Satanic Panic and the West Memphis Three

This Saturday the CBS show 48 Hours Mystery will discuss the tragic case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley Jr., otherwise known as the West Memphis Three. In 1993 the three men—then teenagers—were convicted of the “Satanic” murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. It was a sham from start to finish, with the authorities relying on false testimony, moral panic about heavy metal music, and an “occult expert” with a mail-order Ph.D., who testified, "I have personally observed people wearing black fingernails, having their hair painted black, wearing black T-shirts, black dungarees." As a result of this railroading, Baldwin and Misskelley are now serving life and Echols is on death row.

Thanks in large part to the chilling documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Woods, the case has received a good deal of attention and become a popular cause for rock musicians and celebrities ranging from Metallica, Henry Rollins, and Hank Williams III to Winona Ryder and South Park creator Trey Parker. And as the New York Post reports in its typical manner, Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp has joined the ranks as well:

Johnny Depp may have fallen through a rabbit hole. To promote his movie version of "Alice in Wonderland," he's advocating the release of three men convicted of murdering three boys in a suspected satanic ritual.

Depp will appear on CBS's "48 Hours Mystery" on Sunday to call for reopening the case of the West Memphis Three -- convicted as teenagers of beating three 8-year-olds to death in 1994 -- because he believes they never got a fair trial....

The "48 Hours" investigation will highlight supposedly crucial new DNA and forensic evidence which could potentially clear the trio, as well as alleged juror misconduct that contributed to the convictions.

For more on why Depp is right to support the West Memphis Three, see my 2003 article "Hell Hounds: How a musical moral panic destroyed three young men."

Check out a preview of the 48 Hours episode here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Fuck. Now you've really done it.
    I'm canceling my subscription.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    I'm just drinking.

  • Polynikes||

    Me too! Does this constitute a "movement" now? A "grass roots" movement?

    That would really really cool!

  • the West Memphis 3 were guilty||

    One of the 3 confessed. Echols and Baldwin both told others they committed the murders. Echols was seen near the crime scene with muddy clothes. Clothing fibers and a knife connected them to the crime.

    West Memphis 3 confession, witness corroboration and physical evidence
    http://bit.ly/cOT2ft

  • LisLis||

    No, there is more to it than this. Please come to my forum to learn more about the physical evidence pertaining to these crimes. www.paradiselost3.com

  • ||

    Jessie Lloyd MISSKELLEY, Jr. v. STATE of Arkansas CR 94-848 S.W.2d Supreme Court of Arkansas
    Damien Echols was observed near the crime scene at 9:30 p.m. on May 5. He was wearing black pants and a black shirt and his clothes were muddy. A witness testified that she had attended a satanic cult meeting with Echols and the appellant. Steven Byers's mother testified that, approximately two months before the murders, her son told her that a man dressed all in black had taken his picture. There was evidence that Baldwin owned a shirt and boots of the type described by the appellant. Finally, a witness from the State Crime Lab testified that she found fibers on the victims' clothing which were microscopically similar to items in the Baldwin and Echols residences.

  • Jennifer||

    So, no evidence whatsoever (the so-called 'witness' recanted)

    Numerous witnessed came forward during the trial to claim the boys were all with Terry Hobbs the day of the murders, and that police had never interviewed witnesses in the neighborhood. Hobbs' dna was found on the bodies, despite his claims not to have seen the victims at all that day. At least two of the victims' parents believe the three convicted are innocent.

    Based on what I read on your blog, you have a vested interest in a fantasy that would be harmed by discarding belief in the guilt of Echols et al. That's shameful.

  • Kippers||

    You know who else is innocent? That Mumia fellow.

  • ||

    Yeah, that's exactly the same situation, except for the fact that it's completely different.

  • Mumia Abu-Jamal||

    I'm innocent, mutherfucker.
    Cancel my subscription.

  • Polynikes||

    WTF? Now Root is double teaming with Bailey to piss me off first thing in the morning?

    Rooooooooootttttttttt!

  • ||

    No time to read. I get that the hysteria over Satanism was likely total crap, but does it look like the guys committed the murders? I'll leave aside for now any question about whether the trial was fair (innocent or not).

  • Polynikes||

    They didn't do it- you would know that if you would quit levitating and sit in your chair like a normal person...

  • ||

    It seems very likely that an informant for the police committed the murders and they ignored him to pursue the Satan angle.

  • Paul||

    Thanks, SugarFree, Pro L's question was the very one on my mind.

  • ||

    Watch the Paradise Lost documentary, and you'll probably pull your hair out in frustration over how these kids were railroaded.

  • ||

    Great, like I don't spend my life in a constant state of indignance already. Where do you think I get the power to levitate from, anyway?

  • ||

    A fine tuned colon?

  • ||

    How much of an effort is thrust vectoring anyway?

  • ||

    Truly, you are not a spiritual person.

  • ||

    Does the porcelain god after a night of heavy drinking count?

  • ||

    Only if you can levitate above the toilet.

  • Apple||

    I'm all for getting the boys a new trial but I have a feeling they'll be convicted again. This site is a great resource for reading the actual transcripts and looking at documents related to the case.

    http://www.callahan.8k.com/

    And this is an amusing read too.

    http://crime-spree.blogspot.co.....uilty.html

    I've spent a lot of time reading over the case and happen to think they're guilty. Others have come to the opposite conclusion with the same evidence. There ya go.

  • ||

    Well, unless the documentary completely distorted beyond all possible recognition, it is extremely hard for me to see how anyone could arrive at the conclusion that these guys were guilty beyond anything like a reasonable doubt.

  • Apple||

    Well there's the dilemma. The questions "are they guilty?" and "did they recieve a fair trial?" aren't the same. Which is why I support a new trial. Also, I was a supporter for years after seeing the docs. If you're interested in the case, I would just suggest you not stop there. Take time to read through the transcripts of the trials and motions and psychiatric reports. Not saying you'll end up agreeing with me, a lot of people don't. In fact, of the three guys who run the Callahan site, two are supporters and one believes they're guilty.

  • Michal Moore||

    "Well, unless the documentary completely distorted beyond all possible recognition"

    Like that never happens.

  • Daze||

    Yes, Paradise Lost distorts the case by ignoring the best evidence against the WM3 and trying to frame one victim's stepfather for the murder, even though there was zero evidence against him.

    The movie basically says, "These poor goth kids were railroaded because they dress weird and look weird and talk weird -- and look at this redneck guy over here, he dresses weird and looks weird and talks weird, so he's obviously the killer!"

    It's a dishonest and reprehensible film.

  • ||

    I've spent a lot of time reading over the case and happen to think they're guilty. Others have come to the opposite conclusion with the same evidence.

    That would indicate that it is highly unlikely that 12 people would agree that the evidence shows guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Apple||

    That's certainly possible. It could also mean that many have been inspired to read the evidence after being convinced of their innocence by the movies and are simply falling prey to confirmation bias.

  • kinnath||

    The movies do not prove the innocence of the defendents, but they do clearly prove the trial was a clusterfuck of the highest order.

    While few people can actually comprehend the difference between innocent and wrongfull-convicte, it is clear that these men were wrongfully convicted.

  • ||

    I've spent a lot of time reading over the case and happen to think they're guilty. Others have come to the opposite conclusion with the same evidence.

    That would indicate that it is highly unlikely that 12 people would agree that the evidence shows guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Horde4Lyfe||

    Admittedly, I know very little about this case. However, that said, presuming they are guilty (which apparently is subject to question) and "satanists" (equally as laughable as a belief in "god" IMO), my question is who cares? If a simple DNA test(s) can set them free, why has this not been done? I'll tell you what this is, profiling of an insidious nature. Heavy metal? Satanism? O rly? Well, they MUST be guilty. Retarded. Hopefully, I have not mininterpreted the comments above, but, an article such as this definitely deserves a place here.

    My two cents, take it for what it's worth. In present day dollars, this would amount to .0000000013 cents.

  • ||

    You're assuming the county govt would even care to see the results.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    My understanding of Satanism is that Satan is used as a metaphor for self interest.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    In other words, Satanists don't necessarily worship Satan, they worship self ownership.

  • Horde4Lyfe||

    Agree with both MCab and Col. Angus.

  • Brenda Crank||

    DNA tests were done. NONE of the results indicated any of the three young men. The most telling DNA found were a couple of hairs in the bindings and near the bodies, and none of that matched the three men in jail. Sometimes it's hard to prove a negative, but common sense would dictate that three teenagers would have left some sort of DNA at the crime scene, but there was not one shred of DNA evidence that placed them there or near the children.

  • Horde4Lyfe||

    Ummm, that's "miSinterpreted."

  • ||

    Anybody who reads the New York Post can kiss my ass.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Given the revelations (pun intended) about what many, many, Catholic priests were doing, the fact that the 80's hysteria was over Satanic sexual abuse is sadly ironic.

  • ||

    +1

  • Corduroy Rocks||

    Win

  • Kippers||

    Given the revelations (pun intended) about what many, many, Catholic priests were doing, the fact that the 80's hysteria was over Satanic sexual abuse is sadly ironic was dead on.

    FIFY

  • BakedPenguin||

    And here's some new Satanic heavy metal, along with some old school devil music to panic over.

  • TB||

    and in counter-point, have some indie-pop, Satanic Panic in the Attic.

    Hey! it's even about rape!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5gvPcq75Gk

  • dhex||

    aw man demon burger. :)

  • ||

    It seems that everyone saying they really did it always point to Jesse Misskelley's confessions. The problem is, how does this relate to the other 2? Jesse Misskelley did not testify against them, so they had no opportunity to cross examine the main witness against them. That's not how you prove aurder case in a court of law in this country.

  • ¢||

    does it look like the guys committed the murders?

    No. The best evidence against them is a crazily incoherent confession from the (most) retarded one. All the physical evidence contradicts it, just doesn't fit it, or implicates someone else. Nothing tangible or sensible implicates the "Three" in any specific crime.

    They're just the people a jury got aimed at. That's all it takes.

  • BakedPenguin||

    There was also a "person of interest" who was ignored by the cops and DA once they got three unsympathetic suspects in hand.

  • Daze||

    Wrong. Jesse gave one confession with some inconsistencies before the trial. After the trial, he gave two more full confessions with no inconsistencies, one informal to some cops and one formal to prosecutors.

    http://callahan.8k.com/wm3/jmfeb.html

    There was fiber evidence that linked two of them to the crime scene. At least five kids reported hearing Damien brag about the killings before his arrest.

  • ||

    After reading the chronology it is apparent that the lesson here is "don't hang out with mentally handicapped individuals." If you know someone who is below 90 IQ, just avoid them at all costs, because the police can get them to confess to anything. Balko's reporting on other miscarriage of justice cases bears this out as well. If you have a brother with Down's, chances are good that the police can get him to confess to the Lincoln assassination and get him to implicate you in the plot.

  • Horde4Lyfe||

    +1

  • ||

    The main witness did not testify. There was no evidence. The stupidest move was putting themselves on the stand, allowing them to ask inane questions such as whether Aleister Crowley was a Satanist and advocated human sacrifice.

  • ||

    Was there any evidence that Misskelley was even with them the night of the murders?

  • Warty||

    Good work. And a big fuck you to the spam filter.

  • Warty||

    Shit, this was supposed to be a reply to BakedPenguin. Fuck you for discombobulating me, spam filter.

  • ||

    Warty--I'm only telling you this because I care--your extensive knowledge of heavy metal is really, really gay. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with riding a Harley; it's just that it's really, really loud and obnoxious.

  • Warty||

    If I were going to choose to be gay, I would certainly be a Rob Halford-like heavy metal-loving, motorcycle riding, leather-rocking fag. That's all I have to say to you.

  • ||

    Halford is the man, so that works. But you in leather? I shudder at the thought. Can't you wear some kind of GWAR outfit instead?

    LIVIN' AFTER MIDNIGHT ROCKIN' TO THE DAWN

  • Warty||

    I'll adopt this look.

  • ||

    Someone once told me that Rob Halford has introduced more teenage males to the gay leather lifestyle than Robert Mapplethorpe ever could.

  • Warty||

    And what on earth could possibly be the least bit gay about metal? I mean really. Not at all gay, nor even a little bit silly.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Nah, never.

  • SpongePaul||

    They should be granted a new trail. i can not say if they are innocent or not, i was not in the courtroom to hear all the evedince. it seems a bit fishy at best. it looks like a railroad,in a lets persecute the different ones kind of way. if they are innocent they should be set free and the DA should be thrown in jail if he commited any malfesence, plus some monies from the taxpayers that wrongly put them there. but if they are not innocent, yeah all 3 should fry like a speck in the oil.

  • ||

    Because it might make everyone involved at the gummint level look stupid like scum-sucking, attention-whoring, bible thumping idiots.

    Can't have that now.

  • Horde4Lyfe||

    Despite your dizzying lack of capitalization, i agree with you Paul. :)

  • ||

    "I have personally observed people wearing black fingernails, having their hair painted black, wearing black T-shirts, black dungarees."

    Did he dial 911?!

  • ||

    Really? He personally observed people having their hair painted black?

  • Marc||

    I see a coiffure and I want to paint it black.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I was wondering about that myself. Maybe they were huffers with bad aim.

  • Marc||

    No link to that mug shot of that one dude?

  • ||

    Yes, he did:
    paint, def. 4) to apply cosmetics to; adorn; beautify (yourdictionary.com)

  • ||

    This is one of those all too common criminal cases where the defendant often lies when he would be better served by the truth. Damien Echols real first name isn't "Damien." He changed it (on his own) when he was a teenager. The prosecution argued that this was because of the name of the anti-christ from the Omen movies.

    The correct answer to this charge should have been "yeah, so what?" Instead they concocted a story about how it was because of Father Damien, a priest who helped lepers in Hawaii. Everything about the kid suggests that it was indeed because he thought it would be cool to have the same name as the kid in The Omen even if he told his parents otherwise. They should have just copped to it and demonstrated how completely meaningless it was to the case at hand; he's a teenager, that's the kind of shit teenagers do.

    When your side gets caught bullshitting in court, you open yourself up to speculation as to just how much bullshit you're actually peddling.

    Were the kids Guilty? Don't know, and I suppose that means there was reasonable doubt, at least based on what I saw in the two documentaries.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Father Damien, however, did rock.
    I recommend a mule-ride to Kalaupapa if you ever get the chance.
    Cancel my subscription.

  • ||

    I think the fundamental problem with the case was that whomever did do it (either on accident or by design), they left the police with not a whole lot to go on. The location of the bodies made most of the forensic evidence unusable particularly at the time the murder took place.

    The problem was, this was not the sort of case where leaving it unsolved was an acceptable resolution. It was so heinous and brutal and to young children, somebody had to go down for it. They had nothing, so they went for their best choice of suspects (in their minds anyway) and went about building the case. The Satanic panic angle helped them do so.

    There was no real damning evidence but I didn't see any real exculpatory evidence either. It's a standard "if someone accused you of murder, would you be able to prove you didn't do it?"

  • ||

    """It's a standard "if someone accused you of murder, would you be able to prove you didn't do it?"""

    West Memphis is a poor town. If you're driving on I-40 to TN, it's the last Arkansas shithole you have to see before you cross the Mississippi river. I wouldn't be one bit surprised if the people actually believe that's how the justice system should work.

  • ||

    This is why you're not supposed to take the stand when you're the one on trial.

  • Ricardo||

    Um, the show is on Saturday on CBS, not Sunday. Fact checking is important in journalism and in TV viewing.

  • ||

    Yeah, I noticed that, too. On Sunday.

  • ||

    There is a town in California, that elected a power mad DA who locked up have the families in town, calling the parents Satanic molesters. Now we know about false memory syndrome, and child mind control. Ever since 1980 when the CNP (evangelical illuminati) started spreading the Satanic Panic, any goth kid was potential toast by our justice system.

    Oh, well. Emos and people who breed do deserve what they get I guess.

  • there was no panic||

    There was no panic, only a cover up of crimes against children.

    see http://childabusewiki.org/inde.....tual_Abuse

    There is no such thing as a "false memory syndrome." This was created in part by those defending accused and convicted child rapists.

    http://childabusewiki.org/inde.....y_Syndrome

  • dragonland||

    all you who think that the west Memphis 3 did it are effing idiots, i bet all the people that commented against them are Christians. you are all idiots.

    and to all the people who said that Damian was seen wearing black clothing and mud on his shoes and that he told people he killed those boys you are all stupid as well.

    the kids that said all those things only came out when the 35,000 reward was posted.

  • Apple||

    I'm an atheist and you're very late to the party.

  • LisLis||

    Hello everyone, I wanted to invite you to discuss this complex case with other people who have been analyzing this case for years. Our forum contains pictures, case documents, and a lot of other information you may find interesting. Look forward to see you there. http://www.paradiselost3.com
    LisLis

  • dragonland||

    Apple|
    I'm an atheist and you're very late to the party.

    if i'm that late why did you check the site again, i couldn't care less what you are, the amount of evidence there is that proves they are innocent out-ways the lack of evidence against them.

  • Echols evidence of guilt||

    Damien Wayne ECHOLS and Charles Jason Baldwin v. STATE of Arkansas CR 94-928 S.W.2d Supreme Court of Arkansas Opinion delivered December 23, 1996

    Echols admitted on cross-examination in the penalty phase of the trial that he had an altercation with his father in which a knife was involved and the police were called; where he admitted that he was hospitalized that same day and that when his father came to the hospital, "I told him I would eat him alive"; where he admitted that he tried "to claw the eyes out" of a student; and where a psychologist who testified for Echols admitted that Echols had "an all-powerful God-like image of himself," that his parents were concerned with his satanism or devil worship, and that Echols's medical records included notations of statements by Echols pertaining, among other things, to his rage and the drinking of the blood of others.

    Echols took the witness stand, and his testimony contained additional evidence of guilt. When asked about his statement that one victim was mutilated more than the others, he said he learned the fact from newspaper accounts. His attorney showed him the newspaper articles about the murders. On cross-examination, Echols admitted that the articles did not mention one victim being mutilated more than the others, and he admitted that he did not read such a fact in a newspaper.

  • ||

    teen-age angst. i went through it and now my son is going through it. i am also adhd, as echols is. i was and still am greatly in to metal music, as echols was. i levelled many threats against my parents, as echols did. i had issues with parental separation as a teen, as echols did. i felt alienated as a teen, as echols did. i hated mass religon or christianity, as echols did. many more similarities i have with echols. does that mean i could have did it too? just like the shoe, if the evidence fits, wear it. or, you could just ask him and decide for yourself.

  • ||

    They did it........Throw that stupid bitch that married Echols in jail too. All these movie stars and singers think O.J. is innocent; give me a break.. Even if they didn't do it, they did something;; HA HA assholes in black; where were your trash parents?

  • they were guilty||

    "West Memphis 3" Follow-Up
    Statement from Diana Moore, mother of murder victim Michael Moore:

    In 1993, all I wanted was justice for Michael, Christopher, and Stevie, and closure for myself, and my family. 17 years later, still no justice, or closure.

    Since the convictions, the media has made it a point to make this case all about the convicted. I would like to take this opportunity to remind people that three innocent 8 year old children were brutally murdered, and these three men were convicted on the evidence presented to 24 , (in total), juror members that voted unanimously to convict.

    Not one of the celebrities interviewed in this program has ever bothered to personally read the case file at West Memphis PD, or speak to anyone involved in prosecuting this case.

    My little boy died that day. I'm his mother, and wish to say that the public remains ignorant about what happened in court primarily as a result of the Paradise Lost films, and the writing of Mara Leveritt. My voice is small compared to theirs, but I believe more relevant. They weren't there during the trials, and they didn't lose anybody. I lost almost everything, and not a day goes by that I don't mourn for Michael. The public should think about that before casting their lot in with Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines.

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  • sathi2000||

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