The View fawns over Damien Echols

Holy fuck, now I’ve seen everything. Damien Echols was a guest on The View last week, and the hosts ate up every word.

Jeanine Pirro used to be a district attorney and a judge in New York. Did she bring the same astuteness to her job back then? “Well, Mr. Berkowitz, if you say you were out of town on the dates in question, that’s good enough for me. Case dismissed.”

Is Damien Echols in The Hobbit?

Last fall, several media outlets reported that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh might give Damien Echols a small role in The Hobbit. The main source was Roger Friedman, formerly celebrity gossip guru for Fox News and now author/proprietor of Showbiz 411: Damien Echols to Publish Memoir, May Be A Hobbit.

I haven’t seen any confirmations or denials or updates since then. Maybe Echols is a hobbit, maybe not.

And why not? The Hobbit is a beloved children’s book. Damien Echols is a beloved child murderer. Putting him in the film adaptation makes perfect sense.

West of Memphis misses Oscar short list

The Oscar competiton for Best Documentary Feature switched to a two-tier process this year. The five official nominees will be announced in January as usual, but the Academy’s documentary branch announced a short list of fifteen contenders this week, narrowed from 126 submissions.

Among the films missing the short list is West of Memphis, the documentary produced by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Amy Berg, Lorri Davis, Damien Echols et al (in theaters Christmas Day).

Not surprisingly, the WM3 murder groupie nation is outraged over this “snub”.

Myself, I’m pleasantly surprised.

The only film on the short list I’ve seen is The House I Live In, which is excellent.

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.)


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.

Gullible Journalists

America’s most beloved mass murderer published his second memoir, and it made the New York Times bestseller chart in its first week. The chart blurb states that the author was “released last year after serving 17 years on a wrongful conviction” — no cautious words like “alleged” or “controversial”, just a flatout assertion that the conviction was wrongful.

This case has been a low point in American journalism. Again and again and again, journalists just regurgitate the mythical tale of the West Memphis Three presented in the Paradise Lost films, without the slightest bit of skepticism or fact-checking. There’s no excuse for this laziness, since the West Memphis child massacre is the most accessibly documented criminal case ever (with the possible exception of the JFK assassination) thanks to the Callahan archive.

Some recent examples:

Janet Maslin, New York Times: “It was Mr. Echols’s teenage taste for the occult, heavy metal and black clothing — a look inspired by Mr. Depp in Edward Scissorhands, he says — that initially made him a target for the vindictive and provincial police in West Memphis, Ark.”

That’s the myth. In the real world, West Memphis police initially suspected Echols because of his history of violent assaults and threats; well-documented psychosis, psychopathy and homicidal fantasies; and three psychiatric institutionalizations after violent incidents in the year before the murders. Their suspicions were heightened when eyewitnesses reported seeing him walking near the crime scene covered in mud hours after the victims went missing. That’s not vindictive and provincial, that’s just ordinary police work.

Eliot Spitzer, Slate: “Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three told of the horrors of spending 18 years on death row, wrongly convicted because of a town’s anger and need for vengeance. … As the Echols case makes so clear, coerced interrogations continue to be the bane of fair trials. Here too, technology has an answer. As one who was a prosecutor for many years, I can tell you that having a tape recording of interrogations would help everybody.”

I agree with Spitzer on the value of recording interrogations. The WMPD should have started taping Jessie Misskelley’s interrogation at 12:40 pm on June 3, 1993. They also should have taped the interrogation of Damien Echols on May 10, 1993. That said, there’s no evidence that either interrogation was “coerced”. Many of the claims made by pro-WM3 activists, like the alleged 12-hour interrogation of Misskelley, are obvious lies that can be easily checked. The Arkansas Supreme Court reviewed questions of coercion vs voluntariness on appeal and rejected the defense’s claims. Anyone who still insists Misskelley was “coerced” should read that decision and explain where the ASC got it wrong. But lazy journalists prefer to keep repeating the movie version of events rather than do even minimal research.

And there’s no guarantee that recorded confessions will make any difference for someone like Spitzer who prefers myth over facts. We now have transcripts of tape-recorded confessions made by Jessie Misskelley in private meetings with his defense lawyer on August 19, 1993 (PDF) (eleven weeks after his arrest) and February 8, 1994 (after his conviction). The tape-recording of Misskelley’s February 17, 1994 confession has long been available for anyone to listen to. Did Spitzer read/listen to them before doing a TV segment and writing a column about the case?

American journalists don’t routinely parrot the pro-defense line when covering high-profile murder cases. The conventional wisdom holds O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson and Drew Peterson guilty, even though the evidence against them is much weaker than the evidence against Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley. So what is it about this case?

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.