The West Memphis Three: a death-row inmate freed.
Subject: Accused persons (Cases)
Author: Davis, Jenny Leigh
Pub Date: 06/22/2012
Publication: Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569
Issue: Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Company legal issue
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Legal: Legal Case: Misskelley v. State 915 S.W.2d 702 (Ark. 1996)
Accession Number: 293949012

The West Memphis Three were released in August 2011, after serving 18 years in prison. Falsely accused of a horrendous crime, they are back in society after their lives were placed on hold--alienated and confined behind bars. In an act of solidarity, Damien Echols (death-row inmate), Jason Baldwin; and Jessie Misskelley Jr.--know as The West Memphis Three--stood before a full courtroom in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and entered an Alfred plea, a legal maneuver that allowed the men to "plead guilty to lesser charges, while asserting their innocence and getting released for time served. The freeing of Mr. Echols, 36, was the highest-profile release of a death row inmate in recent memory. Mr. Baldwin, 34, and Mr. Misskelley, 36, had been serving life sentences" (NPR News). In 1994, The West Memphis Three were convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts--Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore--and dumping their bodies in an Arkansas ditch" (CBS News).

The West Memphis Three continue to maintain their innocence. Echols told the judge "I am innocent of these charges but I am entering an Alfred plea ... this plea is in my best interest" (CBS News).

The young victims were found brutally mutilated, and in 1993 there was a "nationwide concern about satanic cult activity, especially among teenagers, (which) led investigators from the West Memphis Police Department to focus on Mr. Echols, a troubled yet gifted 18-year-old who wore all black, listened to heavy metal music and considered himself a Wiccan" (Robertson). Misskelley was interrogated for 12 hours, and eventually confessed and implicated Baldwin and Echols. The three were convicted primarily from the confession, despite the fact that Misskelley later recanted.

The case was elevated to a national level after a series of documentaries aired on HBO shortly after the convictions. Producer Joe Berlinger commented on the initial intention of the films: "Frankly, we went down (to Arkansas) thinking we were making a film about guilty teenagers ... The press reports coming out of West Memphis, Ark., were as if this was an open-and-shut case" (NPR News). However, after the first documentary was released in 1996, it "raised doubts about the legitimacy of the evidence used to convict the three men" (NPR News).

While some believed Echols was rightfully convicted, a public movement formed to free the men, believing they were singled out for being "outsider(s) in a small town ... Even some of the victim's families began to doubt the men's guilt. John Mark Byers, the father of Chris Byers (stated) 'To see them get out and have a normal life is a blessing from God'" (Robertson).


There are always two sides to a story, and still there are those who believe the releases are unjust. At the time of conviction, there was little to suggest the possibility of another assailant. "Police had few leads until receiving a tip that Echols had been seen mud-covered the night the boys disappeared. The big break came when Misskelley unexpectedly confessed and implicated Baldwin and Echols in the killings. Defense attorneys claim police took advantage of his low IQ" (CBS News).

Prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington stated, "We don't think there is anybody else ... I believe that with all the circumstances that were facing the state in this case, this resolution is one that is palatable and I think that after a period of time it will be acceptable to the public as the right thing. Lawyers for the men said they would continue to pursue full exoneration" (Robertson). "Echols and Baldwin hugged after Echols thanked him for taking the plea mostly for him even though he wanted to continue fighting for his innocence" (CBS News). During an interview Echols stated, "It's not perfect, not perfect by any means," Echols hopes to uncover evidence confirming the men's innocence.


NPR News. Freedom not 'paradise' for West Memphis Three. Retrieved January 18, 2012, from three.

Robertson, Campbell Deal flees 'West Memphis Three' in Arkansas. New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2011, from

CBS News. West Memphis Three: Damien Echois overwhelmed by release. CBS News. Retrieved August 19,2011, from
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