religious nut - no surprise there for TMR readers.

This case is a farce, and a tragedy, and these men (formally a bunch of inept boys) should be allowed to sue for as much as they can get.

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

Not only is the state covering its behind with this deal -- the prosecutor has announced that there will be no attempt made to find the real killer.

Disgusting. It is hard to hear about a case like this and still have any faith in the police or prosecution. At the end of the day they're just there to cash a paycheck.

SPImmortal said...


If I remember correctly (it's been awhile) it looked like a local religious nut - no surprise there for TMR readers.


Actually the second documentary fingered the father of one of the boys as the likely culprit.

Michael said...

The prosecution went after them on the premise they were satinist new agers and thus able amd willing to murder and rape. Evidence was thin, charitably. Read the book

bagoh20 said...

Nothing is scarier than a wholly convinced prosecution team, and if they weren't convinced, that's even scarier. Convicting someone innocent like this is pretty close to as heinous as the crime itself, if they don't believe they are guilty.

SteveR said...

The type of case that is disturbing on many levels, this latest turn just adds to it.

edutcher said...

"maintain their innocence yet who pleaded guilty to murder, as men whom the state still consider to be child killers but whom the state deemed safe enough to set free."

Maybe it's me, but that line sounds like something a Gestapo officer in Hogan's Heroes would say.

Carol_Herman said...
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Heart_Collector said...

The days when we let our children go with a bunch of dudes to the woods is over.

Almost Ali said...

The Memphis-3 court stretched Alford beyond recognition. Even an energetic, store-front ambulance chaser can retire taking a 10% contingency fee on this one.

Chris Althouse Cohen said...

The second documentary focuses on John Mark Byers (one of the boys' stepfather) as the likely killer, but actually the DNA evidence that would likely have exonerated the West Memphis Three if they had gotten another trial pointed to a different victim's stepfather (Terry Hobbs). A hair of Terry Hobbs were found in the binding of one of the boy's hands.

Here is video from the second documentary, which (probably wrongly) depicts John Mark Byers of the likely murder. In the video, he denounces supporters of the West Memphis Three.

...and here is a video of him, years later, wearing a "Free the WM3" shirt, and saying that he knows they are innocent and that Terry Hobbs is the real killer.

Chris Althouse Cohen said...

...I would go back and correct the typos in that comment, but it's too difficult to deal with links on here.

J. R. said...
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Julius said...

It takes balls to execute an innocent man.

Rick Perry has got balls like that.

Obviously, the wimpy-ass prosectors of this ultra-liberal Arkansas community do not.

Luckily at least folks like edutcher, here in these comments, can bring a sensible sense of guilt-smelling to the table. To him, as to any reasonable person, these are not only child-murdering bumblefuck Satanists, they're child-murdering Satanist bumblefuck Nazis.

Rick Perry will fix all this tho'. When he's elected, we'll stop questioning convictions and stop stalling executions. Then folks like edutcher can be happy again.

The Crack Emcee said...

SPImmortal said...

If I remember correctly (it's been awhile) it looked like a local religious nut - no surprise there for TMR readers.


Actually the second documentary fingered the father of one of the boys as the likely culprit.

Wasn't he some sort of self-styled preacher or something?

The Crack Emcee said...

I just looked at the clips Chris provided, and John Mark Byers is the guy I remember making an ass of himself.

Shanna said...

Here is video from the second documentary, which (probably wrongly) depicts John Mark Byers of the likely murder. In the video, he denounces supporters of the West Memphis Three.

...and here is a video of him, years later, wearing a "Free the WM3" shirt, and saying that he knows they are innocent and that Terry Hobbs is the real killer.

So, the first time he basicaly smeared the other guy wrongly, right? And he could be doing the same to the second.

We were talking about this at work yesterday and weren't sure why pleading guilty=free but somebody ahead explained it nicely. I don't know if these guys did it or not, but the way they got out is kind of bizarre. A new trial would have been cleaner. And I bet people in West Memphis are pissed.

David Klein said...

Ann, you should be more skeptical of what you see in movies or read in the press.

The West Memphis 3 were guilty. Paradise Lost is a highly deceptive version of the case. Jessie Misskelley made two extremely detailed confessions *after* his conviction, one in a private meeting with his defense lawyer, the second in joint meeting with prosecutors and defense lawyers. Paradise Lost and its sequel conveniently omitted any mention of those confessions. Anyone who wants to know the truth should read the transcripts of those confessions.

RunDMC-Hammer said...

Paradise Lost? Seriously?

With all due respect, Professor Althouse, your “highly recommended” documentary is a misleading and distorted view of what really took place in this murder case. is a case-neutral site that include interviews of potential suspect (there were hundreds) trial transcripts, appeals hearing transcripts and even tape recording of one of the WM3’s lengthy and detailed confessions – he confessed as many as 5 times.

You also might find it interesting to read the executive summary of the 500 Exhibit – introduced by the defense – that contains 500 pages of Damien Echols mental history that including blood drinking and homicidal thoughts.

RunDMC-Hammer said...

The trial transcripts will reveal that
1. all 3 confessed to the crime at various periods with remarkably similar details
2. none of the accused had credible alibis
3. fiber evidence found at the scene connected them
4. they were added to the list of suspects, not because they “wore black, listened to heavy metal and read Stephen King” but because they were all on probation for other crimes

write_effort said...

An interview with the author of Devil's Knot. Short version of the case.

RunDMC-Hammer said...

However, a book was published in 2002 that raises serious doubt about Leveritt's methods, conclusions and ultimately her honesty. Oddly enough that book was also by Mara Leveritt, albeit about a different case. This case was one that this writer knows quite a bit about, knew some of the folks involved. and has also done some research into the case. In other words, a case that I'm in a position to be able to judge Leveritt's use of evidence and her honesty or, rather, lack of.

The book in question is Devil's Knot : The True Story of the West Memphis Three that is about the grisly triple homicide and human mutilation of 3 eight year old boys near West Memphis, AR. This was a most unusual crime since as the investigation progressed, evidence surfaced that satanism was involved. This was because the nature of the mutilation and the method of killing strongly suggested a satanic ritual slaying, which is an extremely rare occurence. Also, there had been persistent reports for the past few years of satanic cult activity in Crawford County, AR. An expert on satanism, Dr. D.W. Griffis, was able to confirm to the police that their worst fears were justified.

After a month of investigation, three teenagers were arrested and charged with the crimes. All three were subsequently convicted on strong evidence.

Mara Leveritt unfortunately chose to minimize the evidence that prosecutors used to make the case against the teenagers sound as weak as possible. Leveritt also raised the bar of what constitutes "reasonable doubt" so high that its likely that nobody could ever get convicted of anything if her standard of reasonable doubt was used in the courts.

Worst of all was Mara Leveritt's treatment of one of the family members of one of the victims, John Mark Byers. Leveritt claimed that the fact that the teenagers were into weird seeming stuff like heavy metal was unfairly used against them in the trial so much so that they were really convicted for being different. However, she all but accuses Byers of being the murderer because Byers is rather strange himself. This is most inconsistent.

Mara Leveritt also asked all sorts of rhetorical questions such as why could the teenagers not have been tried in juvenile court. You would think that the fact that the case was about triple homicide, torture and mutilation would have shown her just why trying them as adults was the right thing to do.

The way that Mara Leveritt covered this case in Devil's Knot raises all sorts of questions as to her fairness and honesty. In retrospect, perhaps The Boys on the Tracks was not such a great book after all. Just as Mara Leveritt may have been pandering to anti-Clinton sentiment with The Boys on the Tracks, so too she may have pandered to anti-religious fundamentalists sentiment with Devil's Knot.

All in all, a most disappointing book from Mara Leveritt.

RunDMC-Hammer said...

The West Memphis Three were guilty.

On May 5, 1993, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin (ages 18, 17 & 16 at the time) killed Michael Moore, Steve Branch and Christopher Byers (all age 8). They beat them with fists, then beat them sticks, hogtied them, sexually assaulted them, tortured Branch and Byers with a knife, cut off Byers’ genitals, then dumped their bodies in a ditch.

Maybe you watched Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and came away convinced that the WM3 were victims of a gross miscarriage of justice. Maybe you then read Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt, or browsed some “Free the WM3″ websites, or heard a celebrity proclaiming the WM3′s innocence, or saw a TV documentary proclaiming their innocence, and became further convinced.

Guess what, you’ve been lied to. You’ve been scammed. Paradise Lost is an outstanding piece of propaganda — turning thugs who raped, tortured and killed second-graders into beloved folk heroes is no mean feat — but it’s not an accurate account of the case. All the pro-WM3 books, websites, TV shows and celebrity testimonials just rehash Paradise Lost‘s original misinformation.

Read more:

Espskully said...
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Espskully said...

You are a professor of law?? Perhaps you should recommend reading the actual trial transcripts, which are publicly available on the internet, instead of recommending people watch an incredibly slanted, narrowly focused "documentary" on this case.

The "West Memphis Three" indeed committed these crimes. The evidence is overwhelming. You can read all of the transcripts, the documents on Damien Echols severe mental illness (for which he spent great deal of time institutionalized for before the killings), the MULTIPLE confessions - many of which took place POST conviction over several years, and the mountain of circumstantial evidence here:

It's sad that so many people have been duped by Hollywood. Don't fall for the hype people. Read the facts.

These three men are guilty as charged.

Espskully said...

Chris Althouse Cohen - the boy lived with his stepfather. How is a hair that is POSSIBLY his in a shoelace inculpatory on any level? Good God man.

Espskully said...

RunDMC beat me to it - nice work sir (or ma'am).

eddie willers said...

From what I've seen, the convictions seemed warranted. But celebrity causes ofttimes win the day by entertaining us with revisionist history.

Remember Bob Dylan's "Hurricane"?

Kick-ass song.....atrocious history.

Sabinal said...

to me, this case ring so much like Casey Anthony. More spectacle and drama and very little to do with facts or justice. I remember being turned off by this case when it first came up because everyone wanted it to be like Blair Witch Project rather than find out what happened to 3 dead boys.

Lee Kurth said...

Since when is heresay from prisoners,uneducated trailer park teens, alcoholics and drug addicts considered to be reliable information that could be used to help convict someone to life in jail,, The real criminals are those who have forgotten that this is about the West Memphis 3 innocent little boys who were brutally murdered and have there own personal reasons/agenda's placed ahead of the fact that if there is even the slightest doubt as to wether the animal/s who committed this crime have been caught and held accountable then more needs to be done. People who JUST want to protect there jobs,sell books,make websites(david klein your a joke), protect family members/friends/self,or just get that hit of attention that medication can't give them are potentially putting other young boys lives in danger by clouding the path to undeniable truth and justice with there time consuming, self inspired information/opinions labelled as fact that could be contributing to a dangerous child killer/s being free to walk the streets with even more confidence. So if you don't care deeply about the massive tragedy that is 3 young boys lives stolen from them and there familys and can't acknowledge that the consequences of potentially getting it wrong when convicting the 'WM3' means that three more boys lives will have been unjustly stolen from them and there familys and therefore worthy of the highest quality investigation and care, which is clearly not what has occured in this case from either the incompetent police,judge or system(alford system speaks for itself, either the WM3 should be sueing or the rest of the residents of that state should be as they just knowingly let child killers loose). Let it also be known that there is a massive chance in my opiniom that the strongest closed minded supporters of just let it be and have tried to convince that the WM3 are definately guilty and we should just leave it at that and ignore all and any new evidence that says otherwise are potentially very dangerous people with something to hide in there own lives wether it be physical crime or proffessional misconduct or incompetency. Anyway i'm starting to sway from the subject and my desire to sound neutral about the WM3's innocense or guilt in the interest of my message being able to go deeper than just ears to a larger audience so i'm off. Lee

Lee Kurth said...

I just realised i'm talking to myself as it appears no one has posted here in about 2 years. We're a bit slow down here in Australia but i watched that Paradise Lost documentary today and then checked out all the websites,,pro guilty and innocent and felt the need to write,,, also checked out latest news on google and confirms what i suspected, that if Hobbs is guilty, just as guilty officials will try to hide it to save there own very ugly asses,, anyway i consider this a bit saner than simply talking to my self in the mirror or something because at least there's a chance someone else might read this,, and so long as there remains doubt and the killer/s of those young boys is free this remains a relevant topic.