Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley, and Jason Baldwin have been in the news recently as the surprising and somewhat shocking twist to the legal battle for the men’s freedom came to the sudden end with their release after a hearing on Aug. 19.
This all came nearly two decades following the tragic deaths of three 8-year-old boys Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers on May 5, 1993 in West Memphis, AR. The three boys were found in a ditch. Autopsies revealed that Byers has died of blood loss due to lacerations, while the other two were drowned.
Echols and Baldwin were friends who shared common interests in music, such as Metallica, and fiction, as well as a common distaste for the social climate in “”The Bible Belt.”” They were acquainted with Miskelley from school, but were not close friends.
Police were able to gain a confession from Miskelley following a long interrogation. An interrogation where the teenager with the below average intelligence failed to get many of the basic facts correct such as the time of day the murders would have occured.
The confession helped build a case against Echols and Baldwin who were tried following Miskelley being found guilty. The confession was not able to be used against Echols and Baldwin, but the prosecution claimed the killings were part of a satanic ritual in which Echols was the leader. No evidence to satanic worship or the three ever being at the scene of the crime has ever surfaced. Miskelley and Baldwin would serve the rest of their lives in prison while Echols would be put on death row. For the best details on all of this read The Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt, watch the Paradise Lost films, or dig around on the Independent WM3 Forums.
Major support for the WM3 really began with the Paradise Lost documentary films in 1996 and 2000. (I first heard of the case after seeing the films while in college. I later read Leveritt’s book and started watching the forums in 2003-2004. I have been using Google news alerts to keep up on happenings for the past few years.) While public support grew with the films, many in the music industry took notice. One of the first I can remember is Henry Rollins who delivered a Black Flag release for their support cause. It’s reported in Rolling Stone, that Rollins raised $100,000 to support some crucial DNA evidence. Natalie Mains from the Dixie Chicks and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam are among the highest profile musicians to trumpet the cause claiming the WM3’s innocence. More recently, Johnny Depp and Peter Jackson have shown their support for the three. It is reported that among those mentioned millions of dollars have gone to support the legal defense fund and will continue their efforts to clear their names.
The amazing showing of support through the message boards, people attending and standing out side at hearings, has made this case something I have never seen with any legal cause in recent history. Only comparison I can draw is Leonard Peltier.
The Alford Plea
The Alford Plea provides for the defendant to not admit to the crime and maintain their innocence while at the same time admitting that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to sway a jury to believe in their guilt and find them guilty. This type of legal move is rare and is also confusing. Many in the media have said the WM3 pleded guilty to counts of murder and so forth, which is not exactly the truth. It was said in a post-hearing interview that Jason Baldwin was the last one of the three to buy into the deal. He was steadfast in maintaining their innocence. The only reason he changed his mind was “”Because they were trying to kill Damien.”” In exchange for making the plea deal, the Wm3 were able to walk away from the courthouse free men.
The WM3 and many of their supporters want to continue to fight for clearing their names. Already, the Arkansas governor has said that he will not overturn anything the courts have ruled. Certainly, the three will have to adapt to the nearly 20 years of change that has taken place without them. Articles have said things about Damien spending a bunch of time trying to figure out and iPhone and Jessie getting on Facebook. The ultimate thing that they have now is the freedom to go out and discover the world, hopefully with the level of privacy they deserve.
The greatest tragedy of the WM3 and everything attached to it is that the person or people responsible for the death of three boys has not been apprehended. The State of Arkansas considers the case closed. So the six families who will every be connected by this case will not see closure to this. Two of the parents of the victims believe that the WM3 are not the killers of their child. Hopefully, in time, the real killer or killers will be found. I’d consider only half of the justice served in this case.
This also brings out a critical flaw in the legal system. Too many lawyers are concerned with “”getting the win”” instead of doing what’s right. For some reason, the Al Pacino/Keanu Reeves film“The Devil’s Advocate” comes to mind. Arkansas got their win with the plea deal. The case is closed and they will not get sued by the WM3 for their imprisonment.
The Upcoming Films