The long, sad case of the West Memphis Three took yet another turn last week as Crittendon County Circuit Judge David Burnett rejected death row inmate Damien Echols' motion for a new trial based on new DNA evidence. Echols, who was 18 at the time, was convicted in 1994 of the brutal murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Two other teens, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and 16-year-old Jason Baldwin, were also convicted, though only Echols was sentenced to death. Misskelley and Baldwin's motions were denied last week as well.
It's a shocking and thoroughly depressing story from start to finish. Local officials maintained that the murders were "Satanic" in nature and then used the three teens' fondness for black clothes and heavy metal music as evidence against them. There was no physical evidence linking the three teens in any way to the crime, only the factually impossible "confession" of Jessie Misskelley, a special education dropout with an IQ of 72. To appreciate just how ugly the whole sham was, consider that Misskelley's statement was wrong about virtually every significant aspect of the crime, from the nature of the victims' injuries, to the manner in which they were restrained, to the timeframe where the killings occurred. He gave vague and contradictory information, most of which was preceded by prompts from the police. As Mara Leveritt notes in Devil's Knot, her excellent book on the case, "Every detective in the room knew, even if Jessie did not, that the statement was absurd."