The New York Times' Shaila Dewan has filed an interesting report from West Memphis, Arkansas, where three young boys were found horrifically murdered 16 years ago, and where three teenagers—dubbed the West Memphis Three—were convicted of the crime in a sham trial that relied on false testimony, moral panic over heavy metal music, and an "occult expert" with a mail-order PhD. As Dewan tells it, after years of denying that the teenagers could possibly have been railroaded, many locals are now willing to accept that a terrible miscarriage of justice might have occurred:
To Shaun Hair, 30, who left West Memphis for college after the killings, it was a jolt to hear friends and neighbors begin questioning the verdict. "I was like, 'That's stupid, quit buying the hype,' " he said.
But when Mr. Hair, who returned to the area in 1999 and now works as a criminal defense lawyer, re-examined the case, he found it troubling. "If I were the defense attorney," he said, "I would want a retrial."
Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Misskelley are serving life sentences; Mr. Echols is on death row. Their convictions were based on an error-riddled confession by Mr. Misskelley, who later recanted, and testimony about satanic cults. Scant physical evidence was presented.
Just to be clear about it: Despite leading questions and repeated prompts from the police officers who were present, the "confession" of 17-year-old Jesse Misskelley—a high school dropout with an IQ of 72—was wrong about virtually every significant aspect of the crime. Misskelley claimed that the boys were anally raped, though the medical examiner found no such evidence. He said the boys were bound with rope (it was shoelaces), that only their hands were tied (they were tied hand to foot), and that one boy could kick his legs "up in the air." Misskelley repeatedly stated that the killings took place in the morning and that the victims had skipped school—yet the victims were present in school until 2:45 p.m. that day. As Mara Leveritt, author of the best book on the case, has written, "Every detective in the room knew, even if Jessie did not, that the statement was absurd." Yet it was Misskelley's words that directly led to the arrests of the other two.
For more on this outrageous case, see here.