Crime

The West Memphis Three Are Free

|

Mara Leveritt, award-winning journalist and author of the superb book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, reports from Arkansas:

After the bang of a judge's gavel, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., walked out of a Jonesboro courtroom as free men, shortly before noon. They remain convicted felons, but they are not even on parole.

Circuit Judge David Laser accepted a plea agreement worked out between the state attorney general's office, the local prosecutor and attorneys representing the men, who have spent nearly 18 years in prison. Under the agreement, called an Alford plea, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley told the court they would plead guilty to reduced charges of first-degree, rather than capital murder, while continuing to maintain that they are innocent. An Alford plea allows defendants to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state has enough evidence to convict them.

More details 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.

112 responses to “The West Memphis Three Are Free

  1. Good news, although it grates me that they remain convicted felons while the people who put them in jail remain free.

    1. i take care of my peeps

    2. it grates me that they remain convicted felons while the people who put them in jail remain free

      We hear ya’, brother!

      1. Are “libertarians” taking credit for this?

  2. They really didn’t have the evidence. No way to let the child killers walk free unless you have no chance whatsoever of convicting them. And what sucks is the damned government won’t ever admit a mistake and come up with baby splitting bullshit like this to cover it up. I would like to have that DA’s ass. Either he is letting three murderers walk (one off of death row) or he is wrongly sticking three innocent people with felony convictions. Which is it?

    1. or he is wrongly sticking three innocent people with felony convictions.

      You forgot to mention the actual murderer(s) still being free.

      1. That too. Are they going to go find the real killer now? And if not, why did they let the real one off of death row?

        1. They are calling it case closed which is what they want. This deal prevents a DNA hearing that might have made the state look bad. That might be brought back into play if they decided to charge someone else. They don’t want that. Their statement was justice was served as best as it could..

          1. what would have made the state look bad about a DNA hearing? The lack of a match, which everyone already knows about? This isn’t a rape case. Absence of a DNA match is an absence of proof, not a proof of anything in itself.

        2. Real killer doesn’t matter to them. A plea deal is a win when counting wins and losses. That’s what prosecutors care about, the win column.

      1. If that is true, why did he back off?

        1. In the linked article, John, there’s mentioned that hairs belonging to the stepfather of one of the victims, as well as to one of the stepfather’s friends, were found at the crime scene. Considering the majority of these types of things are committed by family members, it makes one think.

          Also, everyone, do yourselves a favor and don’t read the comments on the article.

          1. If you watch the original HBO documentary it as much as fingers the weirdo step dad.

            1. Different step dad.

            2. Yes, Paradise Lost deceitfully accused the adopted father of one of the victims. There was zero evidence against him, the cops had investigated him and interrogated him properly, but the filmmakers tried to frame him anyway.

              Then in 2007, the whole “free the WM3” crowd dropped that father and began to accuse a *different* victim’s stepfather. There was zero evidence against him either.

              The real killers were in prison until today. There was no mystery about this case to anyone who looked at the actual evidence.

          2. Oh, god, please don’t ever read the comments.

          3. Most likely committed by family members when you’re talking about one child or all victims being related. Multiple murder of unrelated minors is more likely committed by a stranger.

            The hair likely got there by transfer from the child’s home, assuming it does belong to Hobbs (the step dad in question). It has not been proven to be his, despite what you might have read.

            1. Very. Possible.

              about a dozen years ago I had a filing job at American Express. I wore dress pants and with all the static cling that comes with winter, i’d end up picking up hairs from all sorts of my co-workers (mosty women) on the cuffs. I always thought that if one of those women were murdered, they’d likely be able to find at least one of the victim’s hairs in either my car or house. That is one of the reasons that I find hair evidence not to be a slam-dunk.

      2. Actually, that’s just a good place to get started. You’ll find the rest of the evidence here:

        http://callahan.8k.com/

        1. I don’t buy it. If the evidence was so strong, the DA would have never offered them a deal.

          1. Retrials are a lot harder than the originals, especially after 18 years. Memories fade and witnesses die, people these days are less likely to convict without DNA (in Arkansas, sometimes they won’t even convict with DNA. See the Curtis Vance rape trial), the case has celebrity support, etc…

            Anyway, I was a supporter until I read the evidence so I thought I’d offer it up for other people to peruse if they were really interested. The movies and especially Mara’s book have a lot of glaring omissions.

            1. I know retrials are hard. But the DA gave them a deal where they walked out of jail that day. What difference does it make that they have a conviction? Especially since they didn’t have to admit guilt in court. If the deal would have kept them in jail, I can see where the DA makes it even if he has a strong case. But when you are letting them out of jail that day with the deal, what do you have to lose by trying it again? You have to try it again considering how serious the offense is. A six year old boy was raped and murdered. you don’t let the guy responsible for that walk out of jail without a fight.

              1. “”What difference does it make that they have a conviction? “”

                All the loss of rights that a felony conviction brings.

                1. I think John meant to the prosecutors. Walking is walking to them. If they think the three are guilty, gamble on the new trial.

                  1. But if you can chaulk up a win by a plea deal, why gamble on it becoming a lose. The prosecutors got what they care most about.

                  2. That is what I meant Rob.

                  3. I wouldn’t call it a walk. They served 18 years or so for murder to which they plead guilty. That’s a win for the prosecutors. Why risk losing that win by a not guilty verdict or hung jury in a retrial?

                    1. Because serving 18 years for raping and murdering children and never even having to admit you did it is a travesty Vic.

                    2. How many people have served long sentences without admiting guilt? That in and of its self that isn’t a travesty. You can be found guilty of a crime without admission of guilt.

                      I don’t agree they didn’t have to admit it, even though the alford plea allows them to claim their innocence, they entered a guilty plea, they have a felony conviction on their record, and they were sentenced to time served.

                      Having said that, I do believe we have a travesty.

                    3. How can you agree to let a murderer of a child out in 18 years Vic? If you have the evidence, you have to do the retrial.

                    4. I agree 100% John on that point. You don’t have to look far up the posts to see my belief on why the DA doesn’t have much of a problem with the agreement. It about the DA’s win/loss record.

                      However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that they plead guilty and served 18 years.

              2. I don’t believe it’s because the DA thinks they’re innocent. Other than that, I got no answers for you. I’m waiting to hear the full explanation myself.

                Maybe he does. Fuck, I don’t know.

                1. “Last fall, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the three and asked a judge to consider allegations of juror misconduct…”
                  http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/s…..9-12-57-16

                  The DA did what he could to avoid that from happening.

                  1. Hey John, ^^This^^

                    1. Why should the current prosecutor care about that?

                    2. Because he may lose a case that a previous DA won.

              3. “A six year old boy was raped and murdered.”

                From what I read, the autopsy showed no indications of rape. Misskelley had said that Echols had sodomized the boys in his original confession, but that was one of the details of his confession that either was not supported or was directly refuted by the actual evidence.

    2. From the Wikipedia article on this case:

      “Police records were a mess. To call them disorderly would be putting it mildly.” Leveritt speculated that the small local police force was overwhelmed by the crime, which was unlike any they had ever investigated. Police refused an unsolicited offer of aid and consultation from the violent crimes experts of the Arkansas State Police, and critics suggested this was due to the WMPD being investigated by the Arkansas State Police for suspected theft from the Crittenden County drug task force.

      Any surprise that the WOD played a role in the shoddy investigation in this case?

      WMPD = West Memphis Police Department

  3. Why was their chances of overturning their previous convictions so small as to necessitate copping a plea?

    1. were

      I better correct that before I’m lined up against the wall by the grammar Nazis.

    2. After 18 years in prison would you take any risk of going back?

    3. Suppose it was 80 20. They had an 80 percent chance of winning. But if they lose, they never get out. But they can plead and go home today. No way would any rational person not choose to go home given the stakes.

      1. Add in the fact that they have up-close and personal experience with being convicted and sentenced to life in prison (or death) while knowing that they are innocent. Only a fool would turn down that deal.

        I don’t have similar praise for the prosecutors who have to know in their heart of hearts that they got the wrong guys. Particularly after finding a hair inside the knot that bound one of the kids that DNA testing shows belongs to a step-father of another kid. And a hair from a nearby tree that belongs to the step-father’s buddy?

        Come on… “doesn’t prove they weren’t involved…” what a tool. One kid had an airtight alibi, or so you’d think – being at an out of town wrestling match at the time of the murders. But that didn’t prove he was innocent either.

        Yeah, you take the deal and move on as best you can at that point.

      2. Yeah. Do a cost/benefit analysis.

        Benefit of not having a felony conviction on your record: let’s say it’s 1 million dollars.

        Cost of spending the rest of your life in prison: -?

        Yeah, the choice is clear.

  4. Seems a shitty deal to take, but I understand why they did.

  5. Poor guys. I’m glad they’re out finally.

    I want to know what the anonymity-bot has to say about it though.

    1. I’ll bet that the anonymity-bot never thought about it like that before.

      1. If he did, he would think that it’s pretty crazy when you think about it like that, dude.

        1. Yeah, wow, never thought about it like that before.

  6. What a bullshit plea. It’s so the prosecutor doesn’t have to admit to putting innocent people in jail, yet gives the prisoners a way out of jail that you’d have to be crazy not to take. All so they don’t go for a retrial, win it, and besmirch the scumbag prosecutor’s record.

    At least they’re out. I remember seeing Paradise Lost in about ’96 or ’97 and being appalled at how they were railroaded.

    1. Right.

      In December there was to be a hearing on DNA evidence, but not now.

    2. This is probably a stupid question, but . . .

      If someone takes a plea like this, is he then prohibited from publicly asserting his innocence?

      1. The article seems to indicate that this plea explicitly allows them to maintain their innocence.

        1. You’re right, it does – I’m at work and am a bit rushed. I wonder, though, if there really is a scenario under which, as a condition of release, one would be prohibited from maintaining one’s innocence.

      2. It isn’t ‘prohibited’ per se, felons who get out do it all the time and ones going into jail who cop pleas maintain their innocence as well. It is a matter of it being on the ‘official’ record that they assert innocence despite taking the plea that is all.
        Now how that would figure into a background check applying for a job, I don’t know. I imagine most places just see ‘felony conviction’ and skip the rest.

    3. Did you also watch some Michael Moore films and realize how much capitalism sucks?

      It’s not hard to cut together a film that makes a blatantly false proposition look true. That’s what Paradise Lost did.

  7. An Alford plea allows defendants to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state has enough evidence to convict them.

    Hmmmm … Nah.

  8. This makes me really happy.

  9. Fox News commenters are angry:

    It’s incredible that the bleeding heart liberals think these guys are innocent. It boggles the mind!

    These creeps should be shot like the trash that they are. Some “redneck justice” is needed her”

    1. Oh, for fuck’s sake, why did you read the comments?!

    2. The lovely bloodthirstiness. No one innocent ever gets convicted, right?

      1. Both the right and left are equally stupid. It pains me to admit that. But it is true. They are just stupid about different things. The Left tends to be stupid about things that directly affect me. So I find them much less tolerable. But the right can bring the stupid when it wants to.

        Basically everyone has some kind of blind spot issue where they are incapable of rational thought.

        1. That’s why this place is nice. Our blind spot issues tend to be things like pizza and trolls.

          1. Don’t forget Michael Bay. Or your mom.

            1. I already said trolls and pizza.

              1. Is that Brooklyn pie or deep-dish (vomits)?

            2. D’oh!

            3. OK, so Michael Bay forgot your mom, Epi, it’s time to move on. It’s the guys who can’t forget your mom that the Universe truly weeps for.

          2. Don’t forget SciFi, beer, video games, chili, literature, music and Michael Fucking Bay.

            1. Just don’t talk about the fucking Pixies. I swear I will kill your whole town.

    3. They plead guilty to murder, I can understand why some people would be angry.

      1. The kinda of people who don’t understand immoral maneuvering the state conducted in negotiating the plea deal?

        1. That too, I think the plea deal is BS but if they wanted to take it to get out of prison, so be it. But still, if you plead guilty to the crime, there is nothing wrong with people taking that at face value. Don’t like it, don’t plead guilty.

          1. You might think differently if not pleading guilty could mean life imprisonment/death for you.

            1. Taking a BS deal just to get out of prison doesn’t make it any less of BS deal.

        2. This is an outcome that everyone can hate. I doubt the WM3 like it either, but it gets them out of prison.

          1. Well execpt for the prosecution. They are the real winners.

            1. What do they win? They let “child murderers” walk.

              And they dont even get a win. The prosecutors from 18 years ago got that.

              1. The DA’s office is about more than just the person holding it today.

                Again, I wouldn’t call a felony conviction, and 18 years in prison a walk.

                1. Its a walk FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

                  18 years

                  1. stupid squirrels ate my comment, wont retype.

              2. “”What do they win?””

                They won a game of legal chicken. They get to keep their felony convictions for murder when it’s likely they didn’t believe they could win in a retrial.

                As John has been pointing out, if you know you can win, you fight to keep them in prison and the one on death row.

    4. As annoying as the “blame Bush” meme has gotten, I equally can’t stand the “LIBERALS want to let all the rapists and murderers out on the streets!!! MORE FUNDING FOR PRISONS AND A COP ON EVERY CORNER!!! REGISTERING EVERYONE IS THE ONLY WAY TO BE FREEEEE!!! FOR THE CHILDREN!!!!”

  10. I guess it’s no longer a crime to dress goth.

    1. You Homo!

    2. Super cute kitty. I found a mouse in my garage this week. I took my cat out and put her in the garage and came back an hour later. Sure enough, dead mouse. Even at eleven years old with a life of house cat leisure, she still has her fastball. I am sure she had the mouse in about five minutes and spent the rest of the hour torturing it. She is a cat after all and that is how they roll.

      1. The cat plays with the frightened mouse; but she has this excuse, that she does not know that the mouse is suffering. The cat is moderate (unhumanly moderate: she only scares the mouse, she does not hurt it; she doesnt dig out its eyes, or tear off its skin, or drive splinters under its nails) man-fashion; when she is done playing with it she makes a sudden meal of it and puts it out of its trouble.

        For as much as Mark Twain loved cats, he should have known better.

    3. All together now:

      “Awwwwwwww!”

  11. God bless these men. I hope they are able to put their lives back together on the outside. All the best.

  12. Most likely committed by family members when you’re talking about one child or all victims being related. Multiple murder of unrelated minors is more likely committed by a stranger.

    Could you maybe point out a few of these “more likely” cases of single-site, single-event multiple murders-by-stranger of unrelated minors?

    Because I’m thinking it’s never happened (except in the Bible). Even Gilles de Rais did his one at a time, if he did any.

    1. Could you maybe point out a few of these “more likely” cases of single-site, single-event multiple murders-by-stranger of unrelated minors?

      Norway 2011?

    2. Gordon Northcott, Westley Allan Dodd. I wouldn’t know about the bible but it wouldn’t surprise me. God can be a dick.

      1. From reading over those cases, it appears neither of them fit the criteria OP asked for. Besides “god”, that is. He fits the bill just fine.

  13. If you want to know what really happened on May 5, 1993, read Jessie Misskelley’s confession to his defense lawyer four days *after* his original conviction:

    http://callahan.8k.com/wm3/img…..ement.html

    Or read Misskelley’s confession to prosecutors and defense lawyers nine days after that:

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

    There’s overwhelming evidence that the WM3 were guilty as charged. Relying on Mara Leveritt for your info on this case is about as useful as relying on Naomi Klein for your info on Milton Friedman. Show a little skepticism and check the facts.

    1. If you say there is overwhelming evidence of their guilt you should provide us with some evidence first. We might not be so impressed if you provide us with, say, a possibly coerced confession from a borderline retarded individual.

      1. Try http://wm3truth.com for survey of the evidence with links to primary documents.

        Or http://callahan.8k.com if you prefer to research for yourself.

        Some facts: the original 6/3/93 confession was not coerced. If you don’t believe that, how do you explain Misskelley’s extremely detailed confession in a private meeting with his defense lawyer after his conviction? Did his defense lawyer beat it out of him?

        1. Just looking at the first site there – confession, confession, confession, confession, confession, confession, blah blah blah, and then a single link documenting the non-existent physical evidence. Most of the “confessions” were to ultra-reliable jailhouse informants or by the borderline retarded individual who claimed things that couldn’t have happened at the trial.

          Again, you need to present evidence before we accept your claims.

          1. I agree if we’re in a court of law.

            But don’t they at least make you think twice?

            To counterbalance that, of course, is the complete absence of DNA evidence. If they did indeed brutalize those children you’d think that there would be DNA evidence there.

            Bottom line: While we should agree that they shouldn’t have been sent to jail on such flimsy evidence, I’m not sure we should give them all hearty handshakes.

            1. Read about this guy:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Lee_Lucas

              He probably did kill people, but look what he did while he was in custody.

              Also, several of the parents of the murdered children were working to free the WM3. I think they would be the hardest people in the world to convince.

          2. Jessie Misskelley’s 2/8/94 tape-recorded confession was in a private meeting with his defense lawyer.

            Misskelley’s 2/17/94 tape-recorded confession was in a meeting with prosecutors and his defense lawyers.

            Those are the two key documents in the case. Anyone who wants to know the truth should read them in full at callahan.8k.com.

            1. So what? You still haven’t said why this is important or relevant. Why does Misskelley describe things that didn’t happen (like rape)? Why is there zero physical evidence linking them to the crime? Why is the only piece of evidence you are presenting a bogus confession from a borderline retarded individual?

            2. Is that why some of the most vehement voices in getting them released were the victim’s parents?

              Or is this just another case of, “I know what’s better for you, people more involved than I”?

  14. This stood out to me:

    “Attorney General McDaniel publicly dismissed the importance of those findings, saying that they did not prove that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were innocent. He has repeatedly pointed out that all three defendants confessed to the killings: Misskelley in his statement to police, Echols in a statement overheard by girls at a softball field, and Baldwin to a prisoner who was jailed with him before trial.”

    It certainly appears that there was insufficient evidence to convict them. Certainly not enough for first degree murder. But what about these alleged statements of their involvement?

    Again, those “confessions” may not be enough to send them to jail; but it sure raises questions to me about their culpability.

    1. You don’t make a very good libertarian.

    2. So we have a confession from a retarded kid that doesn’t actually match the facts of the case; things overheard by teenage girls (wtf was super goth Eckols doing at a softball field, btw?), and a jail house snitch.

      You guys had me worried for a bit that I was wrong and that the WM3 were actually guilty. I’m glad that the evidence you think is so valuable is the inconsistent confession of a stupid kid under pressure, the hearsay of teenage girls (if there’s anything that the Salem witch trials teach us, it’s that teenage girls would never make up anything to get attention), and a confession “overheard” by a jail house snitch. So basically you have jack shit but hearsay and the incoherent testimony of a retarded kid. The innocent parties have DNA evidence and alibis. I’m comfortable again.

  15. This kinda blew me away. Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson) has been working behind the scenes for several years to get these guys freed. Other celebrities, like Johnny Depp, have also been vocally involved but this is the first time Jackson has come forward publicly about his role in all this.

    http://www.deadline.com/2011/0…..om-effort/

  16. A few comments above reference websites with a history of the events. I have been to afew of those today and I recommend this site above all others
    http://www.jivepuppi.com/jivepuppi_home.html

  17. Thank you, Satan!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.