New alternative suspect: Terry Hobbs

In 2007, a new alternative suspect emerged in the killings: Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch. Defense lawyers and WM3 supporters have subjected Terry Hobbs to an incredibly vicious smear campaign since then. But just as there was no real evidence against John Mark Byers, there is no real evidence against Terry Hobbs.

The case against Hobbs rests on a hair found on one of the shoelace used to tie up Michael Moore. The Damien Echols defense team had this hair tested for DNA in 2006-2007 (see Exhibit AA). That DNA testing narrowed the possible sources of that hair to about 1.5% of the population, which included Terry Hobbs and excluded Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley.

WM3 supporters called this “new DNA evidence that proves the WM3 were innocent”. Some even called it proof that Terry Hobbs was the real killer.

Assuming that hair came from Terry Hobbs, does this really prove he was present at the killings? Of course not. One of the three boys could have picked up that hair while inside the Hobbs home, hours or days before they entered the woods. The shoelaces used to hogtie the three victims were mixed up, so that shoelace might have belonged to Steve Branch. Michael Moore and Chris Byers frequently spent time in the Hobbs home, so having a hair from that home on their shoelaces would not be surprising. In short, that hair does not link Terry Hobbs to the murders; it simply proves that Terry Hobbs lived in the same house as his stepson.

The Echols defense tested another hair taken from a tree stump at the crime scene. That DNA test (see Exhibit BB) narrowed the possible sources of that hair to about 7% of the population, which included Hobbs’ friend David Jacoby and excluded Hobbs, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley. Some WM3 supporters cite this as evidence that Jacoby helped Hobbs commit the murders. This is a real stretch. The hair wasn’t on the victims’ bodies or clothing, just on a tree stump nearby. That hair was retrieved by a forensic analyst at least two weeks after the murders. There’s no reason to assume the hair got there at the time of the killings, and there’s no reason to assume that it was David Jacoby’s hair.

In late 2007, Terry Hobbs filed a defamation lawsuit against Natalie Maines (real name Natalie Pasdar) of the Dixie Chicks, a staunch supporter of the WM3. Many figures in the WM3 case gave depositons for this lawsuit, which Hobbs eventually lost.

Among those casting suspicion on Terry Hobbs were his ex-wife, Pam Hobbs (mother of victim Steve Branch) and three of Pam Hobbs’ sisters. Pam Hobbs stated in her deposition (PDF; pp 61-70):

After the murders my sister Jo Lynn McCauhey and I found in Terry’s nightstand a knife that Stevie carried with him constantly and which I had believed was with him when he died. It was a pocket knife that my father had given to Stevie, and Stevie loved that knife. I had been shocked that the police did not find it with Stevie when they found his body. I had always assumed that my son’s murderer had taken the knife during the crime. I could not believe it was in Terry’s things. He had never told me that he had it.

Also, my sister Jo Lynn told me that she saw Terry wash clothes, bed linens and curtains from Stevie’s room at an odd time around the time of the murders.

John Mark Byers stated in his deposition (PDF; pp 114-122) that “I believe Terry Hobbs was involved in the murders.” This was a surprising turnaround for Byers, who had consistently voiced his belief in the WM3′s guilt — and frequently been accused of the crime himself by WM3 supporters — for fourteen years.

Why did Pam Hobbs, her sisters and John Mark Byers turn on Terry Hobbs more than a decade after the fact? Who knows. But their statements offer little but innuendo and sniping, nothing that even begins to counter the evidence against the WM3.

Terry Hobbs did a videotaped interview with WMPD detectives and a videotaped deposition for the Pasdar lawsuit, both in 2007. He denies any involvement in the killings

In 2009, three witnesses came forward claiming that they saw Terry Hobbs with the three boys the evening of the murders. From the Jonesboro Sun:

In affidavits presented to the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday, sisters Jamie Clark Ballard and Brandy Clark Williams and their mother, Deborah Moyer, claim to have seen Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore at 6:30 p.m. May 5, 1993.

The boys were playing in Moyer’s backyard when Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, yelled at the boys and told them to go to his house, according to court documents.

Ballard, then 13, said she spoke to Byers, telling him his older brother was looking for him. Williams, who was 11 at the time, and Ballard then left for church, documents state. Moyer said she went outside to tell the boys to get out of her yard, and she saw a man with blond hair standing down the street yelling at the boys.

The Ballard/Williams/Moyer testimony is highly suspicious. WMPD officers canvassed that neighborhood repeatedly in 1993 asking if anyone had seen the three murdered boys on May 5. How and why did these three witnesses avoid talking to police in 1993? And how do they remember the day and time so precisely sixteen years later?

Defense lawyers for the WM3 have been pushing alternative theories and alternative suspects for years. That’s what good defense lawyers do, and Damien Echols has very good lawyers working for him. But intelligent people should recognize the Terry Hobbs fiasco for what it is — a smear campaign designed to help set the real killers free.