Were the WM3 victims of a witch hunt?

Witch hunt comparisons are a common theme in “free the WM3” propaganda. The murder investigation was a witch hunt from the beginning. The trials were witch hunts. Angry locals were like a pitchfork-wielding, witch-hunting mob. West Memphis in 1993-94 was just like Salem in 1692-93.

Sometimes WM3 supporters use the phrase “literal witch hunt”. Jive Puppi claims, “the case became a literal witch hunt eventually ensnaring three teenagers”. A Facebook page proposing a presidential pardon demands, “Mr. President, PLEASE use the power of your office to END this LITERAL modern Day witch hunt!” Googling wm3 literal witch hunt, I was dismayed to learn that a writer I admire, Julian Sanchez, fell for this “literal witch hunt” nonsense.

There’s one big flaw in this “literal witch hunt” claim. During the investigation, West Memphis police interviewed several people who identified themselves as witches, talked about the witchcraft they did, gave the time and place of their coven meetings — and the police didn’t arrest them or anything!

On May 11 (six days after the murders), WMPD interviewed Deanna Holcomb (age 16), who told them, “I was a black witch. It was a game people got into for the power and stuff. … I hate I was stupid enough to get involved in this stuff.” Holcomb was an ex-girlfriend of suspect Damien Echols. Despite her brazen admission of past witchcraft, she was a witness for the prosecution at the Baldwin/Echols trial.

On May 10, detective Bryn Ridge interviewed Chris Littrell (age 16). According to Ridge’s notes, Chris Littrell said he belonged to a group called Order of the Divine Light, which practiced a “witchcraft religion/religion of nature” known as “Wicker”. Littrell mentioned the book Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, described some of the group’s rituals, identified other coven members, and revealed that the Order met in his friend Murray’s bedroom or backyard. Another interview on May 27 covered much of the same ground.

Murray Farris (age 18) went to WMPD on May 9 for an interview (report 1, report 2). According to Ridge’s notes, “Farris stated that he was in a group of so-called White Witches and was wearing a star in a circle that he claimed he had just bought. He explained that the group believes in harming no one and gave a list of 4 members.” Farris took and passed a polygraph; the polygrapher’s handwritten notes include “says he is a white witch”.

Holcomb, Littrell and Farris were not arrested despite telling police officers they were witches who practiced witchcraft. If this was a “literal witch hunt”, West Memphis authorities really sucked at witch hunting.

Here’s my crazy alternative theory:

There was no witch hunt. West Memphis authorities were not hunting for witches, they were hunting for child-killers. They arrested and prosecuted Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley for murder, not for witchcraft. Police did not arrest any other local witches because the others did not kill anyone.

Werner Spitz, the world’s most forensic pathologist

WM3.org calls Werner Spitz “perhaps the most well-known forensic pathologist and forensic scientist in the world”. Independent experts from the band Disturbed agree, calling Spitz “the world’s most respected forensic pathologist”.

Trial junkies got a chance to see Werner Spitz at work on Saturday when he testified for the defense in the Casey Anthony trial. Spitz claimed that the duct tape on Caylee Anthony’s mouth was placed there after her body had decompsed. Spitz also suggested that the medical examiner’s office staged photos showing Caylee’s hair on her skull.

He also testified for the defense in the Phil Spector murder trial. Back then Spitz claimed that Lana Clarkson spontaneously committed suicide in Spector’s foyer with one of Spector’s guns.

Werner Spitz was hired by Damien Echols’ legal defense team in 2006-07. He appeared at a big Echols dream team press conference in November 2007. Spitz claimed that, contrary to the original autopsy findings, the injuries to Steve Branch’s face and Chris Byers’ groin were caused not by a knife attack but rather by post-mortem animal predation.

It’s a great theory if you’re a WM3 defense lawyer or supporter, since it means that Jessie Misskelley was lying on the multiple occasions when he described watching Jason Baldwin use a knife to inflict those exact injuries.

If you’re not a defense lawyer or supporter, it’s a strange theory. Spitz says all three boys died by drowning, and their bodies were found submerged in water, so how exactly did the animals (Spitz specified “dogs” at the press conference) accomplish this predation? Did the dogs drag the corpses from the creek, inflict these injuries, then put the corpses back in the creek? And why did they inflict such varied, localized injuries — one corpse’s cheek, another corpse’s genitals, a third corpse left untouched?

At the Phil Spector trial, Spitz reported his appearance fee as $5000 per day plus expenses. No one can accuse him of not providing his clients value for their money. If you’ve donated money to the “free the WM3” cause, rest assured that money is being spent wisely.

Nevertheless, the Spector jury didn’t buy his suicide theory, and it’s unlikely he’ll succeed in getting Casey Anthony off the hook. Is his alternative theory in the WM3 case any more believable?

New pages on Bojangles Man and Christopher Morgan

I have added two new pages to the “Case Against the WM3” section, Alternative suspect: Christopher Morgan and Alternative suspect: Bojangles Man.

A commenter at WM3 Underground thinks that “alternative suspect” should actually read “alternate suspect”. I’m a language stickler myself, so I googled “alternate vs alternative” and read up. As far as I can tell, “alternative” is actually the correct word here.

Comment about Jessie Misskelley’s 2/17/94 confession

My plan for this site had two separate sections: the “Case” section would be a basic survey of the evidence, the “Blog” section would be, well, more of a blog. The blog would have comments enabled for open discussion, the case summary would just be articles without comment threads.

Since I’m not too handy with the WordPress, it took me a while to figure out how to enable comments on one section and disable comments on another section. And then when I thought I had it figured out, someone left a comment on one “Case” page still open. So I figured it out again. That fix removed the one comment, and the commenter got peeved. And he had a point. If I took the time to write up a comment on someone’s site, using the “Comment” box provided, only to discover the comment deleted a couple days later, I’d be peeved too.

So I’ll publish the comment here, respond to it, then anyone can add a comment. The page in question was Jessie Misskelley’s confession – February 17, 1994. This comment was written by Fishmonger Dave.

Yawn. If you’re going to mention Blood of Innocents, why not toss in that the author is now a supporter?

You’re right that the question is “was Jessie telling the truth in this confession?” As I’m sure you’re aware, Jessie vacillated many times depending on who he was talking to – wanting, in many cases, to please the person he was addressing. Keep in mind the context of this statement – he had just been sentence to life + 40 for a crime he didn’t commit and was being offered a plea deal to remove the “life sentence” (Fogelman is in on video doing so in the Paradise Lost special).

The real issue with Jessie’s statements is that he has never given one that (1) aligned with the forensics known at the time (1993/1994), (2) aligned with the forensics known today (2011), (3) contained ANY details unknown to the police, (4) that contained correct, verifiable details that weren’t supplied to him.

I laid out a bunch of the problems with his statements – including this one – there’s more in the discussion on the wm3blackboard (and other boards, too, I’m sure, but I frequent the blackboard). The ones I (and Boo) found are online at: http://www.dpdlaw.com/jmstatements.htm.

It’s disturbing that people would rely on Jessie’s statements to support a belief that these convictions aren’t a farce.

My response:

Jessie Misskelley first confessed to police on June 3, 1993. His defense argued at trial that this confession was false. On February 4, 1994, a jury convicted and sentenced him. Over the next two weeks, Misskelley dropped the “false confession” pretense and confessed anew several times. On February 4, on the drive to prison, he told his escorts the whole story. On February 8, Misskelley gave another lengthy, tape-recorded confession to his defense lawyer. And on February 17, Misskelley made another tape-recorded confession to prosecutors over the strenuous objections of his defense lawyers.

Many casual WM3 supporters don’t know about the three February 1994 confessions. Paradise Lost mentions the 2/4/94 confession briefly, but it’s easy to miss. The film doesn’t mention the 2/8 or 2/17 confessions at all.

Serious WM3 supporters point to minor variations between the statements to suggest they’re all false. And there are some variations. In the 6/3/93 confession, Jessie said that the killings happened in the morning and that the victims were tied with rope; in the February 94 confessions, he admitted he had lied about those details to confuse the cops. In the 6/3/93 confession, Jessie downplayed his role, claiming he only restrained one victim from running away; in the 2/17/94 confession, he admitted greater participation in the crime, including beating one victim unconscious, removing their shoelaces so Damien and Jason could tie them up and sticking around until the victims were dead. But on the main points of the story, Misskelley’s confessions were extremely detailed and consistent.

Fishmonger Dave’s claim that Misskelley’s confessions didn’t align with the forensic evidence is simply false. There was little forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene, and none of it contradicts Misskelley’s account.

It’s true that prosecutors considered offering Misskelley a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against Baldwin and Echols (whose trial began on February 28, 1994). However, once Misskelley was convicted and sentenced by a jury, the prosecutors did not have the power to alter his sentence unilaterally. Any plea bargain would have had to be approved by the judge. In the February 22, 1994, pretrial hearing, Judge Burnett stated, “There’s been some talk about the Court’s power to reduce the sentence, and we have talked about that indirectly. And for the record, I have never said I would do anything one way or the other. In fact I tried to tell each of you that I wasn’t going to make any commitment that I’d do anything, one way or the other, whether he testifies, doesn’t testify or what.” When Misskelley made his tape-recorded confession on February 17, 1994, prosecutors granted him only “use immunity”, meaning this statement could not be used against him on appeal.

Anyone researching the WM3 case for themselves should certainly check out Fishmonger Dave’s analysis (which, ironically, has no comment forms).

Casey Anthony and the West Memphis Three

The Casey Anthony trial is the big crime story right now. Headline News has become the 24-hour Casey Anthony Network. And everyone (including me) considers Casey Anthony guilty beyond any doubt, even though the prosecution case is largely circumstantial.

Now imagine a Bizarro World version of the case.

In addition to the circumstantial evidence, Casey Anthony has given Bizarro World prosecutors two long, detailed confessions in which she describes exactly how she killed Caylee and disposed of the body. These confessions are on tape and available online for anyone to listen to. Casey gave a third long, detailed, tape-recorded confession to her Bizarro defense lawyer, and that confession has been played in open court. Police officers who drove Casey Anthony to Bizarro jail report that she spent an hour describing the murder. Several friends of Casey Anthony give detailed statements to the police saying, “Casey Anthony told me she killed her daughter”. Several other people report hearing Casey Anthony brag about the crime in public. And yet . . . nearly everyone in Bizarro World believes Casey Anthony is innocent. Celebrities rally to the “Free Casey” cause. Bizarro Nancy Grace spends every night denouncing law enforcement for mistreating poor innocent Casey Anthony rather than searching for the real killer.

The West Memphis Three live in Bizarro World.

That’s one reason this case both fascinates and infuriates me.

Is the Media Biased Against the West Memphis 3?

The Little Rock Film Festival featured a panel discussion called “The Media and the West Memphis Three”, and the Arkansas Times ran a puff piece about the event. The usual pro-WM3 propagandists were on stage, no skeptics allowed.

The discussion featured Joe Berlinger (director of the “Paradise Lost” films), Mara Leveritt (author of the book “Devil’s Knot”), Capi Peck (founding member of the WM3 advocacy group Arkansas Take Action) and Lorri Davis (wife of Damien Echols). Panelists touched on a number of issues including early news coverage of the case (would you believe most media outlets were a little biased against the WM3?), the reaction to the “Paradise Lost” documentaries here in Arkansas and the movement that has built up around the case over the years.

Wow, can you believe that media outlets were biased against guys who raped, tortured and murdered eight-year-olds?!? Unlike sophisticated thinkers like us who consider them heroes!

Maybe the “bias” accusation means that journalists in 1993-94 did not demonstrate proper journalistic objectivity, balance, fact-checking, etc. in covering the case. If so, the accusation is groundless. Don’t take my word for it, feel free to browse the West Memphis Evening Times and Memphis Commercial Appeal archives for yourself. You won’t find the deceitful “free the killers” advocacy journalism spread by Berlinger, Leveritt, et al, years later, but you won’t find any “forget the trial, lock up these Metallica-loving freaks” bias either, just ordinary bland local news.

Modern media coverage is a different story. The mainstream media now routinely parrots the “free the WM3” line, ignoring or distorting the overwhelming evidence that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were guilty as charged.

  • In 2007, Larry King did a softball prison interview with Damien Echols. (“We are back with Damien Echols. The three boys who were killed, you didn’t know them, you weren’t anywhere near there. So why you?”)
  • In 2010, Larry King hosted Echols’ murder groupie wife and celebrity dupes Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines for another hour of “Free the WM3” propaganda.
  • Also in 2010, 48 Hours Mystery ran an hour-long pro-WM3 infomercial starring Johnny Depp called “A Cry for Innocence”.
  • In January 2011, CNN ran an hour-long documentary about the case unsubtly titled “Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis”. (Get it? In America you’re supposed to be presumed innocent, but these poor goth kids were presumed guilty instead!)
  • And in May 2011, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones rehashed the standard “railroaded because they wore black and liked heavy metal” line and did a frame job on the pro-WM3 crowd’s latest SODDI target, Terry Hobbs.

And of course, the Arkansas Times article quoted above, the one with the snide quip about media bias, makes no acknowledgment of the case against the West Memphis 3.

Mainstream media coverage of the West Memphis 3 is most definitely biased — in favor of the killers.