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Article ID: 4888
Age Group: Adult
Posted: November 16th. 2002
News: 2002 Update
by Peg Aloi
The West Memphis Three: An Update Witchvox readers who have been with us since the early days know that one of the cases we have been following for years is the plight of the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were arrested and convicted of the murders of three eight-year old boys (Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers) in 1993. Echols is currently on Death Row and Baldwin and Misskelley are serving life sentences. Despite an almost total lack of evidence connecting them to the crimes, as well as many instances of investigative incompetence on the part of the police, blatant leaks of restricted information to the media (which promulgated rumors of cults in this overwhelmingly-Baptist--not to mention poor and u neducated--community), and questionable legal behavior on the part of the district attorneys and the judge, the three young men (teenagers at the time of the crimes) were found guilty of a crime thought by many to be a gruesome "satanic" murder.
Filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger made two documentaries for HBO chronicling the trial and the aftermath. These films (Paradise Lost and Revelations) brought the case to worldwide prominence and caught the attention of many people, including musicians like Steve Earle, Eddie Vedder, Eddie Spaghetti and others who contributed to a benefit CD two years ago, and more recently Henry Rollins, whose benefit CD, released last month, includes many high-profile artists performing covers of Black Flag songs. The films have also prompted books, articles, short stories and nearly a decade of grassroots activism. The website most often cited for its continuing coverage of the case and its fundraising efforts on behalf of the three young men is at www.wm3.org. This is the place to find the latest updates on the appeals process.
It is hard to believe that nearly ten years have passed in the lives of these young men, who have spent their late teens and all of their 20s behind bars. Damien, who claimed to be a follower of Wicca at the time of his arrest (information which led many to think he must have some connection to satanism), has converted to Buddhism and spends much of his time studying comparative religion. Jason, Damien's best friend when they got arrested, has gotten straight A's in college courses taken in prison and continues to write poetry. Jessie Misskelley, Jr. is not as studious as Damien or Jason, but he tries to keep a positive attitude; his learning disabilities and low IQ led many to believe that his contradiction--riddled "confession," entered into the record, was coerced and illegally obtained.
All three are appealing their convictions and have high-profile lawyers (including Ed Mallett and Barry Sheck) working pro bono on their cases. But the wheels of justice turn slowly. And in Arkansas, the same judge who convicted them was allowed to preside over their appeals hearings, and he has already rejected the first round of appeals. At this point, hearings have been tentatively scheduled which will discuss the matter of DNA testing of case evidence. (For the latest information on the appeals process, go to www.wm3.org).
DNA testing is a crucially-important matter here, since no physical evidence connected any of the Three to these crimes, and significant physical evidence, including blood samples, were lost or mishandled by the West Memphis police. Also, physical evidence linked to other suspects (such as a bloody knife in the possession of one victim's stepfather, a man who had already been convicted of felonious assault and threats against family members at the time of the murders) was never thoroughly tested. Recent instances of exoneration of Death Row inmates in Illinois, proven innocent of any crime because of DNA testing, has led to a death penalty moratorium pending deeper investigation, and so it is hoped that, if enough evidence still remains to exonerate these young men in Arkansas, their release will be a done deal.
Media Coordinator, The Witches' Voice
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