UPDATE April 2020:
Oxygen Network aired its long awaited show about this case. It featured Bob Ruff’s Truth & Justice working with famed former FBI profiler Jim Clemente and others to re-start an investigation in a manner they believe it should have been done many years ago. We won’t recap the entire show but we will say that the main focus is not on the West Memphis three, Damian, Jason and Jesse. The focus is on the little boys who were killed and re-opening that investigation. It is apparent from the show, that the murder of those three boys, Stevie, Michael and Christopher, destroyed many lives, from the boys’ families to the teens who were convicted to those suspected and not charged throughout the years. It has been a dark cloud over the town and the area and has divided everyone into two camps. Supporters of those who were convicted and then released after an Alford plea and those who are non-supporters (nons) of Damian, Jessie and Jason.
The show ended by seeking a way to obtain evidence for comparison. If there are major updates, we will post them.
Update May 2019:
There are always updates to controversial cases and this one is no exception. One of the fathers, Terry Hobbs, has written a book about his ordeal during the years after the death of his step-son. For more information, https://www.kark.com/news/local-news/new-book-on-west-memphis-3-case-boxful-of-nightmares/.
Oxygen Network has announced a handful of new true crime shows to be released in 2019. One of those will be centered around the murders of the 3 boys, Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers. The documentary will be more of an investigation involving former FBI profilers, law enforcement and forensic specialists to follow up on DNA and other evidence using technology that may not have been available back then. For more information, https://variety.com/2019/tv/news/oxygen-greenlights-kim-kardashian-criminal-justice-documentary-5-new-true-crime-series-1203207564/
This remains an extremely debated case. Many believe that the WM3 were the true killers of the boys and that they should never have been released from prison. Legally, however, they were allowed to be released using an Alford Plea. (details below under The Release). Because of their legal status, they are now free men. Many believe the State allowed this because they believed they could not win another conviction. Others believe the WM3 only signed this knowing they were the guilty party. The truth is only known to those who committed the crime. We try to follow only the law as we write these articles and this is one of those cases where the trial transcripts resulted in a conviction, appeals and ultimately an Alford plea.
At our office we are always invested in the rights of those charged with crimes. As such, we stay up to date on a variety of cases, some high profile and some lesser known. This article is about one of those high profile cases – the arrest and conviction of three teenaged boys known as the West Memphis 3, who spent nearly two decades in prison before being freed due to a public outcry and court appeals. This case strikes as an interesting one because there are a number of questions surrounding the investigation, the trial and the appeals process for each of these young men. Keep in mind as you read this that in a criminal case, the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.
In 1993, three boys went missing and were later found murdered in a small town in Arkansas. These were horrific crimes. According to records and trial transcripts, very little police work was actually done before settling in on a main suspect, Damien Echols. Here is how they were led to Mr. Echols:
It began with a missing persons report for the boys. The town was not really prepared for this type of situation. There were some missed steps, both by searchers and the police. Hindsight is always 20/20. There were conversations with others who saw the 3 boys and some of those conversations seem to conflict with one another, making it even more confusing. At some point, the police were led to a local teen who claimed to have a knowledge of the murders. His “confession” continues to be a great source of discussion and conflict to this day because of his low IQ which was tested as low as 70. The police did not record much of the first part of his confession. When the recording finally does begin, it appears to be completely led by the detectives. However, the interrogation led to the door of Damien Echols which led to his best friend, Jason Baldwin.
The accused then became known as the West Memphis 3 (WM3).
There were two trials. The Court severed (separated) the trial for Miskelley from the other two given his implication of them in his statement. The judge refused to sever the trial of Echols from Baldwin (though Baldwin was simply a defendant by his choice of friends), so the two were tried as co-defendants. Each trial was full of evidentiary rulings that rose on appeal. There were witnesses who were allowed to testify as “experts” in the rites of satanic rituals who only received a PhD from online correspondence courses. There were witnesses who admitted to lying in their statements to the police, but could not be cross examined. There was lost evidence. There was jury tampering. There were viable leads for suspects that were never followed – including a man who was seen in a local restaurant that evening with blood covering his hands and clothes. The police were called to the scene initially, but left without a report. Some would say that there was a mountain of reasonable doubt. In the end, all three boys were convicted – Baldwin and Miskelley received life sentences; Echols received the death penalty.
An opportunity arose when one of the defense attorneys was approached for a documentary about the case. The attorney agreed because money was needed to continue to appeal and he truly believed his client, Jesse Miskelly, was innocent. The screenwriters believed the teens were guilty and thought they had an opportunity to create a one of a kind movie about teen killers. “Paradise Lost” was released and went viral. Some of the victims’ families began to question the convictions. Celebrities, such as Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder, took to the spotlight to speak out. Money poured in for the WM3 defense and appeal fund. The appeals moved forward (see below). Eventually, Paradise 2” & “Paradise 3” were created and released.
At the same time, attorneys began immediately appealing. Remember that an evidentiary ruling can lead to an appellate issue if there is an argument that the evidence was admitted in error and that error had a negative impact on the defendant (simplifying here, there is a legal standard for appeal that must be argued in each case according to that state’s law). There are two different standards, for example, in Massachusetts, to argue based upon whether or not defense counsel objected during trial to the issue or whether appellate counsel determined later that the issue is one that should have been objected to and raises the issue for the first time on appeal. Various issues were raised on appeal in this particular case leading to the opportunity for these three young men to appear once again before their trial court.
After 18 years in prison and on death row, the WM3 were offered an Alford Plea. This plea allows a plea, to resolve the case, but also permits the defendant to maintain his innocence by not making an admission to the facts. It allowed the three to received credit for “time served” and be released. It also allowed for the state to save the cost from having to pay for a second trial. Given all of the issues and the rulings on the appeals, this was a fair compromise for all to close this case.
The WM3 have been out of prison for nearly ten years. However, there is still no justice for the murder of three little boys, Stevie, Michael and Christopher whether any or all of the WM3 were involved or others were involved. The conflicts continue over guilt or innocence of the WM3. There are movies, books, websites, and podcasts devoted to solving the crime. As for the confession that started the chain of events? It is still one of the most hotly debated issues in the case.
There are some indications that police may be onto new information that could clear the WM3 and close the case. We will provide updates on the case.
For details on the case you may visit:
- Paradise Lost 1,2 and 3
- Devils Knot
- West of Memphis
- Devils Knot by Mara Leveritt
- The Case Against the WM3 by Gary Meece
- Life After Death by Damien Echols
- Untying the Knot – Greg Day
- Abomination – Greg Ramsey
- Dark Spell – Jason Baldwin
As always, if you have knowledge of this case that can help close it for good, please contact the CrimeStoppers at: 870-732-4444.