Jessie Misskelley maintains guilt to his lawyers – Summer 1993

Contrary to the impression you might get from Paradise Lost, Jessie Misskelley did not recant his confession after 6/3/93. He continued telling his defense lawyers, Dan Stidham and Greg Crow, the same story he told police.

At a Rule 37 hearing in 2008, Stidham discussed one of his early conversations with Misskelley:

There are some notes from an interview with Misskelley in my file. The interview was June 11, 1993. It was marked as State’s Exhibit 12E. It describes what he is telling me, which is that he had seen pictures of the three boys a week before the murder at a cult meeting, the notes continue that the three teens were in the water. Damien hollered at them. Jason hid in the weeds. The boys started fighting with Damien, Jason started fighting with them. Damien stuck his penis in one boy’s mouth, Misskelley hit one of the boys. Jason ‘screwed’ the blond boy in the mouth and in the butt. Misskelley realized it was time to stop. Misskelley helped one of the boys up. Damien screwed the Boy Scout. Jason stabbed one of the boys in the face. Misskelley choked the Boy Scout. Damien and Jason threw them in the water. They were kicking around. All of this was on June 11, 1993. (BMHR 1508). I knew I had to ask him questions because the blond boy wasn’t the one who was castrated, but that is what Misskelley was saying. He was back and forth on what had happened. Misskelley simply couldn’t give me a narrative.

A 1996 Arkansas Times puff piece entitled “John Grisham, meet Dan Stidham”, which Stidham reprints on his personal site, includes more info about Misskelley’s continued admission of guilt.

[Jessie Misskelley] told the lawyers three important things that day. One, yes, he was there when the murders occurred. Two, the police had told him he was going to die in the electric chair (never mind that Arkansas no longer used that form of capital punishment). And three, when Stidham asked him to tell which of the three victims was castrated, Misskelley insisted that it was the blond boy, which was wrong.
* * *
In every meeting Dan and Greg had with their client, Misskelley never wavered from his story. He’d written a letter to his father, however, in which he’d denied doing what he’d confessed to the police.
* * *
Around the first of July, Dan arranged for Jessie Sr. to visit his son in jail. He let them have a few minutes together, and then Dan raised the subject of whether Jessie would testify against the others in exchange for leniency. “What kind of deal are they going to offer?” asked Jessie Sr.

“It’ll depend on how bad they need him,” Dan said.

Suddenly, Jessie Jr. sprang to his feet. “Daddy!” he said, “I wasn’t there! Them cops made me say that shit! You gotta get me out of here!”

It made Dan furious. “Why did you tell me you were there if you weren’t?” he demanded. “Are you afraid to admit it in front of your father?”
* * *
Jessie Misskelley Sr. had become something of a pain. Every time Dan and Greg turned on the news, there was “Big Jessie” talking to the press, telling them a story about his son having been wrestling fifty miles away in Dyess, Arkansas, when the murders were committed. And yet Little Jessie kept telling Dan the story he’d told the police. Dan figured the father was just in denial.

Stidham tape-recorded a conversation with Misskelley on August 19, 1993. This tape was played in open court during Stidham’s testimony at the Rule 37 hearing in 2008, after which Stidham discussed the contents:

[The Court then hears an audio tape of the August 19, 1993 meeting between Mr. Stidham and his client Mr. Misskelley]. Misskelley relayed in that conversation that he had never seen the victims before, and never saw them riding their bikes. (BMHR 1077-1078). He then said that he had seen one bike. He never did anything with their bikes. He had left walking by the Blue Beacon.

On the tape, Misskelley said that he did not recall a stick in the creek. Echols carried a carved stick, but Misskelley did not remember if he had it with him that day. When he left, the boys’ clothes were piled up by the creek. Baldwin had a pocket knife, a Buck knife. (BMHR 1081). Baldwin’s knife was one he sometimes carried with him.

There are plenty of variations in Misskelley’s serial confessions for WM3 supporters to point to. But it’s very clear that Misskelley had not recanted. He was still telling his lawyers the same story he had told the cops eleven weeks earlier, the same story he would repeat in February 1994 after his trial.

In his Rule 37 testimony, Stidham said that Misskelley first declared his innocence around September 21 to September 24, 1993 — sixteen weeks after his original confession to police.

The Arkansas Times article describes the origins of the “false confession” defense.

The day Misskelley pleaded Not Guilty [August 4, 1993], a man named Ron Lax approached Dan and Greg and asked if they wanted to have lunch. Lax, a private investigator from Nashville, Tennessee, had been working for Damien’s attorneys. Lax “has strong feelings about the death penalty,” Stidham says.

During lunch, Lax said, “Have you ever heard of Dr. Richard Ofshe?” He pronounced the name Off-shay. It didn’t matter–neither Dan nor Greg knew who he was. Lax went on to explain that Ofshe, a professor of social psychology at Berkeley, was an expert with cults–he’d consulted with a news team that later won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating Synanon. More to the point, he was an expert on brain-washing, police interrogations, and “false confessions,” and had worked on the Oregon case of a man who had “confessed” to his daughter’s recovered-memory charges of rape.

So the “false confession” defense did not come about because Jessie Misskelley insisted his confession was false. It came about because Dan Stidham took up the “false confession” idea, at the urging of Damien Echols’ defense team. Misskelley himself didn’t get with the program until weeks later. And after the “false confession” defense failed at trial, Misskelley returned to his original, truthful admission of guilt.