Did Jessie Misskelley think his defense lawyers were cops?

April 6, 2012

After Jessie Misskelley confessed to West Memphis police on June 3, 1993, he continued telling his defense lawyers the same story for the next 16 weeks. In late September 1993, Misskelley switched gears, claimed that he was innocent and that his confession was false. After his conviction in February 1994, Misskelley returned to his original story and gave several more detailed confessions.

The transcript (PDF) of Misskelley’s August 19, 1993, meeting with defense lawyer Dan Stidham — published this week at Callahan — offers rare direct evidence of Misskelley’s mindset during this 16-week period following his confession and arrest. Part of the meeting covered the events of May 5, 1993, and Misskelley clearly had not recanted. He told Stidham the same story he told the police 11 weeks earlier.

So how do WM3 supporters explain Misskelley’s continued confessions to his defense lawyers for 16 weeks after his original confession?

One tactic is to pretend it never happened. That’s how the Paradise Lost filmmakers handled it. That’s how virtually every professional journalist has handled it too.

In Devil’s Knot, Mara Leveritt acknowledged Misskelley’s continued confession (pp 107-109) and quoted Dan Stidham’s explanation from an interview many years later. Stidham framed Misskelley’s continued confession in private meetings as “he’d try to recite what he’d told the police”. From Stidham’s account of Misskelley’s eventual recantation:

And that’s when I began to realize that he didn’t understand what a lawyer was. He had no idea what a defense attorney was. He didn’t understand the concept. To him, a lawyer was just a person who was part of the justice system. He thought we were detectives.

That’s an extraordinary claim, with no evidence but Stidham’s say-so, but Leveritt presented it as truth and pro-WM3 supporters have repeated it ever since. Jessie was so dumb, he thought his defense lawyers were working for the cops. That’s the only reason he stuck to his story.

Was this really true? Misskelley had had several run-ins with the law before the murders. His father and three other relatives had been convicted for selling pot in the late 1980s, and his father did prison time. And Misskelley was not nearly as dumb as WM3 supporters make him out to be. It beggars belief that Misskelley “didn’t understand what a lawyer was [and] had no idea what a defense attorney was”, and WM3 supporters have never offered the slightest evidence for this claim.

The August 19, 1993, meeting transcript undermines this claim thoroughly.

Stidham made several references to “the police”, things that various witnessed “told the police”, etc, throughout the meeting. They walked through the events of June 3 and Misskelley’s interaction with various WMPD officials that day. Misskelley referred to specific cops by name, or the cops in general as “they”. There’s no indication whatsoever that Misskelley didn’t understand Stidham’s role as defense lawyer or believed Stidham was working for the police.

Towards the end of the meeting, Stidham talked about his negotiations with the prosecutor. He explained to Misskelley the option of going to trial vs. taking a plea bargain. He outlined the different sentences Misskelley might face. Misskelley appeared to grasp the legal options, and Stidham’s role in the process, perfectly well.

And toward the end of the meeting, Misskelley referred to Stidham as “an attorney”, which would indicate that he understood what “an attorney” was.

After this meeting, Misskelley continued telling his defense lawyers he was guilty for another five weeks. The only explanation WM3 supporters have ever offered — Misskelley was so dumb, he thought his defense lawyers were cops, that’s why he continued confessing — is thoroughly contradicted by the evidence.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

jane April 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm

What is Jessie talking about in line 21 when he says “I don’t want to be lying to an attorney. I read the full transcript of this and still don’t know what he is lying about.

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Scott H April 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Rest assured, though these documents are very telling, supporters will brush them aside entirely, as they have always done.

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Karen April 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

Preaching to the choir.

You mentioned the part of the confession where he talks about Baldwin “swinging his arm”…

I’m still intrigued with the ice axe theory that blinkoncrime brought up.
http://blinkoncrime.com/2011/08/15/the-west-memphis-three-series-part-i-set-free-or-where-they-should-be/

I’d love for any of the three to be questioned about those weapons that Baldwin traded right after the murders. I waited around for part III of that write up from Blink forEVER (ticked me off she never finished it). This case is so frustrating, I just can’t bear to follow it much anymore. Too many people involved flat-out piss me off.

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T-Rog April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Once again, very well done Truth!

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Josh April 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Wow, even as a non myself, you guys really reach on this site, don’t you?

I was in a meeting at work today, and my boss was talking about dimensional weight adjustments when using parcel packaging. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when he asked me I said, “yeah, I understand dimensional weight adjustments.”

So because I repeated the words he said, that means indicated I understood what it meant?

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Lethalstorm April 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm

I’m not even gonna point out how fucking idiotic your comparison is. Misskelley was about to be on trial for capital murder and you outright lied to your boss. Well, woop dee fucking doo. Go die in a fire.

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Josh April 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

If I died in a fire, you’d probably find a way to blame it on Misskelley

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T-Rog April 11, 2012 at 12:57 am

If Jessie confessed and had knowledge of the crime that wasn’t public knowledge…yeah, probably would blame him.

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jane April 11, 2012 at 8:26 am

Crow, the co-counsel to Stidam, also testified that Jessie told him he thought they were just more authorities. Cops or lawyers, Jessie had a story to tell and however evolving, the story was told and told.
The odd thing to me is that Ford, Jason Baldwin’s attorney, continues to believe in his innocence, yet while reading the testimony from Crow, he never said anything like that. He implied that Jessie SR. was the reason that Jr. recanted. Here I sit, and still haven’t gotten one step closer into that AHA moment where there is clear cut evidence-as non’s say-of guilt. Clearing evidence-as supporters say-of innocence.
Got a lot of reading left to go on this file though.

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h May 3, 2012 at 11:30 pm
ace June 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Jessie Misskelley repeated both kindergarten and the Second grade and by the Age of 11 had only finished the third grade,and you guys don’t think He couldve been coerced into what he said?even though all of his confessions have errors and all of them (except the bible one)claim that the boys were Sodomized,something which did not happen.

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Didacticus October 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

Dude you are so blinded by your beliefs some of this stuff reads like parody.

I have no opinion on Jessie’s guilt or innocence, but I’m interested in false confessions, especially by minors and mentally deficient persons. There is definite evidence these are far more common and far easier to induce than people (and juries) think they are.

Your assertion that his saying the word “attorney” means he had sufficient understanding of what this attorney does is utterly ludicrous. Just because you use a word does not mean you understand it, and certainly does not mean you understand it FULLY and in EVERY applicable context. Do you even know that PROSECUTORS in Arkansas are referred to as State ATTORNEYS?

If the rest of your site is as hilarious as this page then perhaps it should get some award for comic relief.

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jdfearl June 17, 2013 at 9:41 pm

If those 3 little boys were my kids, that echols wouldnt be free for long.

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