More new documents at Callahan

Callahan added several more documents this week. I’m guessing that these were drawn from exhibits at the Rule 37 hearings.

These documents have all been discussed on message boards for years, but have never been available to read in full until now.

See last week’s New Documents at Callahan post for more recent additions.

You can always see the latest additions to Callahan on their Site Changes page.

Jessie Misskelley’s confession to defense lawyer – June 11, 1993

Dan Stidham’s testimony at the Baldwin/Misskelley Rule 37 Hearing included an exchange about his meeting with Jessie Misskelley on June 11, 1993. This was one of Stidham’s earliest meetings with his client, eight days after Misskelley’s original confession to West Memphis police, eight days after the “West Memphis Three” were arrested.

(In the Rule 37 appeal, Misskelley and Baldwin were basically arguing that they deserved new trials because their original lawyers had been incompetent. Stidham and the other original defense lawyers were required to turn over their case files. This revealed a great deal of previously confidential information to prosecutors, and much of that information ended up in the trial record.)

WM3 supporters claim that the West Memphis police coerced Jessie Misskelley into a false confession on June 3. So what did Misskelley tell his defense lawyer on June 11, in a private meeting with no law enforcement officials present?

Stidham did not tape-record this meeting, but he kept a legal pad with handwritten notes. At the hearing, Kent Holt (Arkansas Assistant Attorney General) asked Stidham to read those notes. Here’s that testimony, with quotations from Stidham’s 6/11/93 notes bolded.

HOLT] Okay. I show you what’s been marked as State’s Exhibit 12E and ask if you can identify that document?

STIDHAM] (Witness examining same.) Yes, sir.

HOLT] What is that?

STIDHAM] That appears to be my notes from an interview with Mr. Misskelley on June 11, 1993.

HOLT] And we are back to where I wanted to get with the time records. On page three of the time records you have June 11, 1993 “conference with client.” Would this in fact be the notes that you made during that conference?

STIDHAM] Yes, it would.

HOLT] Okay. And do you know when this got put in the file?

STIDHAM] I assume as soon as I got back to the office.

HOLT] So did you ever take it with you back to the jail?

STIDHAM] This particular statement?

HOLT] Yes?

STIDHAM] I have no idea. I just don’t know.

HOLT] Okay. Do you know if that statement was ever reduced, uh, was ever put into a printed-type document?

STIDHAM] Not unless it’s in that folder.

HOLT] I haven’t been able to locate it.

STIDHAM] Then it wasn’t, then.

HOLT] Okay. I can’t really, uh, if you would, read what the I notes that you made with regard to that meeting that you had in those two and half hours with Mr. Misskelley?

STIDHAM] Do you want me to read the entire document?

HOLT] Yes, I do. Just to make sure —— you have good handwriting, but I can’t make out every point.

STIDHAM] It’ ll take a little time, but I’ll see what I can do here. I made notes in paragraph form and paragraph one states that “seen picture of three b’s,” which was an abbreviation for boys.

HOLT] What was “C” in abbreviation?


HOLT] Was that your client?

STIDHAM] I’m not sure what “C” is — I’m sorry.

HOLT] Well, you started off, it says — seen pictures of three b’s – oh, “seen picture of three b’s about one week before murder” for instance, down on paragraph 3, I thought you were – we’ll get to that.

STIDHAM] Okay. I’m sorry. I obviously wasn’t speaking clearly enough.

Paragraph one: “Seen picture of three b’s,” which means 3 boys, “one week before murder at cult meeting.”

Paragraph two: “At cult meeting he recognized three boys, but couldn’t remember where he,” horrible grammar, “where he seen them until the picture was in paper.”

HOLT] Are you dictating this?

STIDHAM] No, I’m writing it as he is telling me.

HOLT] I mean, exactly, you’re writing it as he is telling you.

STIDHAM] Well, to the best I can.

HOLT] Well, you wouldn’t necessarily say “seen”?

STIDHAM] I don’t have the best grammar in the world, so it’s possible that that’s my word instead of his.

HOLT] It’s more likely that he in fact used the words “I seen”? That’s common parlance among people who don’t speak good English?

STIDHAM] It’s possible. I think that says “three teens were in water. Damien hollered at three boys, client,” C,, which is short for client, “and Jason hid in weeds. Damien hit blonde-headed boy and then other two started hitting Damien.” And the other two would be reference to other victims. “C, ” being client, Mr. Misskelley, “and Jason came out and all started fighting.”

Paragraph 4 states that: “C,” again referring to Mr. Misskelley, “started hitting boy in Scout uniform. J,” which would be, uh, stand for Jason, “started hitting the other boy.”

Paragraph 5: “Damien hit the blonde-headed boy with stick, unconscious, bleeding a little bit.”

Paragraph 6: “Damien then went to Jason and other kid. Damien started hitting this boy and Jason went over to the blonde-headed boy and stuck his dick into the boy’s mouth.”

Paragraph 7: “Client,” it actually says ‘C,’ but it’s obviously reference to the client, “kept hitting boy Scout and knocked him out unconscious, still breathing. C,” being client, “was sure he was still breathing.”

Paragraph 8: “The C,” client, “went on to Damien and helped Damien hit the other boy.”

And then it goes to page two. Paragraph 9: “Damien went to Boy Scout, pulled his pants down and screwed him in the ass.”

Paragraph 10: “After Jason screwed blonde boy in the mouth, he screwed him in the butt. After he screwed him in the butt, he cut off blonde-headed boy’s penis.”

Paragraph 11: “After that, client realized it was time to stop. Client stopped hitting other kid. Client went over to Boy Scout, he was saying ‘help us, help us.'”

Paragraph 12: “Client told Damien ‘it’s time to stop.’ Damien said, ‘No, we’re going to,’ —— I can’t read my own writing.

HOLT] You’re taking it down pretty fast weren’t you?

STIDHAM] Yes, and of course, my handwriting is not the best. It says, ‘No, we’re going to hide this,’ or ‘We’re going to like this,’ I think, is actually what it says. “Client helped Boy Scout up, Damien knocked client and boy down. Client told Damien and Jason to stop hurting boys.”

Paragraph 13: “Client walked away ten to fifteen feet and then came back.”

Paragraph 14: “Damien screwed Boy Scout again. Jason stabbed one of the little boys in the face.”

Paragraph 15: “Client and Damien and Jason tied all boys up with their own shoestrings. Client choked Boy Scout until he quit moving.

Paragraph 16: “All but the blonde was still alive. Client didn’t choke blonde.”

Paragraph 17: “Damien and Jason threw them in water. Saw boys kicking around in water.”

Paragraph 18: “Client was afraid to go back and help, so he left.”

And then the final page doesn’t have any numbers with a paragraph. “No one ever mentioned killing anybody in cult. Damien would try to say voodoo stuff and try to,” it says, “try to dogs, cats and snakes from the dead.” I’m not sure exactly what that means. “Damien stuck his tongue in the skull of a bird.” And that’s the end of my notes.

HOLT] And you did, according to your practice, you testified the date — — what is the date on that?

STIDHAM] June 11, 1993.

For case junkies who have downloaded the full Baldwin/Misskelley Rule 37 Hearing transcripts, this exchange appears in volume 6, beginning at BMHR 1504.

Did Jessie Misskelley think his defense lawyers were cops?

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.

New documents at Callahan

The Callahan case archive posted many new documents yesterday.

Baldwin’s Habeas and Rule 37 Petitions and Exhibits includes many witness statements and forensic reports previously unavailable online.

Also included are three previously unavailable transcripts of Jessie Misskelley tape-recordings from 1993-1994:

  • August 19, 1993 (PDF) – Jessie Misskelley meeting with defense lawyer Dan Stidham
  • December 10, 1993 (PDF) – Misskelley interviewed by defense psychologist William Wilkins and Stidham
  • February 21, 1994 (PDF) – Misskelley phone call with defense lawyer Greg Crow

That’s a lot to wade through. I’ll post about specific documents at some point. Kudos to Christian (the guy who runs Callahan) and everyone else who helped track down and publish these documents.

Update (April 6, 2012): Another huge addition to the Callahan case archive today, the complete transcripts of Baldwin & Misskelley’s Rule 37 hearings from 2008-09. 3000+ pages, divided into eleven big downloadable PDF files.