Friday, August 19, 2011

Congratulations to the West Memphis FREE


Cody and Jay take a moment to congratulate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley on the day of their release from prison.


Cody:

On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys - Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers - were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three local teenagers were soon arrested for the crime and convicted, two (Baldwin and Misskelley) sentenced to life in prison and Echols sentenced to death.

Documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky visited West Memphis throughout the trial and their resulting film Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is how the case came to my attention, when it aired on HBO in 1996. I only caught parts of the documentary, but it was an intriguing, haunting story with a disturbing conclusion.

What I had seen of Paradise Lost stuck in my head for years after my first partial viewing, so I managed to obtain a VHS copy of the movie and rewatched it. Upon revisiting the movie, I fully realized that this wasn't a story of a simple open-and-shut case, something was off here. The evidence brought up against the teenagers didn't seem to add up, and the people who were against them seemed caught up in a case of "Satanic panic" and way too concerned with the teens' outsider status, their music and reading tastes, their clothes, even the darkness of Echols' hair was brought up as an oddity. Misskelley had confessed, but the circumstances were questionable and what he said didn't match up to the facts.

I was convinced that the three teenagers - who became known as the West Memphis Three - were innocent, and realized through the internet that I was definitely not alone. Coincidentally, the HBO air date for the sequel documentary was announced soon after. The sequel goes deeper into the lack of evidence and shows the support that the three boys have from people demanding that they be released. For a while, I was completely wrapped up in this case and watched the two documentaries over and over...

That was 11 years ago. Over those 11 years, more and more things have come up to make it seem even more likely that the West Memphis Three were innocent. Still, they remained in prison, Echols continued to sit on Death Row. At times, it seemed to me that this might be a hopeless cause, the courts did not appear that they'd ever be receptive to the idea of release or re-trail.

When recent DNA tests showed that there was no trace of any of the three at the crime scene, that combined with allegations of jury misconduct finally led to an evidentiary hearing being scheduled for December. Perhaps that hearing would've led to a new trial and exoneration, maybe that's how things were looking, because something new came up after that scheduling.

Today, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were released from prison after agreeing to a very rare deal, an Alford plea. With this plea, the three are able to maintain their innocence while admitting that there was enough evidence against them for them to have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After agreeing to this deal, they were all released for time served and put on ten years probation.

It's not a perfect deal, because it gives a pass to the (lack of) evidence that put them in prison, but at least they're finally free after 18 long years behind bars.
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Jay:

I personally can't say I ever imagined a day in which I'd turn my computer on to read news that the West Memphis Three had been freed. However, today turned out to be that day, and I am happy that a resolution has finally been reached in the case.

I was 12 or 13 years old when Cody first introduced me to Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, and to say that it impacted my life would be an understatement. I wrote my own fan fiction versions of similar stories and bought Metallica's Master of Puppets CD. Most of all, I craved more information on the case, which made the 2000 follow-up Paradise Lost 2: Revelations an instant watch. As a high school student I visited Arkansas with friends, and couldn't believe it when I passed by signs for West Memphis.

I also couldn't believe how adamant my friend's mom was in her assurance of guilt for the WM3. Considering she had lived in the same area during the aftermath and trials, I now look back on this as having witnessed firsthand how the news must have affected locals living in the area, who only wanted justice in the case. Today, for a whole new group of people, a different type of justice has finally been served.

If you've never seen the documentaries then I highly recommend that you give them a watch. You'll be the first set of viewers to watch them knowing that everything works out okay in the end-- even if it took a little longer than anyone would have liked.
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When Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers lost their lives on May 5, 1993, it was a horrible tragedy.

That Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley had to spend 18 years of their lives in prison for a crime they can't be tied to is another tragedy.

It's tragic that a killer has gotten away with the murders and remained free for the last 18 years.

But today, something good finally happened, and at least there's a happy ending to one large aspect of this case.

We'd both like to congratulate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley on earning their freedom today. It's well deserved and it's been way too long.

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting, and very sad. I had never heard of this case, being in Australia. I'm gonna hunt down the two docos now; I'm intrigued. Have you heard Peter Jackson (director) is going to fund an investigation into finding the real killer/s?

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  2. Hadn't heard that. In news articles about the release, I did read that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have been helping with the Three's legal bills.

    - Cody

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