Huge news developing in Jonesboro, Arkansas today as it appears that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin, the three young men dubiously convicted 17 years ago for the "satanic" murders of three young boys may agree to a plea deal that will secure their freedom. Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times has the early details:
Much more to come later this morning from Jonesboro, where Circuit Judge David Laser will consider a plea bargain between the state and the West Memphis 3 that could bring their immediate release from prison after more than 17 years.
If the judge approves — and this is an all-important if — the defendants will leave still convicted of murdering three eight-year-old West Memphis boys in 1993. This will leave their staunchest defenders unhappy and offend even many less interested who will take offense at convictions for crimes that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin will still say they did not commit.
The alternative is to risk losing their appeal for a new trial and to remain in prison for life, or, in Echols' case, execution.
The case against the West Memphis Three was always a sham. Lacking any shred of physical evidence that could tie Echols, Misskelley, or Baldwin to the crime, the prosecution instead focused on the fact that the young men—then aged 18, 17, and 16, respectively—wore black clothes and listened to heavy metal music. Among the evidence introduced was the cover of Metallica's Master of Puppets album, the fact that Echols practiced Wicca and enjoyed books by Stephen King and Anne Rice, and testimony "that eleven black T-shirts had been found in Jason's home." Prosecutors also relied on the testimony of "occult expert" Dale Griffis, the holder of a mail-order Ph.D. from "Columbia Pacific University," who testified that "I have personally observed people wearing black fingernails, having their hair painted black, wearing black T-shirts, black dungarees."
So the fact that these men may finally get a little justice after rotting in prison for 17 years on bogus charges is welcome news indeed. Stay tuned for further developments. And for much a more detailed summary of the case, see my 2003 article "Hell Hounds: How a musical moral panic destroyed three young men."