Hearing 3/27/2013

There was a very strange court hearing in Marion yesterday. Some accounts:

WREG Memphis: New Possible Suspects In 1993 West Memphis Murders
Trench Reynolds: WM3 defense accuse new ‘suspects’ with pot smoking gay tryst scenario

Here are two newspaper article currently behind pay walls. Jody Callahan writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

An attorney representing the mother of one of the boys murdered in the infamous 1993 West Memphis case filed affidavits in court Wednesday naming four men, all of whom have connections to the case, as the killers.

With West Memphis Three member Jason Baldwin a spectator in the Marion, Ark., courtroom, attorney Ken Swindle presented sworn statements that he says implicate Terry Hobbs, David Jacoby, Buddy Lucas and L.G. Hollingsworth in the killings. Although all four have been involved in the case over the past 20 years, none has ever faced any charges.

Swindle is representing Pam Hicks, mother of victim Stevie Branch, in her lawsuit seeking to examine the evidence that belonged to her son. Swindle contends this new evidence serves as proof that authorities are no longer actively investigating the case, since police have not followed it up, and that Hicks — formerly married to Hobbs — should be allowed to see her son’s belongings. A ruling in the case is expected by Monday.

Just a few weeks shy of the 20th anniversary of the murders of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, the controversial case still captivates and divides the public.

Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were convicted of the killings in 1994, with Echols sent to Death Row. However, as questions about their guilt continued to mount, aided by the money and star power of numerous celebrities, the three won their release in 2011. While some were angered with that decision, others praised it as delayed justice.

According to a pair of sworn statements submitted by Swindle, four other men brutally murdered the three boys in the infamous case after the children surprised them while they were drinking and smoking pot.

“He murdered those boys,” Swindle said, indicating Jacoby, who was standing in the back of the courtroom Wednesday after he was subpoenaed to appear.

Jacoby, who earlier came under suspicion after a hair consistent with his DNA was found near the murder scene, repeatedly denied any involvement.

“They’re terribly wrong,” Jacoby said. “All I did was walk out there in the woods with other people, looking for those kids. They said they found my DNA, my hair near the scene. I can see that. I was out there looking for the kids.”

Mark Byers, stepfather of victim Chistopher Byers, was also in the courtroom Wednesday. As he has in the past, the volatile Byers threatened violence against those he believes killed his stepson. His target Wednesday was Jacoby.

“There was a guilty party in this room today who killed my son. It’s all I can do not to grab ahold of him,” Byers said. “If it had been 1993, I probably would have done it.”

As the media pursued Jacoby out of the courthouse, Byers followed. Jacoby told Byers he was “terribly wrong” in his accusations, to which Byers responded, “Liar. You’re a liar.”

Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart both gave sworn affidavits to Swindle, saying that Buddy Lucas admitted his involvement to them.

According to Guy, Lucas confessed to him in March 1994, then again a few months later.

“Well, me and L.G. Hollingsworth and them two, we done it. We killed them little boys,” Lucas said, according to Guy.

In July 1995, Guy added that he was arrested and found himself sharing a cell with Hollingsworth, who died in a car accident in 2001.

According to Guy, he convinced Hollingsworth to admit his guilt and share details. Guy said that Hollingsworth told him that he and Lucas had been walking in Lakeshore Trailer Park when Hobbs and Jacoby drove up, asking where to buy marijuana.

Lucas and Hollingsworth directed them to Stewart, then went along for the ride. At that point, Stewart tells a similar story, but says that when they drove up to buy weed, he saw Hobbs kiss Jacoby. Stewart added that his son also saw them kissing on a later occasion. He said that a few days after the murders, he also delivered pot, cocaine and crystal meth to Hobbs at a Memphis gay bar called J-Wags.

In April 1995, Stewart said that Guy told him of Lucas’s confession, so he asked Lucas about it. Lucas confessed again, he said, giving details.

According to the affidavits, Lucas said that the quartet drank whiskey, smoked pot and drove around, eventually ending up in the wooded area where the murders took place. Lucas told Stewart that Hobbs and Jacoby made the two teenagers wrestle after they got to the woods.

At that point, both Guy and Stewart say that the boys surprised them by riding up on their bikes. Hobbs ordered them to chase down the boys. Lucas then told Stewart that he and Hollingsworth were forced to hold the boys while Jacoby and Hobbs beat them. They then stripped the bodies, dumped them in the water and hid the bicycles. The bodies were found the next day.

Lucas couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

And Gary Meece writes in the West Memphis Evening Times:

The “West Memphis 3” case took yet another strange twist in its long, convoluted history Wednesday as a lawyer for a slain child’s mother, Pam Hicks, alleged that her ex-husband, his guitar-playing buddy and two teens killed three Cub Scouts on May 5, 1993.

The allegations came in two affidavits delivered to Judge Victor Hill at the end of a hearing on access to evidence in the case, with lawyer Ken Swindle urging that the information in the 80-page packet be considered before making a ruling in the case.

The allegations against Hobbs, David Jacoby, L.G. Hollingsworth and Buddy Lucas were based on sworn statements given by Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart to Swindle, based on alleged admissions from Buddy Lucas.

Guy said Lucas confessed to him on two occasions in 1994.

While sharing a jail cell with Hollingsworth in 1995, Guy claims he talked Hollingsworth into giving details on the killings. Lucas also supposedly confessed again to Stewart in 1995.

The new suggested narrative, with many parallels to the original case, goes like this: All four met up during a drug buy in Lakeshore Trailer Park. The four drove around getting high until they ended up at Robin Hood Hills, where the three boys surprised them. After the teens captured the boys,, Hobbs lost his temper when a boy kicked him, prompting the others to begin beating the boys. Hobbs used a pocket knife to mutilate two of the boys, the affidavits allege. The four stripped the bodies and dumped them in the water and hid the bicycles, the papers allege.

Hobbs never has been a suspect in the case and repeatedly has denied any involvement in the killings.

Jacoby, who was in the courtroom Wednesday answering a subpoena, denied any involvement in the killings when asked by reporters while the adoptive father of one of the boys, John Mark Byers, just a few steps away, made barely veiled threats against him, in the florid style prominently featured in “Paradise Lost” documentaries about the case.

There has been a long history of claims of alternative suspects in the case, most notably John Mark Byers.

Terry Hobbs is the stepfather of victim Stevie Branch. Hobbs has became a favorite target of so-called “supporters” of the West Memphis 3, based on some inconsistent statements about his whereabouts on the evening of the killings and a strand of hair found in one of the boy’s shoelaces that could possibly be his, based on DNA.

Jacoby was a friend of Hobbs. The two have said they played guitars together early in the evening on May 5, 1993, and later searched for the missing boy.

Hollingsworth, who died in 2001 in an auto accident, told investigators in the original case that Echols made incriminating statements to him shortly after the murder. Hollingsworth had complex ties to the case, having spent part of the day around Domini Teer, Damien Echols’ then 15-year-old pregnant girlfriend; having been in an auto accident that day in a car with his aunt, Narlene Hollingsworth, a major witness in the case, and having been at the laundromat where Narlene Hollingsworth was headed when she and her family saw what they testified were Echols and Teer walking in muddy clothes near the murder scene on the evening the boys were killed. L.G. Hollingsworth, who gave confusing and contradictory statements to investigators, also told police that Echols had made incriminating statements to him shortly after the murders.

Lucas also had ties to the case, having told original investigators that Jessie Miskelley, a Highland Park neighbor whose confessions were pivotal in the original case, cried while giving him the shoes Miskelley wore the evening of the murders, telling Lucas that he and Echols and Baldwin killed the boys. Lucas told investigators in initial questioning almost 20 years ago that he was at a family barbecue at Highland Trailer Park on the evening of the murders. Lucas later recanted his story about Miskelley’s admission to him, failed a lie detector test about why he changed the story and then told investigators he lied about the changes in his story because he was scared.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, Judge Hill appeared ready to order that the personal effects of the 8-year-old victims be handed back to the families.

“This is their property,” he said. “The state cannot take it from them.”

Both sides, in a hearing that mostly involved cleaning up lingering issues in an October ruling on access to evidence, attempted to dial back his enthusiasm, with Swindle, representing Pam Hicks, formerly Pam Hobbs, telling the court that his clients simply wanted to see the physical evidence.

“We don’t want it back; we just want to see what’s there,” said Swindle.

West Memphis City Attorney David Peeples noted that state law demands that the items be retained and also continued to argue that the West Memphis Police Department, which has made overtures to Hicks about allowing her and some other family members to see some of the personal effects, is under no obligation under the State Freedom of Information Act to allow review of any physical evidence. Peeples noted that careful preservation of the items could prove crucial if further breakthroughs in forensics yield new evidence.

“We owe it to the victims, to the families, to the men who have been convicted in this case that the evidence be preserved,” said Peeples.

The hearing in the courthouse in Marion involved somewhat fine points of law, with Judge Hill promising a ruling on Monday on motions sought by Hicks’ attorney. Still at issue is whether the FOI extends to the review of physical evidence and whether Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington has an ongoing investigation into the murders, despite the convictions and guilty pleas of the so-called “West Memphis 3.”

Swindle said the affidavits had bearing on whether Ellington is conducting an ongoing investigation into the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. .

Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Miskelley, all area teenagers at that time, were convicted of the murders in 1994.

The three dead boys were found May 6, 1993, in a muddy ditch in a formerly wooded area near the service road in West Memphis; Miskelley’s multiple confessions described how the boys were beaten, tied up and drowned; Branch and Byers were mutilated and raped, according to Miskelley’s statements, which he has since disclaimed. The three were released in August 2011 under a plea deal in which they pleaded guilty but were allowed to continue to assert their innocence.

Baldwin was in court Wednesday, although he admitted to the swarm of TV reporters afterward that he had not paid much attention to the proceedings. Baldwin was not a party in the motions.

Baldwin told the reporters he was going to school and trying to get his life back together and he embraced his mother, Gail, for the cameras.

Also on hand for the camera was John Mark Byers, who has attempted to claim standing in the motion to see the evidence.

Byers held up a copy of the papers that Swindle had given Judge Hill and claimed that the document would exonerate the so-called “West Memphis 3.”

Danny Owens, an assistant to Swindle, also drew the attention of the cameras as he claimed Ellington had not actively investigated evidence delivered to his offices on Feb. 22, 2012.

The court actions Wednesday stemmed from Judge Hill’s ruling in October stating that Hicks, who was not present for the hearing Wednesday, would not be allowed to see evidence in the case.

Much of the argument Wednesday revolved around once again whether Ellington had an ongoing investigation into the killings. If the case is not ongoing, then the materials are subject to be opened under Freedom of Information rules.

The position of the prosecutor’s office, as set forth once again on Wednesday, is that the case of the “West Memphis 3” is closed, and hence the records are open, which is not the case with the ongoing investigation.

If these newspapers ask me to take down their reposted article, I will do so.

Some background on Buddy Lucas: Jessie Misskelley’s confession to Buddy Lucas. And I recently added a page about L.G. Hollingsworth to the case history section.

Both new accusers, Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart, are serving long prison sentences. That doesn’t prove they’re lying. There are plenty of more obvious reasons to believe they’re lying.

Callahan has added the Bennie Guy and Billy Stewart affidavits to its Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers v. WMPD et al page. (Thanks, Frank.)

A Real Journalist Reviews West of Memphis

The West Memphis Evening Times has a scathing review of West of Memphis written by Gary Meece. The article is only available to subscribers on their website, so I’m reprinting the whole thing here.

“West of Memphis, east of the truth”
by Gary Meece
West Memphis Evening Times – March 12, 2013

“West of Memphis” is here.

It’s in that desolate expanse of gumbo soil between the rotting Mayflower Apartments and the service road, on a weedy knoll that used to be the infamous Robin Hood Hills.

At this point, that bleak and forbidding site will yield as many new clues as to what actually occurred here May 5, 1993, as any other contemporary source anyone is likely to come across.

But they’ll keep trying, those “supporters.”

Before there were “supporters,” there was the first “Paradise Lost” documentary, which seemed to establish that the three Metallica-loving teens were arrested by incompetent police and convicted by conniving prosecutors in the brutal murders of three West Memphis 8-year-olds, all based on the flimsiest of evidence and fueled by Satanic panic over the teens’ strange preferences for black T-shirts and long hair in a throwback, inbred community that had never been exposed to lovers of hard rock and Stephen King novels.

By the time the second “Paradise Lost” movie rolled out, shameless camera-hog John Mark Byers, adoptive father of one of the three boys, was being suggested as the likely culprit.

Funny, but Byers’ whereabouts that night always have been fairly well-documented so the suggestion that he was directly involved in the brutal slayings has been and remains a “straw man” argument. It’s barely possible that he somehow could have slipped off into the woods, brutalized those boys and thrown them hogtied into the water, but it’s not credible. He was loud, though, and huge and kind of scary and had a trifling but real criminal record and liked to play around with guns, and hence was an all-too-easy target. The filmmakers didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The Arkansas author of the book on which the upcoming feature film about the case is based also could not resist pegging Byers as “a person of interest,” despite much evidence to the contrary.

By the third “Paradise Lost” feature and now with the fourth documentary in general release, Byers fell off the hook and the favored “culprit” has become yet another grieving dad in the case. We all have had moments we would not wish to share with the world, and Terry Hobbs, somewhat understandably given the nature of the wrongs done his family, has had more than his share of those moments, dug up for all to see. Mysterious overheard third-hand conversations about “family secrets,” allegations of a sometimes-nasty disposition from an ex-spouse and angry ex-inlaws, the discovery of a single hair that may or may not be from Hobbs (and with a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why it would be in a shoelace if it is his) make an even weaker case for prosecution than the supposedly feeble ones represented in the “Paradise Lost” epic. The ironies abundant in the latest round of accusations are absolutely lost on producers Peter Jackson and Damien Echols and their crew.

Other misrepresentations and obfuscations abound. Let’s give it this: It’s an artful look at West Memphis and environs, and we are not likely to see many such others.

“West of Memphis,” fourth movie about the case, is an advocacy documentary; it’s the movie that the aptly nicknamed “Icky,” his jailhouse bride Lorri Davis and their various movie star/rock god “supporters” wanted made. It’s been quite an effective piece of propaganda, directed by Amy J. Berg. It shamelessly exploits the memories of three little boys, Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, whose families still suffer from their loss and from the many subsequent traumas visited upon them by this remarkable case.

If you go to the rottentomatoes.com Web site and survey the comments of critics large and small around the country, you’ll discover a couple of things.

One, seemingly every newspaper and Web site in the country that bothered to review “West of Memphis” unthinkingly accepted the premise the “West Memphis 3” were at the very least unjustly accused and convicted; many reviewers cluelessly have asserted their innocence, as if the killers were somehow exonerated by multiple convictions and by the plea-bargained guilty pleas that got them out of prison.

Two, virtually every newspaper and Web site in the country that ran a review employed the services of movie reviewers who know nothing about the case except what they’ve seen at the movies, and many of them can’t get even those details right.

Over the course of two hours and 30 minutes, “West of Memphis” supposedly demolishes the prosecution’s case against the West Memphis 3, or so bray the critics.

It largely does so by simply omitting the prosecution’s case. While far too much of the movie is taken up with Terry Hobbs’ supposed lack of an alibi, the movie suggests that the real culprits, with a real lack of alibis, have alibis that prove these teens just couldn’t have committed the crime. This is pure bunkum. Echols flat-out admitted on the stand that he and his family shaped their constantly changing and wildly divergent explanations to suit the changing circumstances. A woman who was at that time one of his 12-year-old girlfriends (not to be confused with his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend) says she can provide an Echols alibi though she never took the stand in the 1994 trial, probably because her statements to the police offered no alibi. The Miskelley defense’s weak attempt at an alibi was demolished in the courtroom; the jury didn’t believe his witnesses provided an alibi, for a number of good reasons. Jason Baldwin’s explanation of his whereabouts was so weak that his attorney didn’t even try to present alibi testimony, and Baldwin offers none here. Where was he? What was he doing if he wasn’t brutally attacking and raping those boys? And yet we’re supposed to take his word that he has an explanation now? Sadly, many of our nation’s top film critics already have.

Like “Paradise Lost,” “West of Memphis” uses the “CSI factor” to play upon the audience’s prejudice that police investigators should be all-knowing, with all the forensics details immediately at hand to determine the truth with cool scientific ease. Real work is a lot sloppier than that, but then the West Memphis 3, their celebrity pals and many of their supporters aren’t that familiar with real work. Was the investigation perfect? Of course not. Did the prosecutors work hard to make their case and sometimes misstep? Of course they did. Did the medical examiner get some things wrong? Quite possibly, but that’s no reason why we should have to watch snapping turtles tear flesh off corpses just to make a point that would be more relevant if snapping turtles had tied up the boys, beaten them and thrown them in the water. And did Terry Hobbs slash open his stepson’s face and otherwise mutilate these children? Or was all the gore caused by snapping turtles? One supposes the filmmakers would like to have it both ways, as long as they can continue to argue for pardons.

The linchpin of the case is that Jessie Miskelley gave multiple and fairly consistent confessions before, during and after his arrest; anyone who can count can determine that the length of the interrogations has been routinely mistated. And it is misrepresented here. The police did not “sweat” the boy; he apparently wanted to talk. Unlike the other two in this case, Miskelley still had a smidgen of moral intelligence in May and June of 1993. He knew he had done wrong, and it often brought him to tears.

As for Baldwin and Echols, there are no signs yet that there is a soul in there.

Wow. Just wow. There are a few real journalists left, the kind with functioning bullshit detectors and a willingness to check facts rather than regurgitate the conventional wisdom.