Did Echols and Misskelley know each other?

One fairly recent but now common WM3 supporter talking point is: Echols and Misskelley barely knew each other at the time of the murders, didn’t hang out together, so it’s far-fetched to think they committed a murder together. Here’s one example from our comment section. Echols himself has made this claim in interviews, and no journalist has challenged him or fact-checked (not that I’ve seen, at least) on this point.

There’s actually plenty of evidence that Echols and Misskelley knew each other.

On May 28, 1993, Vicki Hutcheson told police that Misskelley introduced her to Echols:

Hutcheson: A Little Jessie, Jessie Misskelley, lives down the street from me […] Jessie told me about a friend of his named Damien and this friend drank blood and stuff. He just kept going on and on on about how weird he was and stuff. […] Jessie had told me that Damien hang out at Lakeshore, and so I went out of my way you know to to try to go around Lakeshore and you know people around there. And I told Jessie I had seen Damien, and he asked me how did i know that it was Damien? And I said that there was a little boy Adam who’s a friend of mine’s little boy which he’s about their age and he had pointed out pointed him out to me and he said he said well you know he’s kinda weird. I said no I think he’s hot I really want to go out with him can you fix me up with him. And you know he was real surprised but he said yeah, if you want to go out with him I’ll fix you up with him. And he did.

Vicki Hutcheson was a pathological liar seeking reward money, definitely not a trustworthy source. However, this story about Misskelley setting her up with Echols was confirmed by others. Christy Dawn Jones told police in October 1993:

About the middle of May a Vickie Hutchison who lived in Highland trailer park asked Jessie if he knew Damien. Jessie said that he knew him from school. Vickie asked Jessie to introduce her to Damien. This all took place at Vickie’s house. Me, Jessie, Christie Anderson, Vickie, and her son Aaron were all present during this conversation.

The newly married Christy Jones-Moss testified for the defense at Misskelley’s trial. On cross-examination, she repeated this story:

Q: Just one other question. It is true that Jessie Misskelley introduced Vickie Hutchinson to Damien Echols, right?
A: Yes, sir, he said he had knew Damien –
Q: I didn’t-
A: -from school.
Q: And Jessie knew him well enough that he was able to introduce Vickie to him, correct?
A: Yea.

In a September 93 interview, Jason Baldwin’s little brother Matthew recalled an encounter between Misskelley and Echols outside the Baldwin home on May 6 (the day the bodies were found):

Matthew: The day after that, I know Damien was over that night because I think Jessie came over that night, Jessie and some girl were in a truck
Fogleman: Uh-huh
Matthew: Some girl in truck were trying to get Damien to come over there, but Damien didn’t want to come over there
Fogleman: That’s the next … that was the next day?
Matthew: I think so, yea
Fogleman: Okay, you remember what the girl in the truck look like?
Matthew: Uh-uh
Fogleman: Know who she was?
Matthew: She didn’t come in, she stayed in the truck
Fogleman: Okay
Matthew: And then Jessie left in the truck, and Damien stayed over my house

A kid named John Perschke told police about an occasion when Misskelley, Buddy Lucas, Echols and Baldwin were hanging out in a group:

In January of 1992 me and JoJo and Willard was going down the railroad trussle to mess around and we heard some one walking up ??? we tried to hide and Jason Damian Jesse Buddy and few other boys were with them and so Jessie shoved me agaisnt the side of the ??? and so Jessie was just talking to me and then after a while Jessie took a knife out of his pocket and put a knife to my throught and he said would you like to be dead and so he shoved the knife harder and so he put the knife up and then Jessie hit me and Buddy two and then I couldn’t tell who all was hitting me Damian and Jason and the other boys were ??? on the railroad tracks and then he was yelling at me and then they all left I walked home I was coufing up blood.

A kid named Renee Flesher described the same incident:

About a year ago “92” in January or Febuary I was with Jessica Maretti and John Perschka had been messin with her, so she went over where Jessie was and told him what John was doin and where he was. And Jessie already wanted to beat John up. So we all went out there (me, Jessica, Jessie, Damien, Jason, and Buddy). And they found him. Well Jessie had a knife and he pulled it out and threatened to cut John’s throat and John was tellin him “no”. Me, Jessie, Jessica and Buddy were all down by a ditch, and Damien and Jason were on the bridge. Then Jessie started punchin John in the stomach. John was sittin there cryin so I told Jessica to tell Jessie to stop cause i knew he wouldn’t listen to me and him and Jessica are kinda close. So he stopped and we all walked away. And John couldn’t breathe and was coughin up blood, me and Jessica went with John to his house and everyone else was laughin and walked off.

Buddy Lucas’s cousin Charlotte Bly recalled seeing Echols, Baldwin, Misskelley and Lucas together:

Ridge: Okay, Jason Baldwin did you know him?
Bly: I meant him one time
Ridge: Where did you meet him?
Bly: At Lakeshore trailer park
Ridge: Who was he with when you meet him?
Bly: Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Buddy Lucas
Ridge: So they were all together?
Bly: And a bunch of other boys

Misskelley’s friend Dino Perfetti told police that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley arrived together at the skating rink soon after the murders:

I can remember I’d seen him at the skating rink in West Memphis, with Jason and Damien. Jessie did come in with them but when he noticed some other people he knew he left the other two so he could be with his other friends. Even though Damien and Jason were acting a little strange that night, I thought Jessie was calm and he didn’t show any signs of being scared of anything but I can’t be sure that he wasn’t.

A few days after the arrests, softball club director Peggy Simmons told police:

Thursday (May 27, 1993) I saw Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols + Jessie Misskelly at the Club, to watch girls ballgame.

Satan-obsessed juvie cop Jerry Driver testified at both trials that he saw Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley together on several occasions.

Baldwin and Echols were best friends around this time, constantly together. No one claims Echols and Misskelley were that close, but the claim that they barely knew each other is clearly a lie.

* * * * *

Another example, added 8/30/12: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (June 5, 1993; “3 arrests surprise some, ring bells with others”) talked to Jim McNease, Misskelley’s father’s boss, on the day after the arrests.

“Jessie’s the kind of kid one would never expect to do something like this. In my opinion, the other boys suckered him into it,” McNease said. …

“They were all three friends,” McNease said of the three suspects. “And I think Jessie Jr. was the sort to be easily persuaded.”

Jim McNease and wife Marty McNease spoke affectionately of Misskelley Sr and Jr in the article. Jim McNease said that Misskelley Jr occasionally worked at Jim’s Repair Service helping his father. Jim McNease testified for the defense as an alibi witness at Misskelley’s trial. And the day after the arrests, he told a reporter that Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols “were all three friends”.

Questionnaire and answers

In 1993 the FBI had a Behavioral Analysis Interview guide which they made available to local law enforcement agencies. It included five pages of sample interview questions along with explanations for detectives on how to interpret responses.

The West Memphis PD incorporated the FBI’s model questions in a 32-point questionnaire used on possible suspects during the first weeks of the investigation.

Two of the FBI’s sample questions were:

8.) What do you think should happen to the person who did this to _______________?

The innocent person will indicate some significant punishment, such as going to the penitentiary or receiving the death penalty. In contrast, if he is guilty, the suspect will try not to answer the question. He likely will say “It’s not up to me” or “who am I to pass judgement?” or may indicate the offender should be asked the reason for committing the crime. The underlying explanation for this evasion is that were he to suggest a penalty, he would in effect be prescribing his own punishment. In the event a guilty suspect does indicate severe punishment, any accompanying nonverbal behaviors will likely believe the sincerity of the answer.

12.) If we can identify the person who did this to _________________, do you think they should be given a second chance?

This is a question similar in principle to the punishment question. A truthful person is rarely in favor of giving a guilty person a second chance, the guilty suspect on the other hand will often indicate some type of leniency or be noncommittal about it.

These became question #2 on the WMPD questionnaire:

2. What should happen to someone who did something like this? Should they have a second chance?

This sounds way too easy. Like when the Mentalist asks the person who committed the crime to raise their right hand. But who knows, maybe there’s something to it. Let’s check how various suspects responded.

Steve Skaggs (5/8): “Kill him”

Damien Echols & Jason Baldwin (5/9 outside Baldwin’s home; interviewed together, answers noted on same page): Echols: “Death penalty” | Baldwin: “Same”

Damien Echols (5/10 at WMPD station): “if for fun death — mental just locked up / should have 2nd chance”

Deanna Holcomb (5/11): “do it back to them / no 2nd chance”

Christopher Wahl (5/11): “Do the same thing to him only in public — no second chance.”

Frankie Knight (5/11): “shoot them — no 2nd chance”

Jerry Nearns (undated, probably 5/14): “Shot, same thing as what was done to kids”

Edward Lynn Lucas (5/13): “Eye for eye”

Tim Dodson (5/14): “To death”

Thomas Polletta (5/14): “Be shot”

Bobby DeAngelo (5/15): “Hope you shoot him. No.”

William Welch (5/15): “Do same to them — [??? ?? ????]” (bad cop handwriting; maybe “give to public”)

Danny Leffler (5/15): “Elect chair”

(This list includes every response I found at Callahan, but I may have missed someone. Post any additions or corrections in comments below.)

* * * * *

[Added 8/30/2012:] I’ve been informed that this post is too cryptic and requires more explanation. So here goes, more explanation.

West Memphis police questioned Damien Echols three times in the week after the murders (May 7, May 9 and May 10). One natural question is, “Why was Damien Echols a suspect in the first week of the investigation?” The Damien Echols profile page on this site provides some background. Short answer: Damien Echols was a violent, unstable psychopath with homicidal fantasies, and some local cops knew this.

A related question is, “Did Damien Echols say anything when questioned after the murders to increase or decrease suspicion?” That’s where this post comes in.

The WMPD questionnaire item “What should happen to someone who did something like this? Should they have a second chance?” was not an attempt to gauge public opinion. It was a trick question based on the FBI’s “Behavioral Analysis Interview” guide. In general, according to the FBI’s behavioral experts, innocent people “will indicate some significant punishment” while guilty people will be evasive or “may indicate the offender should be asked the reason for committing the crime”.

WMPD officers posed this questionnaire item to several suspects between May 8-15. The Callahan archive records thirteen people’s responses to this questionnaire item, and only one person said the killer(s) should get a second chance: Damien Echols.

This doesn’t prove anything, of course. Echols and Baldwin both answered “death penalty” to this questionnaire item a day earlier. Police asked Echols this questionnaire item twice on consecutive days, which could be considered unfair or unscientific. This “behavioral analysis” trick question technique may be completely unscientific. (Some people consider the FBI’s behavioral sciences experts glorified psychics puffed up by pop culture mythologizing.) On the list of evidence against Echols, this would be waaaaaaay down the list. But it is interesting.

Columns by Todd Moore and Terry Hobbs

Todd Moore (father of murder victim Michael Moore) and Terry Hobbs (stepfather of murder victim Steve Branch) have both written guest columns for the Jonesboro Sun this summer.

On June 6, the Sun published a willfully ignorant editorial titled “Justice Unserved”. Todd Moore’s guest column ran on June 12.

Father of WM3 murder victim certain who killed 3 boys
by Todd Moore

I am the father of West Memphis triple murder victim Michael Moore. I am writing this in response to your editorial in the June 6 edition of The Sun titled “Justice Unserved.” It has always been my opinion that justice was served when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were convicted in 1994 for the brutal murder of my son and his friends.

The three men who slaughtered my son were convicted by two juries that found them guilty in 1994. Despite this, the Arkansas Supreme Court generously granted the murderers the opportunity for a new evidentiary hearing to be held Dec, 5, 2011, to show evidence they claimed proved their innocence. They could have been granted a new trial to prove these claims of innocence. Instead of presenting their “new evidence” in open court last December, they opted to plead guilty to the murders in August 2011 in exchange for time served.

Second District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington agreed to accept the defense’s plea offer for vague reasons we still don’t understand. Family members learned of the deal only at the last minute. The district attorney was new to the case. But whatever the rational, this continued to make the convicts guilty as a matter of law.

The defense team avoided sharing the results of the tests of everything with us by preemptively entering a guilty plea for their clients. Thanks to the plea deal, we may never know exactly what the defense found when the evidence was retested. Absence of DNA evidence does not prove the West Memphis Three (WM3) are innocent. The killers washed most of the evidence away in the water- filled ditch where they drowned my son. There was plenty of other evidence to convict them in 1994 without positive DNA. Most murderers are convicted without DNA evidence.

The defense attorneys for the WM3 had nearly 20 years to find “the real killer” and failed to do so. After nearly two decades and untold millions in donated funds spent, the best they could do was find a hair that may or may not have belonged to Terry Hobbs, step- father of victim Stevie Branch. It was allegedly found on a shoelace used to tie my son. It has never been proven to actually belong to Terry Hobbs.

Even if it was Terry Hobbs’ hair, that fact would prove nothing. Our sons were best friends, and my child spent considerable time in Terry Hobbs’s home and could have picked up the hair on his shoe. This would be “secondary transfer” and makes the hair of no probative value. The defense has even admitted as much. Terry Hobbs did not murder my son. No credible law enforcement official believes so. Neither did Mark Byers, Mr. Bojangles nor any of the other defense red herrings.

Contrary to your editorial, it is not up to police or the prosecutor to continue to look for “the real killer.” The real killers were arrested and charged back in 1993, were found guilty in 1994 and then admitted their guilt in 2011 after getting a lucky break. To his credit, Prosecutor Ellington has stated many times that his door is open to any new leads and evidence presented to him by the WM3 defense teams.

So far, nothing compelling enough to reopen the case has been presented to him. District Attorney Ellington stated as much the day your editorial appeared. This means despite the defense’s grandiose claims prior to the pleas, not one iota of credible evidence has been presented to show their clients’ innocence or even to view the convicted as anything less than what they are as a matter of law and as a matter of fact: guilty.

The WM3 defense team has been well-funded by numerous celebrities who were misinformed by the biased “Paradise Lost” documentaries. These one-sided films left out nearly all of the evidence that demonstrated the guilt of the WM3. They caused thousands of people to support the release of the convicted child killers with a very limited unndcrstanding of the actual facts of the case.

Mr. Wessel, it appears that you, like so many others, got most of your misinformation about this case from these inaccurate documentaries. If you would take the time to dig a little deeper and actually read the case file documents, you would know that there was ample evidence to convict these three men for murdering my son. These documents are readily available on websites such as www.callahan.8k.com.

Here are just a few examples of what was omitted from the documentaries:

• Jessie Misskelley confessed to the crime at least five times to police, prosecutors, even his own attorneys with his hand on a Bible. Misskelley confessed the first time after less than four hours of police questioning. That questioning was done with permission from his father. He continued to repeatedly confess in the year that followed.

• Damien Echols amassed a mental health record 500 pages long in the years immediately prior to the murders. In his own handwriting, he classified himself as a “homicidal, suicidal, schizophrenic, sociopath” just a months before he brutally murdered my son.

• Read Damien Echols’ current Twitter account to discover his deep-seated interest in skulls and the occult. There he also recently described artwork depicting a man sawing off his own arm as “breathtaking.” In addition, Echols is obscenely profiting off the death of my son by selling his narcissistic books, promoting his self-serving movie, and tattooing murder groupies with his “mark.” For two hundred dollars, you can have this sociopath tattoo an “X” on your arm. These Twitter posts and money-making schemes are a slap in the face to me, my family and my dead son.

• The movies omit the fact that these three men had no alibis. Damien Echols’ and Jessie Misskelley’s alibis completely fell apart on the stand in the 1994 trials. Jason Baldwin’s attorneys didn’t even bother to present an alibi.

• Fibers consistent with a robe in Jason Baldwin’s home and a shirt in Damien Echols’ home were found on the victims. Blue candle wax found on Chris Byers’ shirt was consistent with candle wax found in Damien Echols bedroom.

• The crime lab found that three different knots were used to hogtie the three victims with their own shoelaces. This points toward multiple killers rather than one killer. Witnesses say that Mr. Bojangles, the disoriented man near the crime scene that night, had a cast on one arm. No one person could have subdued and hogtied three energetic young boys–not Terry Hobbs and certainly not the one-armed Mr. Bojangles.

• A knife that could have been used in the murders was found in a lake behind Baldwin’s home. It was a unique knife with a place hold a compass on the end that witnesses described as similar to one owned by Echols.

• A car full of eyewitnesses placed Echols near the crime scene, covered with dirt, on the night of the murders.

• Numerous friends, acquaintances and cell-mates came forward with tales of confessions from all three defendants.

Throw out one or even several of those facts, and there would still be enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I sat through those trials. The basic facts need to be put out there. Otherwise, it makes a mockery of my son’s short life.

Then on July 15, the Jonesboro Sun ran a letter from Capi Peck called “Investigate Hobbs”. The Sun published Terry Hobbs’ response on July 26.

Stepfather of WM3 victim says attacks unconscionable
By Terry Wayne Hobbs

The numerous falsehoods and distortions contained in Capi Peck’s letter of July 15 make it is difficult to decide where to begin. I’ll just start with her most outrageous implication. I obviously had nothing to do with the murders of my beautiful stepson, Stevie Branch Jr., and his beloved friends Christopher Byers and Micheal Moore. No legitimate law enforcement officer ever has made this unconscionable claim.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin always have been guilty of those gut-wrenching atrocities. Two juries convicted Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin in 1994. Last August, those convicts stood before the world and, despite whatever spin is put on it, conceded they slaughtered these precious children. Yet, Ms. Peck considers the convicted child killers worthy of her friendship and support.

I can’t tell whether Ms. Peck’s next major falsehood is an outright lie or a simple ignorance of the law. Judge Laser did not “let the WM3 out of prison because a jury hearing all the evidence available would acquit them.” It was the exact opposite. Judge Laser allowed the three killers to enter pleas after he was convinced there was a factual basis to do so. In other words, quite contrary to what Ms. Peck wrote, the judge took the Alford pleas only because he felt the murderers could be found guilty again if their cases went to trial.

Ms. Peck’s version of the events of May 5, 1993, is a complete distortion of what actually happened. The West Memphis Police Department did not consider me a suspect for a very good reason — there was absolutely no basis for them to do so. Further, the police located and arrested the actual murderers. Juries convicted the reasonable parties. The killers later entered pleas that made them guilty as a matter of law. These facts are incontrovertible to anyone but a conspiracy theorist.

Ms. Peck was a cog in the West Memphis Three propaganda machine that generated millions of dollars purportedly to fund the defense. By some estimates, as much as $10 million to $20 million was raised. Ultimately, the money simply reaffirmed the three child murderers are indeed the guilty parties, yet let them walk out of prison.

Prosecutor Scott Ellington recently said the defense has not brought forward a single shred of evidence that would justify the reopening of this case. That must be difficult to explain to gullible donors who were told new evidence would be presented at hearings and would result in new trials. Instead, millions of dollars reportedly spent to investigate and develop new evidence led to three pleas. A year after these plea bargains, the killers remain just as they have been since the day they butchered Stevie, Michael and Christopher.

Most legal observers agree Misskelley wouldn’t have been granted a new trial due to his multiple confessions. Echols and Baldwin would have faced uphill battles due to the evidence against them, including their own admissions of guilt. This is likely why all three decided to plea out rather than go forward with the evidentiary hearings. From news accounts, the defense team subsequently sent Prosecutor Ellingon a “West of Memphis” DVD and unsworn hearsay declarations that would be inadmissible in an Iranian court of law. Apparently $20 million won’t buy as much as in the past.

I previously have been held to be a public figure and therefore am somewhat vulnerable to libelous attacks such as the one Ms. Peck launched on your editorial page. Let me suggest in closing that if anything should be investigated, it isn’t me as the defense’s latest (and probably not last) red herring suspect. No, the focus should be on what actually happened to the millions raised that allowed the murderers to roam the streets but in the process didn’t purchase one iota of exculpatory evidence. That is the true scandal here. There never will be an exoneration because the actual killers were investigated, arrested, convicted and finally conceded they did it. No governor in his or her right mind would issue pardons either.

I understand Capi Peck is a wonderful baker. She should stick to pastries and leave law enforcement, legal proceedings and fundraising for legitimate causes to those more capable and skilled than she is. Ms. Peck, please allow those of us who truly mourn for the actual three victims, some closure. Stevie’s horrific murder devastated me, my ex-wife and our daughter. We deserve peace no matter how much additional money can be generated exploiting this precious boy’s death. That is a matter of simple decency and actual justice. If you have any sense of shame at all you will come to realize as much.

It is the right thing to do — even if it requires someone to bake more after murder groupies no longer blindly throw money into the bill.

Note: the Jonesboro Sun put both these guest columns behind a pay wall. This site does not have permission to reprint them. If the Sun asks me to remove them, I will.

Annals of WM3 Supporter Creepiness: The 2003 Art Show

In September 2003, a Los Angeles art gallery hosted a two-week show entitled “Cruel and Unusual: An Exhibition To Benefit the West Memphis Three”. Marilyn Manson, Exene Cervenka and Shepard Fairey were among the artists. Winona Ryder hosted the opening party, where Jello Biafra gave a spoken-word performance and Mara Leveritt signed copies of her book.

LA Weekly ran a long feature article by Stephen Lemons about the exhibition and the movement. The web version no longer displays photos of the artworks, but you can still read the gushing descriptions. For example:

Two thousand miles west, in an especially funky little cranny of Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights, artist Emmeric James Konrad is hard at work on a giant crucifix in the studio of his townhouse apartment. Actually, the crucifix is still mostly in his mind and in his sketchbook: stark black-and-white images of three murdered 8-year-olds that will form the head and arms of a colossal 8-by-10-foot cross.

“I’ve already told them I want an entire wall,” says Konrad, excitedly. “I’m going to spray-paint a black outline around it. In the center will be the dead kid with the bite marks, on the bottom will be the stepfather, and below him will be the initials of the three kids, a line of red going through them, with the stepdad’s initials below. You know, like a gangbanger’s tags.”

Konrad’s creepy conception incorporates three famous photos of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, as they were in life before their bodies were pulled from the muddy water of a drainage ditch running through a spooky patch of woods known as the Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis, Arkansas. They were found there May 6, 1993, a day after they had been reported missing, naked and tied ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces, like deer after the kill. The “stepfather” Konrad refers to is John Mark Byers, known to the viewers of the award-winning HBO documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations as the belligerent, mullet-headed oaf whose comic self-incriminations are lost on the Keystone Kops at the West Memphis Police Department.

Creepy is right. Creepier than the Lord of the Rings/West Memphis Three crossover fan fiction? Tough call. Both are breathtaking in their way.

Nearly every major alt-weekly has run a pro-WM3 feature at some point. This one is par for the course — dripping with righteous indignation, but totally devoid of skepticism or fact-checking toward the official “Free the West Memphis 3” story.

The art show and LA Weekly puff piece date from the 1996-2007 period, when WM3 supporters and gullible journalists were absolutely 100% positive that John Mark Byers was the real killer. This was based in part on the bogus “human bitemark” evidence hyped in Paradise Lost 2. Four years later, the whole movement switched to accusing Terry Hobbs as the real killer. He’s a belligerent, mullet-headed oaf too, so it’s cool! Did any of the supporters/journalists who accused Byers ever look back and think, “hmmm, Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 and WM3.org and The Devil’s Knot were dead wrong about Byers being the real killer … is it possible they were dead wrong about anything else?”

And what about the sucker who bought Emmeric James Konrad’s masterpiece? Did she ask for her money back? Or did Konrad come by and update the work with Terry Hobbs’s photo and initials?