In early February 1993, three months before the murders, Damien Echols applied for Social Security disability benefits, claiming that mental illness left him unable to work. The application form required him to list hospitalizations and diagnoses. Here’s what Echols wrote down:
Someone else filled in the hospital name and address, but that’s Damien Echols’ own handwriting under “Reason for Hospitalization”.
Altogether now supporters: “He was only joking!”
(For true case junkies, this is from page 125 of Exhibit 500.)
Celebrity funding and publicity played a huge role in getting the WM3 released. When the plea deal went through, the WM3 celebrity groupies were all over the news, including some I’d never heard about before. For example, Peter Jackson Helped West Memphis Three Defense.
Describing the case against the trio as farcical and a miscarriage of justice, Jackson also confessed to having to “suppress a deep anger” due to the circumstances of their release.
“Let’s not think for a second that justice was served today. Far from it,” he wrote
“So the ‘Alford Plea’ was entered, and Damien, Jason and Jessie walked free this morning – all that was missing was justice. Justice did not play a role in the proceedings this morning … not to the 3 men who have been robbed of 18 years, not to the 3 young victims and their families, and certainly not to the people of Arkansas, whom the system is supposed to serve.”
“There’s also a triple child killer who has walked free for the last 18 years … seemingly an unimportant detail in today’s white-washing job,” Jackson wrote.
Peter Jackson is full of shit. Like other celebrity supporters, his only knowledge of the case comes from Paradise Lost and movement propaganda which parrots the Paradise Lost version of events.
In other words, the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy cannot tell the difference between a movie and real life.
Jackson’s expression of concern for the victims and their families is particularly sickening. His financial support helped pay for vicious campaigns of character assassination against the parents of the WM3’s victims.
Mr. Jackson, read the actual evidence against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. Read Misskelley’s 2/8/94 confession to his defense laywer. Read Misskelley’s 2/17/94 confession to prosecutors. Read the trial transcripts. Or pay someone to read them for you, I don’t care. But in the name of Gandalf the Grey, do some due diligence before putting your fortune and reputation behind thugs who raped, tortured and killed children for kicks.
Yesterday I linked to a new article by Billy Sinclair on the WM3 plea/release deal.
Since then I’ve read through Sinclair’s previous writing on the case (all linked in the first paragraph of his new article). He’s a joy to read. Sinclair has a highly refined bullshit detector regarding claims made by both state officials and accused criminals.
His March 2010 article “West Memphis Three on 48 Hours” featured this excellent debunking of the pro-WM3 movement’s dishonest and cruel targetting of alternative suspects.
In their zeal to establish the innocence of the West Memphis Three, supporters for the trio have been shockingly irresponsible in pointing the finger of blame at other people as the probable killers of the three boys. First, there was the possible African-American man who was seen by employees of a local Bojangles’ restaurant on the evening of the crime at the restaurant. The restaurant was located near the bayou in Robin Hood Hills where the bodies of the three boys were found. The black man was reportedly dazed, covered with blood and mud, and went into the ladies restroom. The employees called the police who responded to the call but did not fuly check out the information. The following day the restaurant’s manager called the police a second time when the bodies of the young boys were found, operating on the premise there may be a connection between the two events. This time the police took blood scrapings from the walls of the restaurant’s restroom but it was later carelessly lost or deliberately destroyed. No one knows for sure.
Supporters for the West Memphis Three labeled the bloody African-American man as “Mr. Bojangles”—a moniker reminiscent of the Old South. Contrary to what some of the West Memphis Three supporters believe, I don’t think the local police deliberately destroyed the “Mr. Bojangles” evidence just so they could convict three local white teenagers for this unspeakable crime. If the police even remotely believed the mysterious black Mr. Bojangles was connected with the murder of three white kids, they would have devoted every law enforcement resource in the State of Arkansas to make a case against him (or any black man they could ‘frame” as him).
The next person who became a target of the West Memphis Three supporters’ “red-herring” blame game was Mark Byers, the step-father of Chris Byers. Police took some photographs of the boys’ bodies shortly after they were found. One of these photos indicated a “bite mark” was left on at least one of the victims. This was the conclusion drawn by HBO’s second documentary, Paradise Lost 2. The fact that Mark Byers had all his teeth extracted and replaced with dentures after the murders was enough “evidence” for some of the West Memphis Three supporters to conclude he was either the killer or somehow connected to the murders. And the fact that Mark Byers gave the HBO producers of the first Paradise Lost documentary a pocket knife which was discovered to have a speck of blood on it added to the clamor of his guilt, even though test results on the blood proved inconclusive. And the fact that Byers has some “garden variety” violent episodes in his past (accusations by a former wife that he assaulted her, for example), which are woven into the cultural fabric of the South, added fuel to those who believed he was involved in the murders. It didn’t matter that Byers eventually took and passed a polygraph examination which cleared him of any involvement in the horrible crime, or that he was eliminated as the source of subsequent DNA evidence discovered at the crime scene—some still believe he did it.
And, finally, the West Memphis Three supporters, including the mother of one of the victims (Stevie Branch) pointed the guilt finger at Terry Hobbs. Pam Branch is now estranged from her former husband, Terry Hobbs, and there has been a lot of animosity associated with their estrangement. The basis for the guilt finger being pointed at Hobbs is a strand of hair found in the ligature which bound Michael Moore and proved to be consistent with Hobbs’ hair and another strand of hair found nearby which proved to be consistent with the hair of a friend of Hobbs, David Jacoby. This was enough to make the local police some fourteen years after the crime question Hobbs about the crime and later declared he was not a suspect. Still, Stevie’s mother has concerns about Hobbs’ involvement because after the murders she found a pocketknife belonging to her son in Hobbs’ personal belongings—a knife the boy carried with him everywhere. Hobbs recently told CBS’ 48 Hours host Erin Moriarty that he took the knife from Stevie before the crime because he didn’t want an 8-year-old walking around with it.
Based on what I have read and viewed about the West Memphis Three murders, particularly the latest 48 Hours program, I do not believe one person committed the crime. It would be hard for one person to corral three 8-year-olds and slaughter them with a knife or a blunt instrument and hogtie them in the manner they were found. It’s possible but not likely. That certainly eliminates the “dazed and crazed” Mr. Bojangles who was so messed up he couldn’t even control his own bowel movements. And I don’t believe the step-fathers did it either. Just because Mark Byers got his teeth pulled and replaced with dentures after the murders and may have slapped a former wife certainly does not translate into enough evidence to even suspect he slaughtered three innocent children, one of whom was his own stepson. And Terry Hobbs didn’t do it—and for anyone to believe the two strands of hair found at the crime scene which are consistent with Hobbs’ hair and the hair of one of his friends is sufficient “evidence” of guilt is out of touch with reality and knows very little about forensic evidence.
Billy Sinclair spent 40 years in prison for murder, including six years on death row, before being paroled in 2006. He became a journalist in prison and has co-authored two books with his wife Jodie, A Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story: A Journey From Murder to Redemption Inside America’s Worst Prison System and Capital Punishment: An Indictment by a Death Row Survivor. He writes regularly about criminal justice issues at capitalpunishmentbook.com.
Sinclair has written about the West Memphis Three case several times. His most recent piece, “West Memphis Three Plead Guilty — Almost”, deals with their release.
In my previous posts, I discussed the various times the three men, in both a custodial and non-custodial setting, admitted to the police and others that they were involved in the horrific murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore. These admissions of guilt, more than anything else, strongly influenced my belief in the guilt of the West Memphis Three. The “Alford pleas,” although not a clear admission of guilt, are more affirmative evidence of their guilt in the murder of the three Cub scouts.
Go read the whole thing. The first paragraph includes links to five previous articles Sinclair has written about the case.
The West Memphis Three are free. Appalling.
At this point, I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to make this happen. There were no leaks or hints about a deal in the works until the special court session was announced last Thursday. I don’t understand what the prosecution got from this deal, aside from making bad publicity go away.
WM3 supporters should be congratulated on running the best PR campaign for mass murderers of all time. If Richard Ramirez or the Chicago Ripper Crew had their own Paradise Lost, wm3.org and Eddie Vedder, they might have gone free years ago.
The misinformation spouted by mainstream media over the last few days is likewise appalling. This shouldn’t surprise me after all this time, but it does. We heard yet again about the 12-hour interrogation (never happened) of a mentally retarded (he wasn’t) kid. We heard plenty about Misskelley’s original confession, but nothing about his many post-conviction confessions. The freaking New York Times called Damien Echols “a troubled yet gifted 18-year-old who wore all black, listened to heavy metal music and considered himself a Wiccan”. Technically true (except for the “gifted” part), but wouldn’t it also be relevant to mention that Echols had been institutionalized three times in the year before the murders and diagnosed as “homicidal” and “psychotic”? That he had a history of setting fires at school, torturing and killing animals, threatening to kill his parents, sucking blood from people’s wounds and trying to gouge out a classmate’s eyes with his sharpened fingernails?
I wouldn’t have minded a deal that freed Jessie Misskelley in exchange for an honest allocution and testimony against Baldwin and Echols in the event of a new trial. Misskelley was the only one of the three who showed any remorse back in 1993-94. He probably did not participate in Echols and Baldwin’s premeditation (though that’s not 100% clear). He confessed over and over without getting any deal for his confessions. According to many sources, Misskelley continued to confess his involvement in prison. But freeing Damien Echols, a dangerous psychopath who masterminded the killings and bragged about them afterward? Freeing Jason Baldwin, the one who actually wielded the knife to torture and mutilate two young boys? Both of them deserved to spend the rest of their lives in prison.
The judge in the West Memphis Three case has scheduled a surprise court session for Friday, August 19. Speculation is that all three will be set free. Deal could lead to release of West Memphis Three.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are working out a deal that could result in the release of the West Memphis Three murder defendants as early as Friday, according to legal sources and relatives of victims.
A source close to the case said the pending deal involves the immediate release of defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley in return for pleas to lesser charges. All three were convicted of capital murder in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death, while Baldwin and Misskelley are serving life terms.
A local news station has a video interview with Steven Branch, father of one of the murdered children, confirming that he has been told that at least two of the West Memphis Three will be set free, including Damien Echols.
Another local news station reports, “Late Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Corrections did confirm Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were ordered to take all their belongings with them to Crittenden County, at least for Friday’s hearing. It all sets up for an explosive judicial session where justice, and possibly freedom, for the West Memphis Three could be on the line.”
Speculation will be moot soon enough. I’ll wait until we have solid facts to comment further.
West Memphis 3 supporters have written some loony things over the years, but this might just be the looniest.
“Larner”, a frequent poster on pro-WM3 message boards, has authored a Lord of the Rings fanfic called “Murder Most Foul” based on the West Memphis child murders.
One prominent supporter theory posits that the murder victims were not assaulted with a knife and that their wounds were instead the result of postmortem animal predation. And sure enough, Larner’s story includes a long, gruesome account of woodland critters gnawing on the children’s corpses. There’s an otter, an owl, a muskrat, a fish, rats, a wild dog, a snake, a badger, “father turtle”, smaller turtles, weasels and finally “mud-dwelling crustaceans”. Larner describes each animal’s feast in repulsive detail.
What the fuck is wrong with these people? If supporters want to write Damien/Jason slash, or maybe a good Damien Echols/Jason Massey/Rod Ferrell crossover story, fine. But leave the murdered children out of it! For that matter, leave Tolkien out of it!
UPDATE: Many fellow WM3 supporters find Larner’s story “inappropriate”, “creepy” and “heartless”.