Failed Alibis for Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley did not have alibis for the evening of the murders. Family and friends helped all three construct fake alibis, which changed frequently and fell apart under scrutiny. Misskelley and Echols each presented a string of alibi witnesses at trial, but crossexamination exposed obvious contradictions. Baldwin didn’t even bother presenting alibi witnesses at trial.
WM3 supporters still sometimes cite these fake alibis, even though they were thoroughly discredited in 1993-94.
Here’s a rundown of the shifting alibis. (The three murdered boys were last seen alive around 6:30 PM Wednesday 5/5/93. The murders likely took place around 7:00 PM.)
On 5/9, Damien, Jason and Domini told police officers that all three had gone to Jason’s uncle’s house that day, where Jason mowed the lawn. Damien called his father for a ride. Damien’s father picked up Damien, Jason and Domini around 6:00 PM at a nearby laundromat. They drove Jason and Domini home, then Damien went home with his father.
On 5/10 (report 1, report 2), Damien told police a different story. He had been with Jason and Domini at Jason’s uncle’s house earlier in the day. He called his mother for a ride. Damien’s mother picked up Damien and Domini (but not Jason) at the laundromat and drove Domini home. Then Damien, his mother, his father and his sister all visited the home of Randy and Susan Sanders, where they stayed from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. (This would mean that Damien and Domini were picked up at the laundromat around 2:00 or 2:30 PM, not 6:00 PM as they stated the day before.) When he got home, Damien talked on the phone with a girl named Holly George until 11:00 or 11:30 PM.
On 5/10, Domini Teer also talked to police. She said that she, Damien, Jason and Ken Walker were at Jason’s uncle’s house when Jason mowed the lawn. Damien’s mother picked up Damien and Domini from the laundromat, “the time was about dark or just before it got dark” (sunset was 7:48 PM). Domini says she called Damien from her home, and “that he told her he was tired and was going to sleep”. The police report adds, “Domini’s mother stated that Domini came in when Time Trax was on TV on Wednesday evening” (Time Trax started at 7:00 PM).
On 5/12, Damien’s mother, Pamela Hutchison, told police that Damien called for a ride from the laundromat at 3:45 PM. She picked up Damien and Domini, drove Domini home, then arrived home with Damien at 4:00 or 4:10 PM. The whole family went to the Sanders home around 6:00 or 6:30 PM, came home an hour later, Damien stayed home the whole night. Pam Hutchison said she dropped off Damien’s prescription at 12:30 PM Wednesday and picked up the filled prescription Thursday morning.
On 5/17, Susan Sanders confirmed Pamela Hutchison’s account. “Susan Sanders stated that on 5-5-93 between 6:30 and 7:00PM she left her residence and went to the Splash Casino in [Mississippi]. Her daughter Stacy Sanders told her that somewhere between 7:00PM and 7:15PM Damien and his mother showed up at her residence they stayed about 15 minutes and left. 2 days later Damien’s mother told her (Susan Sanders) that the police would come by her house and ask her questions and told her to remember that her and Damien came to visit her on 5-5-93 that evening. Also told her that Damien didn’t kill those boys he was with her all night.”
Neither Jason Baldwin nor Damien Echols talked to law enforcement after their arrests, but their families and lawyers tried to establish alibis for them. By this point, Baldwin’s and Echols’ alibis contradicted each other.
On 6/4, the day after the arrests, Gail and Terry Grinnell, Jason Baldwin’s mother and stepfather, told police that school records showed Jason took the bus home from school around 3:00 or 3:30 PM on May 5. Jason then mowed his uncle’s lawn from 4:30 to 6:00 or 6:30 PM on 5/5, accompanied by Ken Watkins and Damien. After getting paid for mowing the lawn, Jason went with Ken to Walmart to play videogames, then came home around 7:30 PM. Neither Gail or Terry Grinnell actually saw Jason get home that night, because Gail was at work and Terry was living temporarily with his mother.
On 6/14, Jasons’s uncle, Hubert Bartoush, told police (statement, report) that Jason had mowed his lawn on Wednesday 5/5 between 4:30 and 6:30 PM. The uncle said that Jason was alone, not accompanied by Damien or Domini or Ken.
On 9/23, Jason’s mother, Gail Grinnell again said that Jason mowed his uncle’s lawn that day from 4:30 to 6:30 PM, accompanied by Damien, Domini and Ken. Damien and Domini left first, then Jason and Ken walked to Walmart to play videogames, then walked home. Also on 9/23, Jason’s brother, Matthew Baldwin, told police that Jason came home that night around 7:30 with Ken Watkins.
However, Ken Watkins told a different story in his 9/16 interview. Watkins said that he, Damien, Domini and Jason walked from Jason’s house to Walmart around 4:00 PM that day, and that he (Watkins) walked back home alone around 5:30 PM to babysit. After his polygraph, Watkins added a detail to his earlier story: when he left Walmart at 5:30 that day, “They said they was going to the bowling alley.” (Not clear who “they” included; he mentioned Damien, Jason, Domini and L.G. Hollingsworth being at Walmart before he left.) Watkins told police that Jason mowed his uncle’s lawn on Saturday or Sunday, not that Wednesday.
In his first recorded statement on 9/16, Watkins said he met up again with Damien, Domini and Jason around 7:00 PM on 5/5/93 at Jason’s house. In his second recorded statement, detective Ridge asked Watkins again if he saw Damien and Jason that evening, which led to this incomprehensible exchange.
Ridge- Okay. When you got home, and then you went back over to Jason’s house, at what time?
Kenneth- About 6:45.
Ridge- And no one was there?
Kenneth- His mom’s boyfriend. He said that they wasn’t home yet. And I went back over there, finished watching the show. Then a little bit after that, I went over there to see if they were home ago.
Ridge- What was the show you were watching?
Kenneth- It was a movie.
Ridge- On T.V.?
Ridge- Was it a rental movie?
Kenneth- Huh uh. It was a movie on T.V. It’s like a series.
Ridge- It’s like a one hour show?
Kenneth- It’s a half and hour show. Let’s see, I watched Full House, then watched something else, and I went over there.
Ridge- What kind of movies do you normally like to watch on Wednesday evenings?
Kenneth- King-fu, and …
Kenneth- No, I don’t like Timetracks that much. I usually watch that, I don’t even watch much T.V.
Kenneth- Uh uh.
Ridge- You don’t like it?
Kenneth- I don’t watch much T.V.
Ridge- Alright, did you watch Kung-fu…
Kenneth- Uh uh…
Ridge- That night?
Kenneth- I watched Bonanza. And then (inaudible) that Bonanza was on.
Ridge- Okay, how long were you there at Jason’s?
Kenneth- Just about 2 hours.
Ridge- That evening.
Kenneth- Yeah. And when I got home, I went back over there and we stayed about 2 hours and I came home, and was watching Bonanza, and I watched part of it, and I went to sleep on the couch.
Can you piece together a coherent timeline from that? I can’t. The relevant questions are: Did you see Jason and Damien that evening? And if so, what time did they return to Jason’s home? This exchange doesn’t clarify those questions in the slightest.
Either way, Ken Watkins 9/16 statements contradicted both Echols’ alibi (that Damien was with his parents continuously from 3:45 PM onward that day, at home and at the Sanders house) and Baldwin’s alibi (that Jason mowed his uncle’s lawn from 4:30 to 6:30 PM, then went to Walmart with Ken, then walked home).
A week after the arrests, Jason’s friend Garrett Schwarting told police that he had seen Jason at the Baldwin home around 7:00 pm on May 5. When police had spoken to him on May 19, however, Schwarting said he had not seen Jason Baldwin in over three weeks.
Jason Baldwin’s defense lawyers didn’t have much confidence in their client’s alibi. They did not call any alibi witnesses at trial, a decision which lead defense lawyer Paul Ford defended at the Rule 37 hearings in 2008:
I concluded from my efforts that I did not find successfully what I was looking for, for the purposes of establishing an alibi that I felt would not unravel on me, which I believe is much more detrimental than not presenting one at all.
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And if I can [poke holes in the prosecution case and establish reasonable doubt], without exposing my client to cross-examination or if I can do that without placing witnesses on the stand to provide an alibi that I believe is a house of cards that may come tumbling down on me, I prefer that method.
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I’d like to believe I’m an ethical, honest lawyer and I cannot imagine, as much as I wanted to see Jason go free, because as much as I believed in his innocence, that I would ever unilaterally, cavalierly make a decision to not put on an alibi witness when he asked me to, if I thought I had one that would stand up.
And Ford was right. Baldwin did not have a single decent alibi witness available.
Damien’s alibi: visit to the Sanders home
On 9/10/93, Damien’s mother, father and sister all gave statements and told similar stories. Pam Hutchison stated that she, Damien’s father (Joe Hutchison) and sister (Michelle Echols) were all in the car when they picked up Damien and Domini at the laundromat at 3:45 PM. They dropped Domini at home, then went to the pharmacy to pick up Damien’s prescription at 4:30 PM. All four went to the Sanders home, arriving around 6:45 and staying 30 minutes, then returning home. Damien stayed home and talked on the phone all night after that. Michelle Echols told the same story.
Joe Hutchison told the same story with the same times, except he couldn’t remember if Damien had accompanied them to the Sanders home. When asked “Who all went to the Sanders?”, Joe Hutchison hemmed and hawed: “It was me, Pam, Michelle and if I ain’t mistaken, I can’t be positive, because I’m trying to run this back in my mind. But Damion was with us. But, I cannot be positive. I can remember the three of us being there.”
Two Sanders daughters gave statements supporting this alibi. On 9/2/93, Jennifer Sanders (age 11) told police that all four (Damien, Michelle, Pam, Joe) visited the Sanders home at 7:00 PM and stayed 20 or 30 minutes. She said she remembered the day because her boyfriend’s band concert was the following night. She testified for Echols’ defense at trial and told the same story. Prosecutors called the school band director as a rebuttal witness, who testified that the band concert had actually taken place on Monday, May 17, 1993.
Also on 9/2/93, Stacy Sanders (age 18) told police that she had been across the street at her cousin’s house that evening. She looked out the window around 7:00 PM and saw Damien, Pam and Joe enter the Sanders home. Then a little later, she saw them leave. Stacy Sanders also had some confusion about the exact date of this visit. She remembered “it was the first Wednesday in May, because my parents went to Splash [Casino]“. But she also remembered it as two days before Damien was arrested; Damien was actually arrested 29 days after the murders.
When he took the stand at his trial, Damien Echols agreed to the alibi his mother had arranged: Pam, Joe and Michelle picked up Damien and Domini around 4:00 PM; later Pam, Joe, Michelle and Damien visited the Sanders together; aside from that visit, Damien stayed home all evening. However, the alibi collapsed in this exchange between Echols and prosecutor Brent Davis during cross-examination.
Q. Your mother testified that when you were down at the police station, one of the things she told you was, we’ve got some alibis, correct?
Q. She’s testified that the same day the police talked to you, or maybe it was your sister, that that is when you first started discussing among the family about the details of those alibis, correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. When the police talk with you on the tenth, at that point in time you tell them from 3:00 to 5:00 is when you think you were at the Sanders’, is that right?
A. I probably told him that then.
Q. That was about five days after the boys had turned up missing that you told him it was around 3:00 to 5:00?
A. I probably told him that if it’s in the report.
Q. When your mom tells him something, it is about five to six or five to six-thirty, okay?
A. (NODS HEAD)
Q. As time moves on and the time period that is in question becomes later that evening, the visit to the Sanders’ becomes later that evening, correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. So the story kind of changes to fit the facts we need to cover, right?
A. Yes, sir.
The jury obviously didn’t believe the “visiting the Sanders” alibi.
Damien’s alibi: phone calls with girls
Another part of Damien’s alibi for 5/5/93 involved his phone calls with various girls. In his 5/10/93 interrogation, Damien said he talked to Holly George from roughly 5:30 to 11:00 PM. At trial, he testified that he talked to several girls on the phone that night.
Q: OK. Once you went home [after visiting the Sanders house] do you recall what you did the rest of the night?
A: Most of the night I was on the phone.
Q: Do you recall who all you talked to that night?
A: I think so.
Q: Who was that?
A: Holly George, Jennifer Bearden, um, Domini Teer, uh, Heather Cliett, I think that’s it.
However, none of these four girls testified at trial. And in statements to police, none confirmed talking to Damien between 5:00 and 9:20 PM.
Holly George (age 13) told police she talked to Damien and Jennifer on a three-way call around 3:30 for five minutes, then didn’t talk to Damien again that day.
Jennifer Bearden (age 12 or 13) told police she talked to Damien and Holly on a three-way call around 3:30 for five minutes. Bearden also said she called Jason’s house that afternoon and spoke to both Damien and Jason. She estimated this second call as “somewhere in between 4:15 and 5, something like that 5, 5:30″. Later in the same statement, she estimated this second call as beginning between 4:15 and 4:30 PM and lasting 20 minutes.
Bearden stated that she called Damien again at 8:00 PM, at which time his grandmother said Damien was not home. Bearden then stated, “I called back around 9:20, 9:30 and I talk to [Damien] for a little bit”.
In 2004 Bearden reaffirmed her account of that evening. The Echols defense team included Bearden’s affidavit in a court filing to support Echols’ appeal. It’s not clear how Bearden’s account helps Echols. She doesn’t claim to have spoken to Damien between 5:00 and 9:20; her claim that Damien was at Jason’s home around 4:30 PM contradicts Damien’s trial testimony; and her claim that Damien wasn’t home at 8:00 PM contradicts his alibi.
In her 9/10/93 statement to police, Domini Teer placed the laundromat pickup by by Joe, Pam and Michelle at “probably about 5 or 5:30″. She then said Damien called her on the phone “about 10″.
On June 8, 1993, Heather Cliett (age 14) gave police a handwritten statement about 5/5/93. Cliett said that she tried calling Jason around 4:30 or 5:00 PM, then again at 6:15 PM, but could not reach him either time. Cliett then wrote, “Around 9:00 PM I was talking to [Holly George], we tried to get a hold of Michael Wayne “Damien” Echols from then until around 10:30 PM, when we finally got in touch w/him!” Cliett added, “The next day Hollie told me that ‘Damien’ said he had just been out walking around.”
After Jessie confessed on 6/3/93, his father and friends tried to build an alibi for him. This alibi had two prongs: that Jessie was in Highland trailer park around 6:30 PM on 5/5/93 when police responded to a disturbance, and that Jessie and friends drove to Dyess around 7:30 PM to go wrestling. Twelve people — Stephanie Dollar, Susie Brewer, Jennifer Roberts, Christy Jones Moss, Charles Ashley, Jessie Misskelley Sr., James McNease, Louis Hoggard, Dennis Carter, Fred Revelle, Roger Jones and Keith Johnson — testified for the defense as alibi witnesses at Misskelley’s trial.
However, all three police officers who had responded to the disturbance call at Highland — James Dollahite, Joe McCafferty and Jason Oliver — testified that they did not recall seeing Jessie Misskelley Jr. there.
Jessie Misskelley Sr. testified that his “DWI school” class got out at 7:00 PM on 5/5/93, at which point he drove home and spoke to Jessie Jr. around 7:15 PM before the latter left for Dyess. On cross-examination, Misskelley Sr. admitted that he told a TV interviewer after Jessie Jr.’s arrest, “he may have been there, I do not know … but if he was there he didn’t have anything to do with killing those boys.” The prosecution also called the alcohol safety class teacher as a rebuttal witness; she confirmed that Misskelley Sr. attended on 5/5/93, and she recalled that she did not dismiss class until “at least fifteen to eight” that night.
The wrestling alibi also fell apart. Fred Revelle testified at trial that he specifically remembered that Jessie was with them that night.
STIDHAM: How can you—tell the jury how you can remember that day as opposed to any other day.
REVELLE: Because Kevin Johnson, one of the guys that went to wrestle with us, he was at a search and rescue meeting that night so he didn’t get to go wrestle with us and practice that night.
STIDHAM: Is there anything else about May the fifth that makes it stand out in your mind in relation to any other event?
REVELLE: Just that Keith Johnson, Kevin’s brother, that’s the only night that he went with us, that he ever went with us and wrestled there.
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STIDHAM: Did anything happen to the defendant that helps you remember that night?
REVELLE: Ah, Bill Cox, he went to go throw Jessie Misskelley into the ring and his head was bent too low and he hit the side of the ring, had a big knot on his head.
On cross-examination, the prosecutor brought up a statement that Fred Revelle had given police on June 9, 1993, a few days after Misskelley’s arrest. Back then Revelle gave a different reason for remembering which day Misskelley went wrestling at Dyess.
Ah, it was May 5th. The day of the murders, around 7 o’clock, 6:30, 7 o’clock, Bill Cox the guy I’m training to wrestle. He arrived at my residence with the money that we needed to go pay the Charles Stone in Dyess for the ring. I’m training him to be a pro wrestler, teaching him we left and picked up Jessie in Highland trailer park. And we were going to get high on the way up there. And ah we picked him up and ah I’d say it was around 7 o’clock I guess about the time we left to go up there. I don’t know exactly what time we got there but we got there and ah its about 35 miles, and we gave Charles Stone the money and he wrote us out a receipt and gave us the keys to the building so we could get in went back inside his house we opened up his building and went on in and we had to turn the lights on and we started practicing. We left and I believe we dropped little Jessie off about 11:00, 11:30.
. . . Mr. Stone said he made a deposit in the bank the next day, and that day was may 6th, he made a deposit of $300.00 into his account.
The prosecution produced the receipt for $300 with Fred Revelle’s and Charles Stone’s names. The receipt was actually dated April 27, eight days before the murders.
Another alibi witness got tripped up by his prior statements to police. Dennis Carter testified at trial that he went to wrestling at Dyess on the night of May 5, 1993, with Jessie and others. However, Carter had been interviewed by WMPD officer Diane Hester on June 9 and again on June 22, and neither statement included any mention of going wrestling with Jessie on the evening of the murders. The June 22 statement, handwritten by Dennis Carter himself, states, “I went to Dice one or two time. But it was after the three little boys was murder. I have never went with Jessie to Dice. The time I went to Dice was with Kevin and Jhoney and Freddie and Bo and with Jhoney girlfriend. It was on a Friday night. But Jessie did not go with us.” The June 9 statement, handwritten by officer Hester and signed by Dennis Carter and his uncle Billy Carter, also read in part: “Dennis states that he was not really surprised when he heard that Jesse was arrested for the homicide. States that he was always nice to him but it didn’t really surprise him that he was involved.”
Jessie Misskelley was convicted and sentenced on February 4, 1994. Over the next two weeks, he made three more detailed confessions, so apparently he did not put much stock in his own alibi witnesses.