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.