Jessie Misskelley’s 6/3/93 confession: discrepancies

Jessie Misskelley’s recorded statements on 6/3/93 contained numerous inaccuracies, details which contradicted the known facts of the case. Everyone agrees on that much. However, WM3 supporters and non-supporters disagree on what those inaccuracies mean. Supporters believe they prove that Misskelley’s confession was false — he got the details wrong because he wasn’t there. Non-supporters believe Misskelley intentionally included a few lies in an otherwise true confession.

The main discrepancies were:

  • In his second recorded statment, Misskelley said that Damien and Jason tied up the three victims with brown rope. The victims were really tied up with their own shoelaces.
  • In his first recorded statement, Misskelley initially said that he met Damien and Jason at 9:00 AM. Later he said that the killings took place around noon and that the three victims had skipped school that day. In the second recorded statement, Misskelley changed the time to “five or six”, then changed it again to “seven or eight”, then added “I remember it was starting to get dark.” In fact, all three victims attended school that day and were last seen alive around 6:30 PM.
  • Early in his first recorded statement, Misskelley described seeing Jason Baldwin use a knife to cut Christopher Byers’ groin area. That matched the autopsy evidence — Byers had his testicles and the skin from his genitals sliced off, and he died from those injuries. Later in that statement, however, Misskelley described seeing Baldwin or Echols kill Byers by choking him with a large stick. The autopsy showed no evidence of this choking.
  • Misskelley repeatedly tried to end his story by claiming “and then I left”, only to continue recounting what happened next.
  • Misskelley said he saw Baldwin and Echols anally raping the Byers and Branch boys, but the autopsy showed no evidence of anal penetration on either boy. (This wasn’t 100% conclusive.)

WM3 supporters consider the time discrepancy to be key evidence proving Misskelley’s confession false. Jessie didn’t even know when the killings took place! Detectives believed that Misskelley was intentionally lying about the time for his own reasons, maybe just to mess with them or maybe to give himself an alibi.

After his conviction, Misskelley gave his own reasons for the time and rope/shoelaces discrepancies. Officer Moody, in his account of Misskelley’s 2/4/94 police car confession, reported: “Jessie said he lied about the time and the rope to ‘trick the police and to see if they were lying.’” In his 2/17/94 recorded confession, Misskelley acknowledged this ruse again.

MISSKELLEY: We tied’m up.

DAVIS: Ok. Now you said before when the police asked you in their statement and asked you what they were tied up with. And you said they were tied up with rope. Ah..

MISSKELLEY: I made that up.

DAVIS: Why?

MISSKELLEY: Tied to get off, you know get’m off track.

Misskelley never addressed the “choking Byers with a stick” inaccuracy in his February 1994 post-conviction statements. Non-supporters assume this was another ruse on Misskelley’s part.

Misskelley’s frequent claims that “and then I left”, each immediately disproven when he described what happened next, are easy to understand. Misskelley wanted to downplay his own role in the crime and blame everything on Baldwin and Echols. He screwed up early in his first recorded statement when he admitted chasing down Michael Moore and preventing his escape; that act alone made him fully culpable in Moore’s murder. But throughout his 6/3/93 statements, he repeatedly downplayed his own responsibility compared to Echols and Baldwin. “And then I left” was one way of doing this. In his February 1994 confessions, Misskelley admitted greater participation in the crimes (hitting the victims with sticks, helping pull out their shoelaces to tie them up).

The anal rape discrepancy is a true mystery. Misskelley said he saw Baldwin and Echols “screwing” the boys. At one point he said, “Damien was screwing one of them up the ass and stuff.” Misskelley said the same thing in his 2/4/94 and 2/17/94 statements. But the autopsy did not show any sign of anal rape on the three victims. So what really happened? One possible explanation: Baldwin and Echols took their pants off and made screwing motions with their victims but never actually achieved penetration. WM3 supporters consider this discrepancy further proof that Jessie fabricated his whole story. I consider it a minor mystery.

WM3 supporters call Misskelley’s story fantastic, incoherent and incompatible with the known facts. This is not true. Aside from the easily explained discrepancies listed above, Misskelley’s 6/3/93 story was perfectly coherent and matched the evidence. He correctly described details of the crime that had not been made public. He told the same basic story in three February 1994 post-conviction confessions (2/4, 2/8, 2/17).

The most telling detail: Misskelley correctly identified which boy had been cut on his face (Branch), which boy had been cut on his groin (Byers) and which boy had not been cut at all (Moore). There were widespread rumors that one victim was sexually mutilated, but the breakdown of each victim’s injuries had not been made public.

So why exactly would Misskelley lie about specific details in an otherwise true confession? His mindset at the time makes it understandable.

  • Unlike his two cohorts, Misskelley felt contrition and horror at what he had done. That’s how detectives got him to confess.
  • Misskelley was angry at Echols and Baldwin for getting him involved in the killings. That’s another reason he confessed and told police everything that Baldwin and Echols did.
  • Misskelley didn’t want to go to prison. That’s why he initially denied any involvement. Once he was caught, he wanted to limit his punishment. That’s why he fudged details and downplayed his role in the crime. This is quite common with criminal confessions.

I’m no psychologist or mind-reader, so take this explanation with a grain of salt.

But you should also be skeptical of the supporter argument that Misskelley’s 6/3/93 confession must have been false because he got a few details wrong.