Friday, August 19, 2011
From left to right, Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols; photo credit WREG
I heard on the news yesterday that an Arkansas court called a short notice hearing in the West Memphis 3 case for this morning. Eighteen years ago, three teenage men, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley were convicted in the death of three eight-year-old boys: Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and James Michael Moore.
The case grabbed national attention with the release of the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders and Robin Hood Hills, and it's sequel Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.
All three were released today after entering new Alford pleas. I listened to a representative from the area District Attorney's office speak at a press conference. This plea arrangement started three weeks ago when one of the defense attorneys contacted the DA's office. From my understanding, (after watching a DA speak to the press) the DA's office believed that the judge hearing the appeal would most certainly have ruled in December to overturn the verdicts and order new trials. The DA's office, faced with the prospect of having to try the defendants again felt there was a strong possibility they would not be able to secure convictions a second time. Agreeing to the Alfred pleas meant that the guilty verdicts would stand.
At the press conference the three young men held right after their release, we learned that it was Jason Baldwin who was reluctant to take the plea, but what finally convinced him was it would release Echols from the threat of death row. He agreed to the plea only to help save Damien's life. To me, all three of them looked shell-shocked at the quick turn of events. Echols stated that when he first learned about this turn of events, he could not sleep and that he had not slept in four days.
All three defendant's sentences were changed to 18 years and credit given for time served. They are no restrictions on their travel. There is some type of hold from the Arkansas department of corrections for an additional 20 years that will only come into effect if any one of them get into trouble with the law again.
No matter what your feelings are on the guilt or innocence of these three young men, they are now free to try to rejoin society.
UPDATE: CNN will have a special report, "Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis" @ 11:00pm ET tonight.
Free West Memphis 3 web site
Free West Memphis 3 Blog
ABC News Report