Sometimes I think of a blog to write, but the category it belongs in may be a bit blurry. Many blogs I write could fall both within the Pop Culture and Green Living blog. Such is this blog about the West Memphis Three.
In 1993, three teenagers – Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin – were accused of committing a horrible crime just across the river from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Three eight-year-old boys – Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers – were found murdered. The three teenagers were convicted in what many later called a “witch hunt.” DNA wasn’t used back then and if I remember correctly, there really wasn’t any hard evidence that the teens did it, other than the fact that all three had been in trouble with the law and Echols was into Wicca. The murders were said to have been done as part of a satanic ritual after Misskelley confessed.
The problem was many felt Misskelley’s confession was a classic example of police coercion. He was questioned for twelve hours by the police without a lawyer or his parents present. Misskelley’s IQ turned out to be 72 (meaning borderline retardation) and oh yeah, his confession didn’t match many of the crime scene facts. Still, Echols was sentenced to death, Misskelley was sentenced to life plus 40 years, and Baldwin was sentenced to life. They became known as the West Memphis Three.
Here’s where the pop culture part comes into to this so-far social consciousness blog. Hollywood took notice of this trial and conviction. Two documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations were filmed about the possible injustice of this case. Johnny Depp, Natalie Maine, and Eddie Vedder took up the cause – not only lending their voices, but also helping provide funding for lawyers for the West Memphis Three.
Suddenly, after all these years in prison, things started to look up for them. DNA found at the crime scene didn’t match any of the West Memphis Three. Vicki Hutcheson, who had said she attended a Wiccan meeting with Echols and Misskelley where Echols bragged about the murders, recanted, saying her testimony was coerced by the police who had threatened to take her down son away if she didn’t testify. Even the parents of two of the three murdered boys felt the West Memphis Three were not guilty and deserved another trial. Lawyers were calling for another trial with the DNA – or rather lack of – DNA evidence.
Suddenly last Thursday, after years of refusal by Arkansas authorities to budge on this case, it was announced that there would be a special hearing about the case the next day. All of Memphis and east Arkansas was abuzz.
Tomorrow, I will tell you how the story of the West Memphis Three ended.