Shortly after three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, local newspapers stated the killers had been caught. The police assured the public that the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. Evidence?
The same police officers coerced an error-filled "confession" from Jessie Misskelley Jr., who is mentally handicapped. They subjected him to hours of questioning without counsel or parental consent, audio-taping only two fragments totaling 46 minutes. Jessie recanted it that evening, but it was too late— Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols were all arrested on June 3, 1993, and convicted of murder in early 1994.
Although there was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or connection to the victims, the prosecution pathetically resorted to presenting black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as proof that the boys were sacrificed in a satanic cult ritual. Unfathomably, Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin received life without parole, and Misskelley got life plus 40.
In the years since the convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley for a crime they did not commit, their cause has gained support from all over the world, and these men have become known as the West Memphis Three. The story of the injustice they have endured at the hands of the state of Arkansas has never lost momentum, and in recent months, the evidence in their favor has grown to the point where it's nearly impossible to view this case as anything other than a miscarriage of justice.
Teenagers at the time of their arrest in 1993, these young men were considered suspects in the gruesome triple child homicide and arrested without any evidence tying them to the crime. The police and the state managed to convince the media and the juries that "devil worshippers" were responsible, and that Damien, Jason and Jessie somehow fit that description. It was publicly stated by law enforcement officials and the media that the murders had been a part of a satanic ritual; a human sacrifice in the wooded areas of West Memphis, Arkansas. It seems unlikely that this would be accepted as motive by a contemporary jury, but once the police had a young, mentally challenged boy in their custody, they managed to coerce him into providing what was seen as a "confession" despite huge logic holes, discrepancies and the fact that he later recanted and refused
to testify against the other two men.
Now, 15 years later, these men are still fighting for their freedom, but there are a few major differences now. The "satanic cult sacrifice" motive is now seen as an embarrassment that the police and prosecution no longer embrace, and much more importantly, DNA and other forensic technologies have progressed to the point where items that were previously inadequate for testing are now providing the positive proof that Damien, Jason and Jessie have been waiting over a decade for.
The results of recent DNA testing have revealed that these three men couldn't have been involved in the murders because not one cell of genetic material has been identified that matches them. The nature of this crime as put forth by the State of Arkansas makes it very unlikely that the perpetrator could have committed it without leaving even the smallest trace behind. DNA evidence was, however found that matches a pair of individuals who had been together on the day the children disappeared. One of these individuals is the stepfather of one of the victims.
In Fall of 2008, hearings took place in Jonesboro, Arkansas to show that Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley did not receive adequate legal counsel during their trials. After several years of similar proceedings, Damien Echols finally completed his ineffective counsel hearings in 2000. These hearings revealed new information not known at the time of the original trials, as well as information that was not known to their trial attorneys. At these 2008 hearings, specifics of the original homicide investigation were examined in detail, providing further proof of the multitude of failures and errors made by West Memphis Police and other investigators at the time. It has also been shown that Damien, Jason and Jessie did not receive adequate counsel due to jury tainting, inexperienced public defenders, serious under funding, lack of access to state crime labs and resources among many other things.
Forensic psychologist Dr. Timothy Derning testified at this hearing that Jessie Misskelley was not competent to stand trial, and that he wasn't questioned properly or legally by the police. His so-called confession contains many lapses in logic, discrepancies and outright fabrication, and yet it was used in truncated form as evidence, and resulted in the imprisonment of this man who should never have been questioned without a lawyer or parent present. In light of Dr. Dernings's testimony it's very clear
that Jessie Misskelley was coerced into making his statements, and that the content of those statements is so disjointed and irrational, it should never have been considered valid.
Daniel Stidham, Jessie's trial attorney, also testified at these hearings. Stidham stated that he had been grossly under funded and unprepared to defend his client. He admitted that for much of the time he spend as Jessie's defense attorney he actually believed his client to be guilty due to the rumors and innuendo that was circulating at the time in conjunction with exaggerations and false information that had been released to the media. It wasn't until Stidham was able to examine the case more closely that he came to realize that his client was not only mentally handicapped, but that he had been subjected to an irresponsible and unconscionable interrogation process at the hands of the West Memphis Police Department. Stidham's budget was so prohibitively restricted that he was forced to use money from his own pocket to obtain expert witnesses, and his access to the state crime lab was almost non-existent.
Dr. Werner Spitz, perhaps the most well-known forensic pathologist and forensic scientist in the world, also provided illuminating testimony at this hearing. The pathologist who examined the victim's bodies back in 1993 was not Board Certified, and according to Dr. Spitz was incapable of seeing evidence that would have been instantly obvious to a more experienced medical examiner. Spitz noted injuries on the bodies that could only have been caused by animal predation. These wounds had been previously attributed to a stabbing weapon.
As each new fact emerges, we see more and more proof that Jessie's "confession" is nothing more than a case study in coercion and false confession. Experts on coercion and police procedure all agree that it simply isn't worth anything as evidence.
As evidence of the innocence of Damien, Jason and Jessie increases, the hearsay and speculation against them continue to dwindle to nothing. Support for these three men continues to grow as more and more people are made aware of their situation. As they exhaust their state appeals, all three of these men are optimistic and encouraged by the advances in their case. They await the federal circuit courts and the chance to finally have an unbiased light shining on the facts. Damien, Jason and Jessie and their many supporters know that they will soon be free men, but they
all want to make sure that the world doesn't close its eyes and ears to this tragedy.
The current state of DNA technology in 2008 has improved greatly since the original investigations in 1993. Items that were previously considered untestable and insignificant at the time of their trials are now providing positive genetic matches.
• Recent DNA tests involving dozens of items related to the crime have failed to link any of the three defendants to the crime scene.
• A hair found at the site where the bodies were recovered has been shown to be a positive DNA match to another individual. The matching hair was found on a ligature used to bind one of the victims. This individual is the stepfather of one of the other victims.
• Another hair found at the site has been shown to be a positive DNA to a man who was with the stepfather on the day of the crimes.
• DNA recovered from the penis of one of the victims has been shown to NOT match Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin or Damien Echols.
• Scientific analysis by some of nation’s leading forensics experts have shown that the original investigation was not conducted properly.
• Recent examinations have shown that wounds on the victims’ bodies were caused by animals at the crime scene after the victims were dead.
• These wounds were not caused by knives, as claimed by the prosecution, a claim that was a substantial factor in their case.
• In 1993, unqualified, untrained examiners that were not Board Certified reached erroneous conclusions based on misinformation.
• Witness testimony pertaining to knives and stabbing have been shown to be false.
• These new forensic findings undermine testimony by questionable "cult expert" Dale Griffis, who contended the murders had been a part of a satanic cult ritual human sacrifice. This absurd claim has again been proven false.
• The scientific evidence provided by qualified forensic experts has refuted everything used in court to convict these three innocent men.
For over 15 years, The West Memphis Three have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Echols waits in solitary confinement at a Supermax facility for the lethal injection our tax dollars will pay for. But all three were condemned by their poverty, incompetent defense, Satanic panic and a rush to judgment by the media.
But there’s still hope for them, and you can help.