Thursday, July 3, 2014

Justice for WM3? If Only....

In August of 2011, after 18 years and 78 days inside prison walls, the trio of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr, known as the West Memphis Three, were released after taking what is called an Alford Plea. This rare type of deal basically boils down to a glorified "no contest" plea while being legally allowed to maintain your innocence and, most importantly, allows for an immediate release from custody based on time served. I was not surprised by this development, as many were I've been told, because had I been in a similar position I would've taken the deal in a heartbeat. That said, this deal was not justice. The fact that these three men, who I believe to be innocent, had to stand in a courtroom and plead "guilty" to three counts of first degree murder each in order to obtain their freedom is disgusting and a slap in the face to everyone that believes in true justice and liberty. This is not how the system is supposed to work! 

Let's go over the basics of the case in the simplest possible terms. In May of 1993 the bodies of three 8 year old boys were found in a canal near their West Memphis, Arkansas neighborhood. They had gone out riding bikes the night before and never returned. Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch had been brutally murdered. They appeared to have been beaten, cut, scratched, bitten and one boy had been nearly castrated. All three victims had been stripped naked, hog-tied with their own shoelaces and thrown into the water. The two bikes they had been seen riding the night before were also in the canal and their clothes had been stuck into the muddy bottom with sticks. It was an obvious attempt to conceal a horrific crime. I can't even begin to imagine what those poor police officers were feeling as they plucked those tiny bodies out of the water one by one. I have seen the crime scene photos and those images have been seared into my memory. I will have those pictures in my mind until the day I die, as I imagine they are forever in the minds of all who have ever seen them! Almost immediately following the discovery of the bodies rumors started flying around the small town and it didn't take long for "Satanic Panic", as the FBI called it, to set in even though the killings had no ritualistic connotations whatsoever. Local law enforcement clung to this theory and began looking for anyone that fit their definition of possible suspects. They very quickly zeroed in on Damien Echols. Why? Because he dressed primarily in black, listened to heavy metal music and had an interest in the occult. They manipulated a mentally retarded Jesse into giving a false confession after 12 hours of interrogation that incriminated himself, Damien and Jason. They accused Jason simply because of his association with their primary target, Damien. This is when the case took a dark turn and went from trying to find the killer(s) of three innocent little boys to a modern day witch hunt. 

Damien was a "goth kid" before it was cool. During the early to mid 90's the gothic subculture had been catapulted into the mainstream culture with the introduction of bands like shock rocker Marilyn Manson, White Zombie and many others. I myself found kindred spirits in this group and spent a decent chunk of my early teens as a "goth". It was really nothing more than a fashion choice. I was not a "Satanist" although I, like Damien, took an interest in all things Wicca for a period of time. I, like Damien, had and have a love for heavy metal music, horror movies and Stephen King novels. None of these things are illegal! None of these things signify that one is unstable! None of them make someone a killer! All of the supposed evidence of guilt submitted during Damien and Jason's trial in 1994 was simply evidence of teenage boys being teenage boys in the early 1990's, nothing more! There was NO physical evidence linking any of the three young men to the crime scene and each of the accused had multiple alibi witnesses for the time that the murders took place but no one cared. As far as this small town, nestled in the heart of the Bible Belt, was concerned they had their murderers and no one was gonna tell them any different! Every "expert witness" the prosecution put on the stand had credentials that were questionable at best and it has since come out that many of the prosecutions witnesses claim to have been threatened or coersed into testifying against Damien. One such "witness" recanted her testimony in 2007 claiming that the police  "scared her to death" and gave her immunity from her own legal troubles if she would help get information on and from Damien and Jason. Another "witness" who testified that Jason confessed his involvement in the murders to him while they were in a juvenile detention center together has since said he flat out lied on the stand to gain immunity from his own legal issues. I could go into a lot more detail regarding the original trial and it's many glaring errors, including the allegations of juror misconduct, but as I am trying to keep this as simple as possible I won't. If you are interested in those details I would urge you to go online at, watch the Paradise Lost documentaries or read Mara Leveritt's book Devil's Knot.

So what really happened on that spring evening in 1993? Honestly, and sadly, we will probably never know. The state has taken the position that the case is closed and therefore they have no intention of reopening it or investigating other potential suspects. However I believe that the simple fact is this, if the state truly believed that Damien, Jason and Jesse were guilty of these murders they would never have agreed to any deal that would remove Damien from death row much less allow all three to walk free but that's exactly what they did. They know they were wrong but in order to save face (and prevent a multimillion dollar law suit) they cut the deal! I have my own theory on what really happened that night and without pointing fingers or accusing anyone specific here it is:
Stevie, Christopher and Michael headed out on their bikes around 3:30pm with the understanding they had to return by 4:30pm as Stevie's mother had to leave for work by 5pm. They obviously lost track of time and did not come home as scheduled. Stevie's stepfather took his mom to work around 5pm then returned to look for the boys. By this time the parents of all three children and other members of the community were searching the general area. I believe that someone involved in the search and personally invested in at least one of the children found them playing somewhere in the neighborhood and got angry that they had not returned home when they'd been instructed to. This person probably scared the boys with their anger and the kids subsequently took off on the bikes. The angry searcher most likely followed them into the woods, known as Robin Hood Hills, and caught up with them by the canal. At this point the perpetrator is furious and probably struck one of the children in his/her anger. This would have terrified the other two boys and I assume they would've tried to run and hide but as we know 8 year olds wouldn't get very far when scared. I believe the aggressor did not intend to kill the boys when he/she entered the woods that night but that in his/her anger the situation got out of hand and the first death was accidental. This left the perpetrator with two options: turn themself in or eliminate any witnesses and cover up the crime. Obviously, and tragically, they chose the latter! The manner in which the bodies were found, bound and hidden, and the manner in which the bikes and clothes were found, also hidden, points to a desperate attempt to cover up a killing of unspeakable proportions. I believe that this person then, after cleaning themselves up, returned to the search effort with no one the wiser. I believe that this person is still walking the streets and has allowed three innocent men to take the fall for a crime they didn't commit for over 21 years. I want to reiterate that I do not believe that this was necessarily a premeditated murder. As I said before, I believe the first death to be accidental due to extreme rage and the other two victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and could not remain alive as they bore witness to the beating that caused the first victims death. A criminal profiler hired by the defense, after reviewing the case file, called this a "personal cause homicide" meaning that the perpetrator had a personal connection to one or all of the victims. Neither Damien, Jason or Jesse had ANY connection to any of the victims or their families other than living in the same town. Before you ask, I do have my own personal theory as to who the killer is but I will not divulge that information as I do not want to open myself up to potential lawsuits or, more importantly, do to someone else what has been done to the WM3 by making assumptions and unmerited accusations.

As a parent of two young boys I understand that this case hits us where it hurts. I understand that emotions run high and tempers flare when discussing the brutal murders of innocent children but does that give us the right to rush to judgement? Does it give us the right to condemn someone to death with no evidence to back it up? No it does not! This case was obviously botched on almost all levels. The community, the police and the media rushed to judgement based on nothing more than what Damien looked like and that he was the "weird kid" in town. They judged Jason on nothing more than the friends he kept. They took advantage of Jesse's limited mental faculties and got him to say things that weren't true and didn't even mesh with the facts of the case. Everything law enforcement did was wrong! Evidence was lost, persons of interest weren't questioned, neighborhoods weren't canvassed and unrelated items were used as trial evidence.....wrong, wrong, WRONG! 

I pray that one day someone that knows what really happened that night will find the courage to come forward. That they will find the strength to fight through their fear and help clear the names of three innocent men. I pray that someday the real killer will come to justice and that everyone will finally know that our guys have been innocent all along. Because until that day true justice will never been known...

(Disclaimer: I am not a member of the press, a member of law enforcement or directly affiliated with any entity or organization. I am just an avid WM3 supporter and have been since 1994.)

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