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The West Memphis Three
Transcript of The West Memphis Three
• New prosecutor did not want to have a new trial, and didn’t want to make any offers; but, the three still maintained their innocence
• Prosecutor suggested Alford plea
o Named after US Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford (1970)
o Rare and unique type of guilty plea, where you get to maintain your innocence. Prosecutors rarely allow this, and judges often refuse to accept it because it is oxymoronic (you maintain innocence, but plead guilty)
o Essentially, you do not admit the criminal act and assert innocence, while at the same time admitting that the prosecution’s evidence would likely persuade a judge or jury to come to a finding of guilt BRD.
The West Memphis Three
A little more about the case.....
So, what evidence is there against the West Memphis 3?
Jesse Misskelley confessed to the crime and provided explicit details on the murders
Confession implicated Baldwin and Echols
Murder weapon (knife) found in lake behind Baldwin's house
Medical examiner confirms knife used to create cuts on victims' bodies
Expert testimony that crimes are Satanic in nature
Knife cuts, hog-tying, full moon and age of victims are evidence of this
Witnesses confirming involvement
State witness explaining that Echols' invited her to a cult meeting
State witness explaining that Baldwin provided him with gruesome details of murders
Jessie Misskelley Jr.
Evening of May 5, 1993 - Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Steve Branch reported missing in West Memphis.
The next afternoon, the 3 boys were found dead in a creek. They were naked, hog tied and covered in lacerations.
The deaths were deemed as homicides.
Murders appeared to be Satanic in nature.
The Confession: A Brief Sample
The Confession: Danger Factors
Jessie Misskelley Jr:
17 years old at the time of interrogation
borderline intellectual disability (IQ of 72, reading at a grade 3 level)
History of domestic and child abuse
Eye witness evidence that he was last person seen with boys
Jessie Misskelley Jr.
Confessed to the crime in detail
Satanic poetry and writings seized
Witnesses say he was part of satanic cult
Knife found behind property
Expert evidence confirmed it as murder weapon
Post-"Junk": A New Profile
Police thought Satanism was at the root of the crime
Thought that the “sexual mutilation” was cult related
Believed that the evidence pointed in this direction (e.g. multiple cuts, hog tying, expert evidence)
Failed to adequately examine other avenues as a result
Police identified Damien Echols as a person capable of committing a crime inspired by Satanism.
Saw Echols as an “outsider”: he was interested in the occult, he read Stephen King, and had the skull of a dog in his room
Police conducted their investigation with this theory in mind
Believed him to be the “ringleader”, with Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley as followers
Terry Hobbs (stepfather of victim Stevie Branch)
DNA evidence found in the restraints placed on one child – hair matches Terry Hobbs
Eye witness testimony placing him as the last person w/ the 3 children
Police never interviewed these eye witnesses and/or they never came forward
Police didn’t investigate Terry Hobbs
Didn’t even interview him. Much of his story is unsubstantiated/contradicted by other evidence
Knife found in lake – authorities knew it had been placed there months prior to the crime and that it could not have been used in the murder
Additionally – medical evidence demonstrates that the knife did not make the cuts in question
Medical examiner’s office in Arkansas controlled by prosecutor’s office
Obvious conflict of interest
In this case, medical examiner found that the bodies had been mutilated.
Top medical experts disagree + believe it was the work of turtles
o Important witnesses at trial recanted
– admits to fabricating story that Echols invited her to a Satanic cult meeting
– admits to being a heavy drug user at the time of the trial and to making up story Baldwin purportedly told him
He had testified that Baldwin admitted to him that he "dismembered the kids" and "sucked the blood from the penis and scrotum and put the balls in his mouth."
18 years in prison before released in 2011
Partially due to the efforts of the WM3 movement sponsoring further investigation
Damien Echols spent 10 years in solitary confinement, 78 days on death row
not ultimately found innocent, Alford Plea was accepted
John Fogleman, the prosecutor in the initial case is now a judge in Arkansas
David Burnett, the judge who initially heard the case postponed a run for state senate to preside over their appeals, but was eventually elected as Democratic representative to the Arkansas State Senate, maintains the WM3 guilt
Dr. Frank Peretti, the forensic pathologist who gave evidence against the three that has been debunked by the WM3 investigation is still employed by the Arkansas Crime Lab
Brent Davis, assistant prosecutor on the case is now a member of the Arkansas judiciary
Scott Ellington, the prosecutor who accepted the Alford Plea ran as the Democratic candidate as state representative
all three remain traumatized by their 18 year ordeal
"The person that killed those three kids is still out there walking on the streets. To me, that would seem like the highest priority. Not this case. Not me, Jason, or Jessie. Don't get me wrong, we're thankful for the support that people give us, but the main thing I would be thinking about is "There's someone who killed three kids still living in my neighbourhood."" - Damien Echols
"In a legal sense we still have this black cloud hanging over our heads...[the Alford Plea] allowed the state of Arkansas to do, to this day in the entire history of the state of Arkansas, they've never exonerated anyone, they still maintain...that they have never so much as sentenced an innocent person to prison in the state of Arkansas" - Damien Echols
Key forensic evidence involved wounds caused by a knife
Arkansas is one of the last US states to have a prosecutor-controlled crime lab
This means that the Medical Examiner is in effect NOT at witness for what happened, but actually an ARM of the prosecution
some inconsistency about length (4-12 hours?)
not fully recorded
no written waiver of Jessie's Miranda Rights (legally required in the US when interviewing minors)
So, who did it?
OVERVIEW OF THE CASE AGAINST THEM
Jessie Misskelley, Jr, Interrogation, 8:08-8:45 (http://www.dpdlaw.com/63931.mp3)
RIDGE: Jason had a knife, what did he cut with the knife. What did you see him cut or who did you see him cut?
JESSIE: I saw him cut one of the little boys
RIDGE: Alright, where did he cut him at?
JESSIE: He was cutting him in the face.
RIDGE: Cutting him in the face. Alright, another boy was cut I understand, where was he cut at?
JESSIE: At the bottom?
RIDGE: On his bottom? Was he faced down and he was cutting on him, or
JESSIE: He was
GITCHELL: Now you're talking about bottom, do you mean right here?
GITCHELL: In his groin area?
RIDGE: Do you know what his penis is?
JESSIE: Yeah, that's where he was cut at.
Jessie Misskelley, Jr, Interrogation, 9:55-10:35 (http://www.dpdlaw.com/63931.mp3)
RIDGE: Alright, you went home and about what time was it that all of this was taking place?
JESSIE: They called me about --
RIDGE: I'm not saying when they called you. I'm saying what time was it that you were actually there in the park?
JESSIE: I would say about 12 [NOTE: earlier in the interrogation, Jessie said he got together with Jason and Damien at 9:00 am]
RIDGE: About noon?
RIDGE: Okay, was it after school had let out?
JESSIE: I didn't go to school
RIDGE: These little boys
JESSIE: No . . .no . . . they – they skipped school
RIDGE: They skipped school?
JESSIE: They were going to catch their bus and stuff, and they was on their bikes and so,
The Confession: A Brief Sample
The Power of Confessions
Jessie's confession was the basis of arrest for himself, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin
excerpts of the confession was played at the trial, where Jessie was convicted (Jessie was tried separately)
The confession wasn't played at Damien and Jason's trial because Jessie later recanted
psychological expert ignored
What could have been done differently?
different form of questioning (i.e. no leading questions, avoid contamination)
avoid threats/promises, oppression
police change focus from guilt to investigation (i.e. explore alibis, interview all witnesses thoroughly, investigate misinformation, etc)
take better steps to protect vulnerable individuals
speak to lawyer or parent
presume statements involuntary
record entire interrogation
exclude confessions such as this, raise the bar on voluntariness
have the trial judge reinforce the validity of psychological evidence on confessions to jurors
Jessie Misskelley Jr.
As a result, the Police ignored/failed to investigate evidence that pointed away from these 3 suspects
So, what evidence is left against the West Memphis 3?
Two crucial State witnesses have recanted
Misskelley's confession involuntary, unreliable and likely the product of police misconduct
Expert medical opinions prove that knife was not used to make cuts
Lack of knife wounds in turn debunks Satanism theory
No DNA evidence placing any of the convicted parties at the scene of the crime
One of the most written about cases online
Many people have their own opinions on this case and still believe the West Memphis 3 are guilty
Is the real killer still out there?
NOT actually certified med. examiner!
State of Arkansas allows 5 attempts to write Board exams. He failed twice.
EERILY similar to Dr. Charles Smith here in Canada---highly underqualified, untrained person testifying in "expert" capacity; "overreaching" testimony
His testimony painted the picture of a ritualistic, satanic murder that involved sexual mutilation. BUT, was this true?
5 minute clip, from the film, includes some highly graphic content (partial autopsy photos, partial crime scene photos showing the deceased boys' bodies, discussion of forensic evidence, etc.)
If you are highly sensitive to this kind of material, you may want to leave the room briefly
Setting the Scene
Satanic, ritualistic killing debunked
New evidence pointed towards a crime NOT involving a crazy, sadistic person, but rather, one who had a "personal cause" to commit the crimes
Important to also note, after the fact, that out of the hundreds of forensic samples, not ONE matched the DNA of either of the 3 convicted for the crime
They could maintain their innocence
Immediate release from prison
Prevents civil action
Still factually guilty (stigma)
The "JUNK" Science
GUILTY. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.
Peter Jackson &
Starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon
Movie Credits & Other Versions
Damien readily accepted it, followed by Jesse. Jason rejected it, saying he would rather die in prison maintaining his innocence, rather than plead guilty.
After calls from his girlfriend and Eddie Vedder, he ultimately came around and accepted.
Judge ultimately accepted all three pleas.
Where does it stand now?