It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 19. Resolution 19. Free the West Memphis Three. May 14, 2010

I have never been interested in the crime genre, true or otherwise, unless you count the whodunit novels of G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Father Brown’ or Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’, because it encompasses aspects of human nature I’d just rather not be exposed to.

Roughly nine months ago I was loitering in the lounge room while my dad was watching the Crime & Investigation Network on pay TV when I found myself being sucked into a documentary about three young boys accused of the horrific murders of three children.  That documentary was called ‘Paradise Lost:  The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills’ and it has changed my life forever.

In May 1993 three eight-year-old boys, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch, were found dead—suspended in a creek in West Memphis, Arkansas.  Due to an almost comically botched and corrupt police investigation a month passed without any suspects.  The local residents, baying for blood, seized on the nationwide concern about the rise of satanic activity which resulted in a modern day witch hunt.  As a consequence of desperation and lies police attention turned to Damien Echols, an 18 year old local boy with an interest in Wicca, who dressed all in black and  listened to heavy metal music.

It was upon questioning an associate of Damien’s, Jessie Misskelley, that the police finally received a confession implicating Damien Echols and his best friend Jason Baldwin leading to their arrests.

What was not common knowledge at the time was that Jessie, only 17 and with an IQ of 72 rendering him mentally handicapped, was questioned for 12 hours without a parent or a witness and only 45 minutes of that interview, towards the end, was recorded.  In the confession he provides incorrect information a number of times and there is evidence of police coercion.  He later recanted the whole confession however the damage was already done as it was leaked to the press.

EVERYONE believed the boys were guilty, including their defence teams and the documentary film-makers (who later went on to direct Metallica’s ‘Some Kind of Monster’), which is why the first documentary ‘Paradise Lost’ may seem biased against them.  Yet throughout the course of the legal proceedings many began to realise that a terrible injustice was being committed due to complete lack of evidence.  However Damien, considered the ringleader, had not been properly schooled in the ways of behaving in court and feeling himself to be an outsider, clung to his desire to be different which cast him in a negative light.  The prosecution pounced on this and pushing the devil worshipping angle convinced the jury that Damien was evil and completely capable of murder.

Damien Echols has been on death row for 16 years.  Jessie was sentenced to life plus 40 years and Jason to life imprisonment.  In subsequent years much evidence has come to light which first pointed at Christopher’s disturbing stepfather, John Mark Byers (the main subject of the second documentary ‘Paradise Lost 2:  Revelations’) and now at Terry Hobbs, Stevie’s father.  No evidence has ever directly linked Damien, Jason or Jessie to the crime.

Judge Burnett, who proceeded over the original trials and has overseen every appeal and request for retrial since, is so convinced, suspiciously so, of their guilt that they continue to rot in jail even when the world is certain of their innocence.  Evidence that could prove it has always been ruled inadmissible.

After seeing the first documentary I immediately went to Wikipedia to learn more about the case.  Obsessed, I tracked down the second documentary, read many of the original court documents and considered opinions of those both for and against their innocence.  I have read Mara Leveritt’s ‘Devil’s Knot’ which goes into explicit details of the case and also Damien Echols’s autobiography ‘Almost Home: My Life Story Vol 1’.  I own a ‘Free The West Memphis Three’ T-shirt and bumper sticker and rant about the case every opportunity I can.

I’m not sure exactly why I’m so drawn to it.  Maybe it’s because their innocence is undeniable to the point that the quest to free them has become so much bigger than the need to find the real killer(s) and I can’t stand by while these men are stripped of their freedom.  Maybe it’s because I, too, dressed all in black, listened to gothic music and explored witchcraft around the same time and just as easily could have been the subject of a witch hunt.  Or maybe it’s because I feel a real affinity with Damien Echols, a creative and sensitive soul, a gifted writer with an inquisitive mind, utterly incapable of the horrors he’s been accused of.

For this resolution I was originally going to write Damien a letter to express my support but after reading his diary entry here:

I learned that Damien’s eyesight now gives him trouble so I decided to show my support in other ways.  Unfortunately I can never give the WM3 the kind of publicity their more famous supporters can, celebrities like Johnny Depp, Ozzy Osbourne, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder, Winona Ryder, Chris Cornell, Marilyn Manson, Trey Parker, Margaret Cho and many, many others.  But I can talk to you about it here.  And I can show my support in other ways.

Firstly I have downloaded the track ‘Justice At Last’ by A Sound of Thunder from iTunes for AU$1.69 because, even though it isn’t great, 100% of the proceeds go to the WM3 legal defence fund, so sorely needed because  justice is expensive.

I have added my photo to their supporter’s Photowall which requires a US$6 donation with the option to donate more.

I have also sent a postcard to their support fund to add to their postcard project.

Their next appeal will be heard on September 30, 2010 by (thankfully) a new judge and may be the first real chance they have to prove their innocence.

A quote on the WM3 forum says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  I hope I have at the very least piqued your interest in the case so you will consider offering your support too.


12 Responses to “Week 19. Resolution 19. Free the West Memphis Three.”

  1. Burk Says:

    Great blog entry. It’s always good to see thoughtful people keeping this case current and relevant. My friends and I started the support fund at way back in 1996, and have seen this cause gain momentum over the years. Slowly at first, then little by little it has become an international issue that anyone interested in justice either already knows about or should know about – and if you know about it, you should be outraged by it. It has been entirely too long, but giving up has never been an option. Despite the unimaginable situation that Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley have endured all these years, they remain strong, optimistic and hopeful. Ongoing support like yours gives them hope. We know that some day the truth will surface, and Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Steve Branch will finally get the justice they deserved over a decade ago, too. Thanks for helping to keep all of their stories alive. – Burk Sauls

  2. TideGrad94 Says:

    Why does everyone believe that this case is only about the way three kids dressed, the music they listened to, and exploration into alternative religions? I went on WM3 convinced, just as fallaciously on the basis of celebrity involvement, that there must be something to this whole campaign. (That was before I knew one of the celebrities was Natalie Maines. (sp.), which in and of itself would have turned me away from the cause, again, fallaciously.)

    Once I began to examine the evidence, however, I do not see what makes people believe that these boys are innocent, not to mention I find no place where Damien Echols makes such a claim. Granted, there is not enough evidence, IMO, to put these boys away for life, and certainly not to warrant the death penalty, but everyone seems to be ignoring the preponderance of evidence that does exit in favor of their guilt and possible involvement of Domini, the wife/baby momma, who after the trial said she did not sympathize with the victims’ families, and not even the victims. What kind of twisted person must she be! And oh, I forgot, we know she has mental issues, just as we know Damien has mental issues. Has anyone even examined Dr. Woods’ report?
    At the very least, the defense should have. Damien Echols’ psychosis in the months leading up to the trial and during the trial tell me in a nutshell that what went on in those woods may not even have been discernible to him as a willing participant. If he was involved, he would not have been able to give rationale details about what took place that night. I could have been part of his transformation, or it could have been that he thought these boys, like his own son, took his soul or were after it or God only knows.

    That is the biggest travesty in this case, IMO. This man should have never even stood trial because he was incompetent, and his type of incompetency does not go away on its own. Like the mentally ill kids I deal with on a daily basis, Damien does much better in a stable environment. What on earth would happen if he were released? How would he interpret that? Would it have been the devil after all? He has a very sad, sad history, and feel so sorry for him, but it is not because my examination of the evidence leads me to believe he is innocent. It is because it leads me to believe that he never had a chance. He was born to parents with mental illness into a chaotic environment that would have made anyone psychotic and quite likely developed a serial killer that just got caught. I know from experience that what he has been through in his life before and during prison would create a person who would have to be at such a medicated state at all times just to be able to face the day and not focus on the horrors of his existence. If he was involved in those murders, he was quite literally not responsible for his actions. If he had accomplices, however, I don’t know about them. Mental retardation certainly would not free one from responsibility of one’s actions, and Misskelley only qualifies if you consider the standard deviation. I have found no evidence of mental illness on the part of the Baldwin. If it’s there, maybe I’ll come across it, or the people who really matter will.

    I feel that, considering the abject mental illness involved in this case, it is quite possible, Damien Echols truly believes he was not even there that night, even if he was.

    • H-Ro Says:

      I don’t think this is an appropriate forum for this kind of discussion however am happy to discuss it with you elsewhere. I have read the report of Dr Woods and also Damien’s account of the events leading up to the murders and find very little evidence, including any in Damien’s upbringing, that would suggest he is as mentally inept as you believe. I do think that his supposed mental problems are the reason he was targetted by the police initially but I certainly don’t think that they were in any way the driving force behind the murders.

  3. […] action from and feel I can trust.  I also deposited some money into the commissary account of Damien Echols from the West Memphis Three to contribute to his nutrition while on death row, making a direct impact to his quality of […]

  4. hello i was wondering if you still had this t shirt

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