Damien and the Animals

The avenging prankster who runs the DamienEchols93 Twitter feed recently posted various accounts of young Damien’s treatment of animals. This eventually got a rise out of Damien Echols himself, who dismissed “the animal lies”. The whole thing is documented here: Damien Echols Responds to Animal Cruelty Claims.

I’ll just add that all of this information was available to the Paradise Lost filmmakers, who chose not to include any of it. However, the first film did address the animal issue. At around the 8:00 mark in Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Joe Hutchison, father of Damien Echols, says, “This boy is not capable of the crime that he’s been arrested for. I’ve seen him take a little kitten and love it just like you love a little baby.”

So who you gonna believe?

Hearing 3/27/2013

There was a very strange court hearing in Marion yesterday. Some accounts:

WREG Memphis: New Possible Suspects In 1993 West Memphis Murders
Trench Reynolds: WM3 defense accuse new ‘suspects’ with pot smoking gay tryst scenario

Here are two newspaper article currently behind pay walls. Jody Callahan writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

An attorney representing the mother of one of the boys murdered in the infamous 1993 West Memphis case filed affidavits in court Wednesday naming four men, all of whom have connections to the case, as the killers.

With West Memphis Three member Jason Baldwin a spectator in the Marion, Ark., courtroom, attorney Ken Swindle presented sworn statements that he says implicate Terry Hobbs, David Jacoby, Buddy Lucas and L.G. Hollingsworth in the killings. Although all four have been involved in the case over the past 20 years, none has ever faced any charges.

Swindle is representing Pam Hicks, mother of victim Stevie Branch, in her lawsuit seeking to examine the evidence that belonged to her son. Swindle contends this new evidence serves as proof that authorities are no longer actively investigating the case, since police have not followed it up, and that Hicks — formerly married to Hobbs — should be allowed to see her son’s belongings. A ruling in the case is expected by Monday.

Just a few weeks shy of the 20th anniversary of the murders of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, the controversial case still captivates and divides the public.

Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were convicted of the killings in 1994, with Echols sent to Death Row. However, as questions about their guilt continued to mount, aided by the money and star power of numerous celebrities, the three won their release in 2011. While some were angered with that decision, others praised it as delayed justice.

According to a pair of sworn statements submitted by Swindle, four other men brutally murdered the three boys in the infamous case after the children surprised them while they were drinking and smoking pot.

“He murdered those boys,” Swindle said, indicating Jacoby, who was standing in the back of the courtroom Wednesday after he was subpoenaed to appear.

Jacoby, who earlier came under suspicion after a hair consistent with his DNA was found near the murder scene, repeatedly denied any involvement.

“They’re terribly wrong,” Jacoby said. “All I did was walk out there in the woods with other people, looking for those kids. They said they found my DNA, my hair near the scene. I can see that. I was out there looking for the kids.”

Mark Byers, stepfather of victim Chistopher Byers, was also in the courtroom Wednesday. As he has in the past, the volatile Byers threatened violence against those he believes killed his stepson. His target Wednesday was Jacoby.

“There was a guilty party in this room today who killed my son. It’s all I can do not to grab ahold of him,” Byers said. “If it had been 1993, I probably would have done it.”

As the media pursued Jacoby out of the courthouse, Byers followed. Jacoby told Byers he was “terribly wrong” in his accusations, to which Byers responded, “Liar. You’re a liar.”

Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart both gave sworn affidavits to Swindle, saying that Buddy Lucas admitted his involvement to them.

According to Guy, Lucas confessed to him in March 1994, then again a few months later.

“Well, me and L.G. Hollingsworth and them two, we done it. We killed them little boys,” Lucas said, according to Guy.

In July 1995, Guy added that he was arrested and found himself sharing a cell with Hollingsworth, who died in a car accident in 2001.

According to Guy, he convinced Hollingsworth to admit his guilt and share details. Guy said that Hollingsworth told him that he and Lucas had been walking in Lakeshore Trailer Park when Hobbs and Jacoby drove up, asking where to buy marijuana.

Lucas and Hollingsworth directed them to Stewart, then went along for the ride. At that point, Stewart tells a similar story, but says that when they drove up to buy weed, he saw Hobbs kiss Jacoby. Stewart added that his son also saw them kissing on a later occasion. He said that a few days after the murders, he also delivered pot, cocaine and crystal meth to Hobbs at a Memphis gay bar called J-Wags.

In April 1995, Stewart said that Guy told him of Lucas’s confession, so he asked Lucas about it. Lucas confessed again, he said, giving details.

According to the affidavits, Lucas said that the quartet drank whiskey, smoked pot and drove around, eventually ending up in the wooded area where the murders took place. Lucas told Stewart that Hobbs and Jacoby made the two teenagers wrestle after they got to the woods.

At that point, both Guy and Stewart say that the boys surprised them by riding up on their bikes. Hobbs ordered them to chase down the boys. Lucas then told Stewart that he and Hollingsworth were forced to hold the boys while Jacoby and Hobbs beat them. They then stripped the bodies, dumped them in the water and hid the bicycles. The bodies were found the next day.

Lucas couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

And Gary Meece writes in the West Memphis Evening Times:

The “West Memphis 3” case took yet another strange twist in its long, convoluted history Wednesday as a lawyer for a slain child’s mother, Pam Hicks, alleged that her ex-husband, his guitar-playing buddy and two teens killed three Cub Scouts on May 5, 1993.

The allegations came in two affidavits delivered to Judge Victor Hill at the end of a hearing on access to evidence in the case, with lawyer Ken Swindle urging that the information in the 80-page packet be considered before making a ruling in the case.

The allegations against Hobbs, David Jacoby, L.G. Hollingsworth and Buddy Lucas were based on sworn statements given by Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart to Swindle, based on alleged admissions from Buddy Lucas.

Guy said Lucas confessed to him on two occasions in 1994.

While sharing a jail cell with Hollingsworth in 1995, Guy claims he talked Hollingsworth into giving details on the killings. Lucas also supposedly confessed again to Stewart in 1995.

The new suggested narrative, with many parallels to the original case, goes like this: All four met up during a drug buy in Lakeshore Trailer Park. The four drove around getting high until they ended up at Robin Hood Hills, where the three boys surprised them. After the teens captured the boys,, Hobbs lost his temper when a boy kicked him, prompting the others to begin beating the boys. Hobbs used a pocket knife to mutilate two of the boys, the affidavits allege. The four stripped the bodies and dumped them in the water and hid the bicycles, the papers allege.

Hobbs never has been a suspect in the case and repeatedly has denied any involvement in the killings.

Jacoby, who was in the courtroom Wednesday answering a subpoena, denied any involvement in the killings when asked by reporters while the adoptive father of one of the boys, John Mark Byers, just a few steps away, made barely veiled threats against him, in the florid style prominently featured in “Paradise Lost” documentaries about the case.

There has been a long history of claims of alternative suspects in the case, most notably John Mark Byers.

Terry Hobbs is the stepfather of victim Stevie Branch. Hobbs has became a favorite target of so-called “supporters” of the West Memphis 3, based on some inconsistent statements about his whereabouts on the evening of the killings and a strand of hair found in one of the boy’s shoelaces that could possibly be his, based on DNA.

Jacoby was a friend of Hobbs. The two have said they played guitars together early in the evening on May 5, 1993, and later searched for the missing boy.

Hollingsworth, who died in 2001 in an auto accident, told investigators in the original case that Echols made incriminating statements to him shortly after the murder. Hollingsworth had complex ties to the case, having spent part of the day around Domini Teer, Damien Echols’ then 15-year-old pregnant girlfriend; having been in an auto accident that day in a car with his aunt, Narlene Hollingsworth, a major witness in the case, and having been at the laundromat where Narlene Hollingsworth was headed when she and her family saw what they testified were Echols and Teer walking in muddy clothes near the murder scene on the evening the boys were killed. L.G. Hollingsworth, who gave confusing and contradictory statements to investigators, also told police that Echols had made incriminating statements to him shortly after the murders.

Lucas also had ties to the case, having told original investigators that Jessie Miskelley, a Highland Park neighbor whose confessions were pivotal in the original case, cried while giving him the shoes Miskelley wore the evening of the murders, telling Lucas that he and Echols and Baldwin killed the boys. Lucas told investigators in initial questioning almost 20 years ago that he was at a family barbecue at Highland Trailer Park on the evening of the murders. Lucas later recanted his story about Miskelley’s admission to him, failed a lie detector test about why he changed the story and then told investigators he lied about the changes in his story because he was scared.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, Judge Hill appeared ready to order that the personal effects of the 8-year-old victims be handed back to the families.

“This is their property,” he said. “The state cannot take it from them.”

Both sides, in a hearing that mostly involved cleaning up lingering issues in an October ruling on access to evidence, attempted to dial back his enthusiasm, with Swindle, representing Pam Hicks, formerly Pam Hobbs, telling the court that his clients simply wanted to see the physical evidence.

“We don’t want it back; we just want to see what’s there,” said Swindle.

West Memphis City Attorney David Peeples noted that state law demands that the items be retained and also continued to argue that the West Memphis Police Department, which has made overtures to Hicks about allowing her and some other family members to see some of the personal effects, is under no obligation under the State Freedom of Information Act to allow review of any physical evidence. Peeples noted that careful preservation of the items could prove crucial if further breakthroughs in forensics yield new evidence.

“We owe it to the victims, to the families, to the men who have been convicted in this case that the evidence be preserved,” said Peeples.

The hearing in the courthouse in Marion involved somewhat fine points of law, with Judge Hill promising a ruling on Monday on motions sought by Hicks’ attorney. Still at issue is whether the FOI extends to the review of physical evidence and whether Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington has an ongoing investigation into the murders, despite the convictions and guilty pleas of the so-called “West Memphis 3.”

Swindle said the affidavits had bearing on whether Ellington is conducting an ongoing investigation into the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. .

Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Miskelley, all area teenagers at that time, were convicted of the murders in 1994.

The three dead boys were found May 6, 1993, in a muddy ditch in a formerly wooded area near the service road in West Memphis; Miskelley’s multiple confessions described how the boys were beaten, tied up and drowned; Branch and Byers were mutilated and raped, according to Miskelley’s statements, which he has since disclaimed. The three were released in August 2011 under a plea deal in which they pleaded guilty but were allowed to continue to assert their innocence.

Baldwin was in court Wednesday, although he admitted to the swarm of TV reporters afterward that he had not paid much attention to the proceedings. Baldwin was not a party in the motions.

Baldwin told the reporters he was going to school and trying to get his life back together and he embraced his mother, Gail, for the cameras.

Also on hand for the camera was John Mark Byers, who has attempted to claim standing in the motion to see the evidence.

Byers held up a copy of the papers that Swindle had given Judge Hill and claimed that the document would exonerate the so-called “West Memphis 3.”

Danny Owens, an assistant to Swindle, also drew the attention of the cameras as he claimed Ellington had not actively investigated evidence delivered to his offices on Feb. 22, 2012.

The court actions Wednesday stemmed from Judge Hill’s ruling in October stating that Hicks, who was not present for the hearing Wednesday, would not be allowed to see evidence in the case.

Much of the argument Wednesday revolved around once again whether Ellington had an ongoing investigation into the killings. If the case is not ongoing, then the materials are subject to be opened under Freedom of Information rules.

The position of the prosecutor’s office, as set forth once again on Wednesday, is that the case of the “West Memphis 3” is closed, and hence the records are open, which is not the case with the ongoing investigation.

If these newspapers ask me to take down their reposted article, I will do so.

Some background on Buddy Lucas: Jessie Misskelley’s confession to Buddy Lucas. And I recently added a page about L.G. Hollingsworth to the case history section.

Both new accusers, Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart, are serving long prison sentences. That doesn’t prove they’re lying. There are plenty of more obvious reasons to believe they’re lying.

Callahan has added the Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart affidavits to its Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers v. WMPD et al page. (Thanks, Frank.)

A Real Journalist Reviews West of Memphis

The West Memphis Evening Times has a scathing review of West of Memphis written by Gary Meece. The article is only available to subscribers on their website, so I’m reprinting the whole thing here.

“West of Memphis, east of the truth”
by Gary Meece
West Memphis Evening Times – March 12, 2013

“West of Memphis” is here.

It’s in that desolate expanse of gumbo soil between the rotting Mayflower Apartments and the service road, on a weedy knoll that used to be the infamous Robin Hood Hills.

At this point, that bleak and forbidding site will yield as many new clues as to what actually occurred here May 5, 1993, as any other contemporary source anyone is likely to come across.

But they’ll keep trying, those “supporters.”

Before there were “supporters,” there was the first “Paradise Lost” documentary, which seemed to establish that the three Metallica-loving teens were arrested by incompetent police and convicted by conniving prosecutors in the brutal murders of three West Memphis 8-year-olds, all based on the flimsiest of evidence and fueled by Satanic panic over the teens’ strange preferences for black T-shirts and long hair in a throwback, inbred community that had never been exposed to lovers of hard rock and Stephen King novels.

By the time the second “Paradise Lost” movie rolled out, shameless camera-hog John Mark Byers, adoptive father of one of the three boys, was being suggested as the likely culprit.

Funny, but Byers’ whereabouts that night always have been fairly well-documented so the suggestion that he was directly involved in the brutal slayings has been and remains a “straw man” argument. It’s barely possible that he somehow could have slipped off into the woods, brutalized those boys and thrown them hogtied into the water, but it’s not credible. He was loud, though, and huge and kind of scary and had a trifling but real criminal record and liked to play around with guns, and hence was an all-too-easy target. The filmmakers didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The Arkansas author of the book on which the upcoming feature film about the case is based also could not resist pegging Byers as “a person of interest,” despite much evidence to the contrary.

By the third “Paradise Lost” feature and now with the fourth documentary in general release, Byers fell off the hook and the favored “culprit” has become yet another grieving dad in the case. We all have had moments we would not wish to share with the world, and Terry Hobbs, somewhat understandably given the nature of the wrongs done his family, has had more than his share of those moments, dug up for all to see. Mysterious overheard third-hand conversations about “family secrets,” allegations of a sometimes-nasty disposition from an ex-spouse and angry ex-inlaws, the discovery of a single hair that may or may not be from Hobbs (and with a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why it would be in a shoelace if it is his) make an even weaker case for prosecution than the supposedly feeble ones represented in the “Paradise Lost” epic. The ironies abundant in the latest round of accusations are absolutely lost on producers Peter Jackson and Damien Echols and their crew.

Other misrepresentations and obfuscations abound. Let’s give it this: It’s an artful look at West Memphis and environs, and we are not likely to see many such others.

“West of Memphis,” fourth movie about the case, is an advocacy documentary; it’s the movie that the aptly nicknamed “Icky,” his jailhouse bride Lorri Davis and their various movie star/rock god “supporters” wanted made. It’s been quite an effective piece of propaganda, directed by Amy J. Berg. It shamelessly exploits the memories of three little boys, Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, whose families still suffer from their loss and from the many subsequent traumas visited upon them by this remarkable case.

If you go to the rottentomatoes.com Web site and survey the comments of critics large and small around the country, you’ll discover a couple of things.

One, seemingly every newspaper and Web site in the country that bothered to review “West of Memphis” unthinkingly accepted the premise the “West Memphis 3” were at the very least unjustly accused and convicted; many reviewers cluelessly have asserted their innocence, as if the killers were somehow exonerated by multiple convictions and by the plea-bargained guilty pleas that got them out of prison.

Two, virtually every newspaper and Web site in the country that ran a review employed the services of movie reviewers who know nothing about the case except what they’ve seen at the movies, and many of them can’t get even those details right.

Over the course of two hours and 30 minutes, “West of Memphis” supposedly demolishes the prosecution’s case against the West Memphis 3, or so bray the critics.

It largely does so by simply omitting the prosecution’s case. While far too much of the movie is taken up with Terry Hobbs’ supposed lack of an alibi, the movie suggests that the real culprits, with a real lack of alibis, have alibis that prove these teens just couldn’t have committed the crime. This is pure bunkum. Echols flat-out admitted on the stand that he and his family shaped their constantly changing and wildly divergent explanations to suit the changing circumstances. A woman who was at that time one of his 12-year-old girlfriends (not to be confused with his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend) says she can provide an Echols alibi though she never took the stand in the 1994 trial, probably because her statements to the police offered no alibi. The Miskelley defense’s weak attempt at an alibi was demolished in the courtroom; the jury didn’t believe his witnesses provided an alibi, for a number of good reasons. Jason Baldwin’s explanation of his whereabouts was so weak that his attorney didn’t even try to present alibi testimony, and Baldwin offers none here. Where was he? What was he doing if he wasn’t brutally attacking and raping those boys? And yet we’re supposed to take his word that he has an explanation now? Sadly, many of our nation’s top film critics already have.

Like “Paradise Lost,” “West of Memphis” uses the “CSI factor” to play upon the audience’s prejudice that police investigators should be all-knowing, with all the forensics details immediately at hand to determine the truth with cool scientific ease. Real work is a lot sloppier than that, but then the West Memphis 3, their celebrity pals and many of their supporters aren’t that familiar with real work. Was the investigation perfect? Of course not. Did the prosecutors work hard to make their case and sometimes misstep? Of course they did. Did the medical examiner get some things wrong? Quite possibly, but that’s no reason why we should have to watch snapping turtles tear flesh off corpses just to make a point that would be more relevant if snapping turtles had tied up the boys, beaten them and thrown them in the water. And did Terry Hobbs slash open his stepson’s face and otherwise mutilate these children? Or was all the gore caused by snapping turtles? One supposes the filmmakers would like to have it both ways, as long as they can continue to argue for pardons.

The linchpin of the case is that Jessie Miskelley gave multiple and fairly consistent confessions before, during and after his arrest; anyone who can count can determine that the length of the interrogations has been routinely mistated. And it is misrepresented here. The police did not “sweat” the boy; he apparently wanted to talk. Unlike the other two in this case, Miskelley still had a smidgen of moral intelligence in May and June of 1993. He knew he had done wrong, and it often brought him to tears.

As for Baldwin and Echols, there are no signs yet that there is a soul in there.

Wow. Just wow. There are a few real journalists left, the kind with functioning bullshit detectors and a willingness to check facts rather than regurgitate the conventional wisdom.

Hamish McKenzie on West of Memphis

At The Atlantic: The Unsettling Recklessness of Peter Jackson’s ‘West of Memphis’ by Hamish McKenzie.

McKenzie criticizes the film for its hypocritical and reckless treatment of Terry Hobbs. So far, so good. This level of skepticism places McKenzie in the top 1% of mainstream journalists covering this case.

Ultimately I find the article aggravating, however. McKenzie wrote a pretty good piece (PDF) about the West Memphis Three for the South China Morning Post in 2011. In that piece, he at least considered the possibility that the WM3 were guilty and mentioned some of the evidence missing from the Paradise Lost films. In the Atlantic piece, however, McKenzie states that the WM3 were victims of “injustice” but have now been “exonerated”. To be fair, his opening line states that the WM3 were “convicted, perhaps wrongly” — and pro-WM3 commenters jump down his throat for that tiny sacrilege — but overall the piece takes for granted that the WM3 were innocent and railroaded on flimsy evidence.

Is there some journalistic taboo against mentioning the overwhelming evidence of the WM3’s guilt? Even if a journalist is not 100% convinced of the WM3’s guilt, wouldn’t a balanced “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach call for mentioning Jessie Misskelley’s multiple confessions and questioning why all the documentaries exclude them?

Where did Exhibit 500 come from?

Damien Echols told an especially bizarre and preposterous lie in a recent interview with some dimwit named Brian Tallerico at Hollywood Chicago.

This particular lie deals with the origin of Exhibit 500, a compendium of Echols’ psychiatric records from the period leading up to the murders. Here is Echols’ version of events:

ECHOLS: When you have to fight against the other lawyers as hard or harder as you do against the state. Jason [Baldwin]’s lawyers. Their entire agenda was to make me look as guilty as possible, thinking somehow it was going to help him. The number one thing that people quote is Exhibit 500, a mental health report, that comes from the fact that, one day, Jason’s attorneys contacted me and said they had this idea that would be really helpful and great. I was naive. It was years ago. OK, sure, let’s do it. This woman comes and writes up this report that diagnoses me with every single mental illness known to mankind. She can’t even file it herself because she’s already perjured herself and so she takes it to another doctor to file. The number one piece of evidence that people use to try and hurt me wasn’t even filed by the state. It was filed by Jason Baldwin’s attorneys.

HOLLYWOODCHICAGO.COM: You’re fighting people who you think should be on your side.

Like most journalists covering this case, Brian Tallerico displays no skepticism whatsoever even when faced with ridiculous stream-of-bullshit statements like this. So here’s a little free fact-checking.

The dossier which came to be known as Exhibit 500 was compiled by Inquisitor, Inc., a private investigation company owned by Ron Lax. In June 1993, soon after the arrests, Ron Lax volunteered his company’s services for the Echols defense pro bono. Lax also worked with the Misskelley defense team over the next nine months, but had little contact with the Baldwin defense team.

Preparing for the original trial (which took place from February 28 to March 19, 1994), Echols’ defense lawyers had to consider the likelihood of a guilty verdict and to make preparations for the penalty phase. If it reached that point, the defense lawyers hoped to spare their client the death penalty by showing mitigating factors. This is standard practice for a death penalty case.

One of Inquisitor, Inc.’s projects was to compile Echols’ psychiatric records in one big file. Inquisitor employee Glori Shettles did much of this work. She acquired documents from Echols’ three 1992 court-ordered institutionalizations, his 1993 counseling sessions and his Social Security disability application. This file was then provided to psychologist James Moneypenny, who examined Echols before trial and reviewed his psychiatric records.

The jury found Echols guilty on March 18. The penalty phase took place on March 19, and the defense called Moneypenny to testify about Echols’ troubled childhood and recent psychiatric problems. It was not an “insanity defense”, just an attempt to evoke enough pity to keep Echols off death row.

The complete trial transcript is online, including James Moneypenny’s testimony. Moneypenny carried a copy of the Inquisitor-compiled dossier to the witness stand and consulted it during his testimony. During cross-examination, prosecutor John Fogleman asked Moneypenny about specific documents and eventually requested that the full dossier be submitted into evidence.

FOGLEMAN: And in regard — back to the East Arkansas Mental Health Center — you’re familiar with Doctor Irby’s report where he visited with Damien Echols on January 5, 1993?
MONEYPENNY: I can’t recall the specific content of that.
FOGLEMAN: Let me show it to you. And if you would, read the part that I have highlighted in pink. This page has the date. It is on the next page.
And I need you to speak up if you could.
MONEYPENNY: (READING) Reports that he thinks a lot about life after death. Quote, I want to where the monsters go, end quote. Describes himself as, quote, pretty much hate the human race, end quote. Relates that he feels people are in two classes, sheep and wolves. Wolves eat the sheep.
FOGLEMAN: Thank you, Doctor. That would be he thinks a lot about life after death and he wants to go where the monsters go?
MONEYPENNY: That’s what it says.
FOGLEMAN: And then are you familiar with the report from January 25th, 1993?
MONEYPENNY: Do you want me to read this?
FOGLEMAN: Yes, sir, if you would read the part in pink.
MONEYPENNY: (READING) Damien explains that he obtains his powers by drinking blood of others. He typically drinks the blood of a sexual partner or of a ruling partner. This is achieved by biting or cutting. He said, quote, it makes me feel like a god, end quote.
FOGLEMAN: It makes him feel like what?
FOGLEMAN: A god. Okay. Go ahead.
MONEYPENNY: (READING) Damien describes drinking blood as giving him more power and strength.
Then later on the page — (READING) He has also agreed to continue to discuss his issues with power and control as related to his practice of rituals.
FOGLEMAN: And then, finally Doctor, are you familiar with the report where he was seen on January 19th, 1993?
MONEYPENNY: Not the specific content.
FOGLEMAN: You reviewed these reports?
FOGLEMAN: If you would read this part?
MONEYPENNY: (READING) Quote, I just put it all inside, end quote.
(READING) Describes this as more than just anger like rage. Sometimes he does, quote, blow up, end quote.
(READING) Relates that when this happens, the only solution is to hurt someone. That’s in quotes.
(READING) Damien reports being told in the hospital that he could be another Charles Manson or Ted Bundy. When questioned on his feelings he states, quote I know I’m going to influence the world. People will remember me, end quote.
FOGLEMAN: We would offer State’s Exhibit 500, these medical records.
[Echols defense lawyer Val] PRICE: We have no objection, your Honor.
THE COURT: All right, without objection, they may be received.

And that’s why we have access to Damien Echols’ psychiatric records for the year before the murders.

Jason Baldwin’s lawyers played absolutely no role in compiling this dossier or in making it part of the trial record.

The notion that one person “wrote up” Exhibit 500 is beyond preposterous. The dossier includes records written by several doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers in Arkansas and Oregon. It includes Social Security application forms filled out by Echols himself. Is Echols claiming that Glori Shettles forged all these documents?

Anyone with an interest in this case should be familiar with Exhibit 500, not every document but at least a general sense of what’s in it and how it became public. This site’s Damien Echols profile page summarizes the contents. For a journalist interviewing Echols to not know this stuff and to accept Echols’ bullshit at face value is unreal.

Jennifer Bearden in West of Memphis

The Paradise Lost films never dealt with Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley’s alleged alibis in any detail. The new film West of Memphis fills that gap with lots of alibi claims. Our case history section has a page devoted to the murderers’ failed alibis. This post looks at one particular alibi witness whose name has popped up repeatedly over the years and who shows up in West of Memphis: Jennifer Bearden.

Timeline background: many locals reported seeing the three murdered boys between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm within a block or two of the entrance to Robin Hood Hills. They were last seen heading into Robin Hood Hills around 6:30 pm. Police, family members and friends started searching in and around Robin Hood around 8:15 pm. All the evidence indicates that the murders took place sometime between 6:30 and 8:00 pm near the ditch where the children’s bodies were found.

Echols changed his alibi several times. At trial, he claimed that his parents and sister picked him up around 4:00 pm on May 5 and drove him home. Aside from a family visit to the Sanders home between 7:00 and 7:30 pm, he was home all afternoon and night with his parents and grandmother. Echols stated on the witness stand that he talked to four different girls on the phone that night: “Holly George, Jennifer Bearden, Domini Teer, Heather Cliett”.

However, the Echols defense did not call any of George, Bearden, Teer or Cliett as alibi witnesses. There was a good reason for this. The police had interviewed all four girls, and none of them supported Echols’ alibi. They all claimed to have talked to Echols by phone on May 5, but none of those calls took place between 5:30 pm and 9:20 pm. Obviously phone calls before 5:30 pm or after 9:20 pm are irrelevant to Echols’ whereabouts between 6:30 and 8:00 pm. And on key points, all four girls’ earlier statements to police contradicted the story that Echols told on the witness stand.

Filmmakers don’t have to worry about cross-examination or explaining contradictions, of course.

Jennifer Bearden was 12 years old at the time of the murders. In a 2004 affidavit, she described her relationship with Echols:

It was in either late February or March of 1993 that Holly [George] and I met Jason and Damien. […] From the time that I met them to [the day prior to their arrest], I talked to Damien almost every day on the phone. […] I also saw Jason and Damien at Skateworld almost every weekend after we first met them. […] Damien and I had been an item, meaning that Damien and I had a teenager’s boy-girl relationship.

Bearden talked to WMPD detectives in September 1993. (The film shows Bearden reading from a transcript of this interview.) She told them that on May 5 she (a) called Baldwin’s house and spoke to both Jason and Damien sometime between 4:15 and 5:30 pm; (b) tried calling Echols at home at 8:00 PM, at which time Damien’s grandmother said Damien was not home; then (c) “I called back around 9:20, 9:30 and I talk to [Damien] for a little bit”. In this later call, she said Damien told her that he had been out with Jason Baldwin that evening. In her 2004 affidavit, Bearden repeated this account with slight variation: the phone call in which Damien’s grandmother told her Damien wasn’t home was a little after 9:00 pm, and her phone call with Damien “began at around 9:30 pm and ended around 10:00 pm”. Bearden again repeated this account at the Baldwin/Misskelley Rule 37 hearings in 2009, with the grandmother call sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 pm.

The problems for Echols’ alibi should be obvious. By her own account, Bearden had no knowledge of Echols’ whereabouts between 5:30 and 9:20 pm. Her statement that Echols was at Baldwin’s house around 4:30-5:00 pm directly contradicted Echols’ claim that he was at his own home (several miles away) then. Her statement that Echols was not home at 8:00 pm (or 9:00 pm or 8:30 pm) directly contradicted Echols’ claim to have been home all night. Echols claimed he did not spend any time with Baldwin on the afternoon or evening of May 5 — but Bearden told detectives that Echols told her at 9:30 pm that he had been out that evening with Baldwin.

In West of Memphis, Bearden complains that she was “never given a chance” to testify at the Echols/Baldwin trial. Never given a chance by whom? Echols’ defense lawyers had the opportunity to call Jennifer Bearden as a witness in 1994. They chose not to. The prosecution actually obtained an “Order for Attendance of Witness From Without the State” requiring Bearden to be available to testify. Repeat: the prosecution made sure she was on hand to testify, and the defense chose not to call her.

Despite all this, Echols’ appellate lawyers have continued to cite Bearden as an important alibi witness. One 2008 petition for a new trial included this bald-faced lie: “the declaration of Jennifer Bearden, who has absolutely no reason to perjure herself to assist Echols, puts him on the phone with her at the time the boys disappeared miles away.” Speculation about Bearden’s motives or honesty aside, the fact remains that the boys disappeared at 6:30 pm, while Bearden’s declaration puts Echols on the phone at 9:30 pm.

Echols’ lawyer Dennis Riordan used the same ploy in 2010 oral arguments before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

ASSC (Justice Robert Brown): I’m talking about consideration as to whether a new trial should be granted under the standard of compelling evidence. What evidence would be considered?

Riordan: Your Honor, we would submit that — that the answer to that question lies in section 208(e)(3) which says that the court is to consider the DNA evidence along with all other evidence whether or not admitted at the first trial. There’s certainly nothing in the term “all” that would suggest all means only some and some means only evidence of guilt. But let me give you an example. We submitted to the court a declaration from a witness who at the time of these offenses or soon thereafter in 1993 was interviewed by the police and stated that she was on the phone with Mr. Echols at 9:00 which would have made his participation in these crimes impossible.

The ASSC justices apparently did not know what time the three murdered boys went missing, because no one challenged Riordan’s claim.

An adversarial system of justice permits defense lawyers to play fast and loose with the facts. But what about documentary filmmakers? Should audiences expect more honesty?

The filmmakers behind West of Memphis have been immersed in this case longer than I have. They know what Jennifer Bearden said in 1993 and 2004 and 2009. They know that her account never supported Echols’ alibi. They know that Echols’ defense lawyers chose not to call Bearden as a witness in 1994. There’s no ambiguity here. For them to include Bearden in the movie as supporting Echols’ alibi is flatout intentional deception.