Jessie Misskelley Sr video clip

Someone dug up and posted this snippet from a local TV news interview with Jessie Misskelley Sr., which aired a few days after Jessie Misskelley Jr. and friends were arrested.

Misskelley Sr.’s statement to the reporter on June 6 or 7 matches what Misskelley Jr. told the police on June 3 — that he was there at the crime scene but did not participate in killing the boys. (In later confessions, Misskelley Jr. would admit greater involvement, including hitting one boy repeatedly and helping remove the victims’ shoelaces to tie them up.)

The exchange with the TV news reporter came up at Misskelley Jr.’s trial, after Misskelley Sr. testified that his son was at home with him at the time of the murders.

(Prosecutor) Brent Davis: Well, did – after your son was arrested, did you grant certain television interviews for reporters and things like that where you went on TV?
Jessie Misskelley Sr.: Yea, I imagine I did.
(Defense lawyer) Dan Stidham: Your Honor, I object to the relevancy of that.
Davis: Your Honor, I’m gonna ask him about some statements he made while he was on TV.
The Court: Go ahead. Overruled.
Davis: Did you go on TV and make some statements?
Misskelley Sr: I imagine I did, there was a bunch of news reporters there, yea.
Davis: Do you recall making the statement that your son may have been there, but you didn’t think he was involved in it?
Misskelley Sr: That was before I found out, that was before I went to work on the case and found out that he was not there. I didn’t have proof or anything, I said “he may have been there, I do not know.” I said “but if he was there he didn’t have anything to do with killing those boys.”

Berlinger and Sinofsky actually included part of this TV news report near the beginning of Paradise Lost — but they edited out the part with Jessie Misskelley, Sr.

Kudos to whoever found this clip and posted it. I did not know it survived.

The Moyer-Clark sighting

In September 2009, three people — Deborah Moyer, Jamie Clark Ballard and Brandy Clark Williams — gave affidavits claiming to have seen Terry Hobbs with the three murder victims outside the Hobbs home at 6:30 PM on May 5, 1993. Jamie Clark was 13 at the time of the murders; Brandy Clark was 11 or 12; Deborah Moyer is their mother. They all lived at 1609 S. McAuley Street, four doors east of the Hobbs house (1601 S. McAuley Street).

If true, this would make Moyer and the Clark girls the last people to see the murdered boys alive. And if true, this sighting would lend great credence to the case against Terry Hobbs (stepfather of Steve Branch) as the real killer.

Here’s what the three new witnesses declared in 2009 (links go to PDF files):

Jamie Clark Ballard:

Approximately between 5:30 and 6:30 PM, I saw Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers playing in my backyard. […] The boys were just playing and screwing around. Stevie was riding a bike. There was also a bayou and a ditch in the backyard. […] Stevie, Michael and Christopher were playing around the ditch. […]

At 6:30 PM on May 5, 1993, which was a Wednesday, my sister and I went out the front door of my house to go out to the car to meet the people who were picking us up to take us to Wednesday night youth group. As I came out into the front yard, I saw Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers come racing between my house and the house next door that was in the direction of the Hobbs’ house. […] While I was out in the front yard in the evening of May 5, 1993, Terry Hobbs hollered at Stevie, Michael and Christopher to get back down to the Hobbs‘ house.

Brandy Clark Williams

On May 5, 1993, around 6:30 PM, my sister Jamie and I were leaving our house to meet the youth group coordinators who were picking us up to drive us to our church youth group meeting. As we were walking down the driveway, I remember seeing Stevie Branch come out of our backyard, around the side of our house, riding his bicycle. Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were running behind Stevie, going in the same direction. […] As we were getting in the youth group coordinators’ car, I remember seeing Stevie’s dad standing in the driveway of his house, a few doors down, while Stevie’s little sister was riding a three—wheeler in the driveway. Stevie’s dad then yelled to the boys to “come back down” to his house, and the boys went in that direction toward him.

Deborah Moyer

On May 5, 1993, approximately between 5:30 and 6:30 PM, I looked out a window in the back of my house and saw three little boys, including the blond boy that lived down the street, playing in my backyard. I knew these boys because I had seen them playing in my backyard before. My backyard backs up to a bayou and there is a ditch that runs along the bayou. […]

At approximately 6:30 PM on May 5, 1993, when I saw that my daughters’ ride was out front, I walked out the front door with Jamie and Brandy to see them off and to say hello to the sponsors. I was going to then go around the corner of the house and tell the boys not to play in the backyard. As I walked out the front door, though, I saw the three boys who had been playing in my backyard, including the blond one who lived down the street, come through between my house and the house to the left of mine (to the left if you were walking out my front door). The blond one was on a bike and the other two were running behind him. At this same time, as I was in front of my house seeing the boys go by between the houses, I saw the man who lived down the street with the blond boy, whom I believed to be the blond boy’s father, yelling for the three boys to get down to his house. He was walking up the sidewalk talking loud to the little blond boy and telling all the boys to get down to his house.

There are obvious reasons to be suspicious of the Ballard-Williams-Moyer affidavits. They waited 16+ years before telling anyone. Even then they didn’t contact law enforcement, they contacted the defense, which had been running local billboards offering a six-figure reward for new information. Their memories are incredibly detailed for something that happened at a specific date and time 16 years earlier.

Ballard and Moyer both address the first issue in their affidavits. Why didn’t they share this information with the police back in May 1993?

Jamie Clark Ballard: “Following the murders, I was aware that there was a search in West Memphis for the killer or killers. I also knew that the West Memphis Three were convicted of the murders. However, I was not aware until very recently that Terry Hobbs has repeatedly stated that he did not see Stevie, Michael, or Christopher at all on the evening of May 5, 1993.”

Deborah Moyer: “I could never understand why no police officer ever came to interview me or my daughters. In fact, I never saw any police officers canvassing the neighborhood interviewing folks about the murders. Of course, had I known that I or my daughters had any information that was important to the investigation of the murders I would have gone to the police. However, I did not know that the fact that those little boys were in my backyard around 6:30 PM on May 5, 1993 was significant. I also did not know that the fact that I saw the father of the blond boy calling the kids that night to come down to his home was significant. If I had known that, or if I had known that my daughters had any important information, I would have contacted the West Memphis Police Department immediately and we would have told them what we knew.”

These explanations stretch credulity. A neighbor’s child was murdered; Jamie was close friends with another victim’s brother; the children were last seen alive around 6:00-6:30 pm; the investigation, arrests and trials were headline news for ten months — and it never once occurred to them that their information was relevant?

Maybe Moyer never saw police in the neighborhood, but they were definitely there. Mr & Mrs Milton Morgan (1605 S. McAuley Street) lived in between the Moyer-Clark house and the Hobbs house. WMPD detective Stan Burch interviewed the Morgans and the Hobbs on May 12 about a young man named Bobby DeAngelo. That line of investigation led to the Morgan’s son Christopher becoming a top suspect. Even if police never knocked on their door, Moyer and the Clark girls could have contacted police on their own. Hundreds of other people did.

The biggest problem with the Ballard-Williams-Moyer affidavits is that they contradict so many eyewitness reports from 1993. Investigators naturally attempted to track the locations and movements of the three victims before they disappeared on May 5. Here are the major witnesses:

John Mark Byers (interrogation 19 May 1993): “When I left the house at 5:30, I left Christopher under the carport with instructions to pick up paper under the carport and clean up the carport.” When JMB arrived home again at 6:15, Christopher was gone.

Melissa Byers (testimony at Misskelley trial): Last saw Christopher “On our carport […] around five-thirty, quarter to six.” Sometime later, before JMB arrived back home, “I went outside hollering for him and he was gone out of the yard.”

Kim Williams (age 8; police interview 8 May 1993): “stated that between 5:30 and 6:00 PM on 5-5-93 she saw Steve and Michael going into Robin Hood into the ditch that goes to the Devil’s Den area. She stated that she also saw their bicycles parked by the road near Goodwin. […] Kim stated that she never saw Christopher that day.”

Debra O’Tinger (lived at 1309 Goodwin; talked to police multiple times, testified at both trials):

(undated police note) “Saw all 3 boys at approx 5:30 or 6:00 PM (5:45 PM) were riding in her yard. Told them not to ride in the yard. Last seen headed toward the trails.”

(handwritten statement for police 30 June 1993): “On Wed May 5, 1993, around 5:30 pm Michael Moore, Steven Branch & Christopher Byers were in the front of my yard. Steve Branch rode the bike in my yard and was running by my small trees we (me – my husband) had just planted. I told the boys could they please get out of my yard and ride on the side walk cause my ground was wet. […] By then when we [Debra & husband] left at 6:00 pm they Christopher, Michael, Steven had went in the wooded area (dead in street). That was the last I saw of them.” [[Note: “dead in street” probably = “dead end street”.]]

Dana Moore (testimony at Misskelley trial):

Q: Later did you see him with somebody else besides Steve Branch?
A: Yes, sir. Chris Byers.
Q: Where did you see them at that time?
A: Going north on 14th Street.
Q: Were they walking or – –
A: They were riding their bikes.
Q: How many bikes were there?
A: There was two bikes.
Q: Who was on what bike?
A: Michael was on his. Chris was on Steve’s, and Steve was on his.
Q: So Chris and Steve were on the same bicycle?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: How far down were they from where you were?
A: Approximately six houses.
Q: What time of the day was it?
A: Six o’clock.
Q: Did you see him any after that?
A: No, sir.

Bryan Woody (talked to John Mark Byers and Gary Gitchell on 5/6 afternoon before bodies were found; testified at E/B trial):

(undated police notes): “Subject stated that around 6:30 – 6:45 he observed 4 w/m with two bycycles going into the Robinhood area off of Goodwin. He stated his mother lives on Goodwin and he works at Radio World and that he remembers 1 of the boys to have blond hair in a spike because his little boy has the same hair style. He stated he grew up in the area + as a kid played in the Robin Hood area.” [At E/B trial, Woody testified that this undated note referred to conversation he had with a police officer, possibly Gitchell, on May 6. Handwriting looks more like Mike Allen.]

(Report by Hester 28 May 1993): “On 5-5-93 at approx. 6:30 P.M. Bryan got off work from Don’s Super Shine and was on his way to his mothers at 1823 Goodwin – went to Barton to Goodwin – turned on Goodwin by East Jr. High. At the dead end of Goodwin by N. 14th he observed 4 W/Ms – 1 was carrying a skate board and 2 bikes going into the dead end toward Robin Hood Hills. Just saw the backs of the boys but from the back one looked like Steven Branch because of the blond spiked hair. [After lunch with mom on 5/6,] he left and went to 14th + Barton and told John Mark Byers what he had seen. They asked if he would help them look – he went and got a 3 wheeler + helped search.”

Bryan Woody gave police another statement in September 1993, then testified at the Echols/Baldwin trial in 1994.

In his 5/19/93 interrogation, John Mark Byers described his encounter with Bryan Woody:

That Thursday evening was probably like 6 … no it wasn’t even that late. They were still searching. They hadn’t found the boys yet. It was a little after lunch time. And I, this fellow talked to Gitchell. But it was a white guy, kind of chunky, heavy-set, had kind of shoulder length wavy hair and said when he had come home the night before 6:30, quarter ’til 7, something like that, that when he drove by there, he had seen 4 people and 2 bicycles. And I thought, you know, are you sure it was 4? He said yeah, it was 4. And that’s when we were right there at my house and I think Gitchell pulled up and I went over and said, Gary there’s a guy that saw ’em. And I think he went and talked to the guy right there. But during the day, the guy was on a like a 180 or a 250 red 3-wheeler helping us look through the day. Kind of heavy-set […] looked maybe to be, I’m going to say 22, 23. But he said he saw 4 people.

According to his subject description form, Bryan Woody was white, 20 years old, 5’8″, 205 pounds. He definitely fits Byers’ description of the guy he talked to.

Here’s a map to help sort out the various sightings. (B=Byers, M=Moore, H=Hobbs/Branch, C=Moyer/Clark, O=O’Tinger homes; W=location described by Woody.)

moyer-clark-woody-map

Ballard and Moyer both claim they saw the three murdered boys playing in their backyard between 5:30 and 6:30 PM. It’s not impossible to make that claim jibe with the 5:30-6:00 PM sightings by Kim Williams, Debra O’Tinger, Melissa Byers and Dana Moore. These were energetic 8-year-olds on bicycles, after all.

But there’s no possible way to make the Moyer-Clark sighting of the three boys in their driveway at 6:30 PM jibe with Bryan Woody’s sighting of the three boys at Goodwin & N. 14th at 6:30-6:45 PM. If Ballard, Williams and Moyer recollect that evening correctly and honestly, then Bryan Woody was lying back in 1993. If Bryan Woody was telling the truth on May 6, 1993, then Ballard, Williams and Moyer are lying.

So the question really boils down to: Which witness is more believable? The guy who told the missing child’s parent and the police what he saw on May 6, before the bodies were discovered? Or the people who waited 16 years to talk?

UPDATE: Billy Sinclair wrote a post about the same topic: The Three “Witnesses” Against Terry Hobbs.

Interview with Greg Day

The book Untying The Knot: John Mark Byers and the West Wemphis Three by Greg Day came out in June 2012. (Before it came out, there was a common misconception that Byers himself was writing this book with Day as collaborator/ghostwriter. However, Greg Day is the sole author.) I read the book last week, then asked Day some questions by email.

DAVID KLEIN: Why does Mark Byers believe that the West Memphis Three were innocent and Terry Hobbs was the real killer? What changed his mind?

GREG DAY: When I started writing the book in August, 2005, Mark was convinced of the guilt of the WM3. In mid-2007 he began meeting with former FBI profiler John Douglas. It was Douglas who told Mark about the discovery of Hobbs’s (and David Jacoby’s) hair at the crime scene. As I said in the book, John Douglas can be a very persuasive man and he persuaded Mark that Hobbs killed his son. I spoke with Douglas several times and couldn’t tell you for sure if he believes his theory, or if it was what Lorri Davis wanted to hear (she was paying the freight after all).

Hobbs lied to Mark about his timeline the night of the murders. He told Mark that he, Terry, came over to Mark’s house at somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. when the facts point to Hobbs coming over at around 8:30 p.m. Even Hobbs’s own statements, made years afterwards, has him at David Jacoby’s during the 6:00-6:30 time frame.

Frankly, I have no trouble believing that 18 years later, Hobbs is unsure about his timeline. During his deposition in the Natalie Maines defamation suit, he repeatedly said that he “didn’t keep track of that type of thing” when it came to dates and times. Probably the toughest question that Hobbs cannot answer goes to why, during the four hours he was supposedly searching for Stevie, did he not tell Pam that the boy was still missing.

KLEIN: What’s your take? In the book, you seem to be less convinced of Terry Hobbs’s guilt.

DAY: I’m not at all convinced of Hobbs’s guilt. You have mtDNA on a single hair shaft and the poor memory of a distraught parent and not much else. The rest of the “evidence” is hearsay (the friends of Michael Hobbs, Jr., and Jamie Clark Ballard), or irrelevant.

KLEIN: To my mind, the campaign against Hobbs looks very similar to the old campaign against Byers. WM3 supporters spent a decade demonizing and framing one victim’s father, then switched to demonizing and framing a different victim’s stepfather, in order to distract from the case against Echols, Baldwin & Misskelley. Todd Moore, Dana Moore and Steve Branch Sr have never wavered from their belief in the WM3’s guilt and Terry Hobbs’s innocence. Does Mark Byers ever consider the possibility that he’s helping his child’s murderers slander another victim’s parent just like they slandered him for so many years? (I realize that you’re not Byers’ spokesman and that the two of you don’t necessarily share the same views.)

DAY: The simple answer is no, I don’t believe that Mark Byers ever considers that he may be wrong about Hobbs. That’s just the way he is. He held one view from 1993-2007, and a different one from then until now. And Mark isn’t alone; Hobbs’s own wife holds the same view, though she equivocates frequently. As far as Todd and Dana Moore and Steve Branch, Sr. go, they all refused to attend the private meeting held by the defense team in late October,2007, several days before the DNA press conference in Little Rock, where the attorneys and expert witnesses presented their case. This was the defense’s attempt to win over the victims’ families the press and the general public. Only Pam Hobbs and John Mark Byers attended.

But you also must realize that the success of the “Free the West Memphis Three” PR machine depends upon finding an alternate suspect. Who really killed Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore on May 5, 1993? This is the short list:

1. Mr. Bojangles
2. Mark Byers
3. Terry Hobbs
4. Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley
5. Somebody else

Byers could have and should have been eliminated immediately; the West Memphis Police did so. On May 19, two weeks after the murders, Byers gave police a 34 page statement to police; Mark has never been one to spare the details. His timeline was solid and irrefutable. Some have criticized police for waiting two weeks to interview Byers. Why did it take them 14 years to interview Hobbs?

KLEIN: I agree about the failure to interview Hobbs in May 1993. I’m not out to defend the WMPD or prosecutors on every point. Gitchell says they did check out Hobbs back then, but no one has ever found a record of that in the WMPD files (and those files have been scoured repeatedly).

DAY: Gitchell is lying. When first asked about it, Hobbs said no one talked to him. Then at the Maines deposition he said, it “seemed” like WMPD did talk to him. He may not really remember, but I don’t believe that for a minute. Gitchell’s lie has an obvious motive: he doesn’t want to admit to such an incompetent blunder.

Until Paradise Lost premiered on HBO in June, 1996, Mark Byers wasn’t on anyone’s radar. I’ve been asked if I ever thought Mark was a viable suspect, and I always laugh. I can’t believe that anyone would take his “performances” seriously. I also never thought that the killer would be as high-profile as Mark was. He was an attention-hog, and in many ways still is. Why else would he join in Pam Hicks’s court action to have access to their sons’ belongings which are still being held as evidence?

KLEIN: Here’s my big criticism of your book. You do a great job examining the bogus accusations that Mark murdered the three boys (possibly with Melissa’s help) and the accusations that Mark murdered Melissa. But when you discuss the case against Echols, Baldwin & Misskelley, your willingness to separate myth from fact and examine the evidence in detail disappears.

For example, discussing Misskelley’s original June 3, 1993, confession, you write: “But Jessie soon recanted his confession ….” That’s not true. Misskelley continued to confess and maintain his guilt to his defense lawyers until late September. Stidham and Crow both stated as much as the Rule 37 hearings. We now have documented confessions by Misskelley to his defense lawyers on June 11, 1993, and August 19, 1993.

DAY: Sorry, but it is true that Misskelley recanted his confession. Had he not done so, he would not have been able to plead not guilty. There was a suppression hearing re: the admissibility of the confession held on January 13, 1994. That amounts to a recantation. Just because he recanted doesn’t mean he was telling the truth. The first order of business for any defense attorney in this situation is have his client recant any confession made, and next, to suppress any introduction of said confession into evidence. My book fully exposes and analyzes all four of Misskelley’s confessions.

KLEIN: I objected to your statement that Misskelley “soon” recanted his confession. He recanted 16 weeks after his 6/3/93 confession, after making several more confessions in private meetings with his defense lawyers, after plea bargain negotiations had broken down. That doesn’t count as “soon” in my book.

And you gloss over Misskelley’s February 1994 confessions in a footnote. You write that the February 8 Bible confession “was still riddled with inconsistencies and lacked the sound of authenticity”. There certainly were inconsistencies, but overall his many confessions are remarkably consistent. You dismiss the February 17 confession as Misskelley “apparently looking for a deal through which he would testify for a reduced sentence”. No discussion of what Misskelley actually said in these long, highly-detailed confessions. Why not?

DAY: I didn’t gloss over anything. It was a 406 word endnote (#34), not a footnote, and the placement was an editorial decision. The book was about JMB and his impact on the case. I cut more than 160,000 words at the publisher’s insistence and really, the case for the guilt—or innocence for that matter—of the WM3 was not the focus of the book (though it is the focus of my next book). It would have been very easy to stray from the central thesis of the book, and it was tempting.

The following is the entire endnote relating to the Misskelley confessions. I think the book was pretty clear that Misskelley equivocated repeatedly regarding his involvement in the murders.

[Endnote #34 referenced on pg. 30] Jessie actually gave four statements regarding the events of May 5. His first was to police at the West Memphis Police Department on June 3, leading to his arrest, along with those of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. After his conviction on February 4, 1994, Jessie allegedly confessed again to the sheriff ’s department deputies who were transporting him from the county jail to the state prison at Pine Bluff, Arkansas. No recording was made of this statement. Jessie gave a third, post-conviction statement to Dan Stidham at attorney Joe Calvin’s office on February 8, 1994. Prosecutors were trying to make a deal with Jessie to testify in the upcoming Echols/Baldwin trial, and Stidham forced Jessie to make this statement with his hand on a Bible (this would become known as the “Bible confession”). Misskelley tried to rehabilitate himself from earlier statements—for example, correcting himself by saying the boys had been tied up with shoelaces, not “brown rope” as he had earlier stated—but the statement was still riddled with inconsistencies and lacked the sound of authenticity. Finally, and against the advice of his attorneys, Jessie made a fourth statement on the eve of the Echols/Baldwin trial, apparently looking for a deal through which he would testify for a reduced sentence. All four statements were similar in style, though some of the details varied. It is very difficult, if not impossible, based on these statements, to determine whether Jessie Misskelley was ever at the crime scene and what, if anything, he saw or did. It is interesting to note, however, that although Jessie agreed to go to the scene with the police to point out the exact location of the murders, he was never taken to Robin Hood Hills. Inspector Gary Gitchell cited “security” concerns as the reason the trip was never made.

It should also be noted that the notorious “twelve-hour interrogation” is something of a misnomer perpetuated by supporters and the media. Misskelley was brought into the station sometime around 10:00 a.m. and questioned prior to being considered a suspect. He was given a polygraph at 12:40 p.m. Given the time it must have taken to interpret the results, report back to Gitchell, and put Jessie under interrogation, it was probably no sooner than 1:00 p.m. that Misskelley was questioned in earnest. The time of the first part of the taped confession was 2:44 p.m., making the total time less than two hours.