The Case Against the West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three were guilty.

On May 5, 1993, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin (ages 18, 17 & 16 at the time) killed Michael Moore, Steve Branch and Christopher Byers (all age 8). They beat them with fists, then beat them sticks, hogtied them, sexually assaulted them, tortured Branch and Byers with a knife, cut off Byers’ genitals, then dumped their bodies in a ditch.

Maybe you watched Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and came away convinced that the WM3 were victims of a gross miscarriage of justice. Maybe you then read Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt, or browsed some “Free the WM3″ websites, or heard a celebrity proclaiming the WM3′s innocence, or saw a TV documentary proclaiming their innocence, and became further convinced.

Guess what, you’ve been lied to. You’ve been scammed. Paradise Lost is an outstanding piece of propaganda — turning thugs who raped, tortured and killed second-graders into beloved folk heroes is no mean feat — but it’s not an accurate account of the case. All the pro-WM3 books, websites, TV shows and celebrity testimonials just rehash Paradise Lost‘s original misinformation.

The standard pro-WM3 story goes: Police couldn’t find the real killers, so they decided to frame some local weird kids. Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were targeted because they looked different, dressed in black, listened to heavy metal music and read Stephen King novels. The cops bullied a mentally retarded kid into making a false confession. There was no evidence tying Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to the crime. The Bible Belt community was swept up in “Satanic panic”, and the investigation and trial were a modern-day witch hunt.

That story is 100% bullshit. Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were not arrested because of they way they looked, or the way they dressed, or the way they acted, or the music they listened to, or the books they read, or the beliefs they espoused — Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were arrested because they were murderers. The police found the murderers through solid police work, and prosecutors built an honest case against them. Two juries unanimously found them guilty because they were obviously guilty.

But what about the “Free the WM3″ movement? Would thousands of supporters still be rallying, donating money, proclaiming the WM3′s innocence 18 years later if they weren’t really innocent? And what about the celebrity supporters? Could Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines, Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Metallica, Disturbed, L7, Trey Parker, Jack Black, Winona Ryder, Will Ferrell, Robert Smith, Patti Smith, Marilyn Manson, Shepard Fairey, Tom Waits, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Margaret Cho, Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Axl Rose, Iggy Pop, Steve Earle, Hank Williams III, Chuck D, Mandy Moore and Demi Lovato all be wrong?

Yes, all those people are wrong. The West Memphis Three were guilty.

Lately supporters have been touting “new DNA evidence that exonerates the WM3″. More bullshit. The case against Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley is overwhelming, and the “new evidence” doesn’t pass the smell test.

The goal of wm3truth.com

A few people already know this case inside out. Partisans have spent nearly two decades furiously debating the case in online forums, divided between “supporters” (who think the WM3 were innocent) and “nons” (non-supporters who think the WM3 were guilty). The old-timers will find little new here.

A much larger number of people have a casual familiarity with the case, primarily from watching Paradise Lost and hearing WM3 supporters talk about the case. Many just assume the WM3 were innocent because that’s the only story they hear. Many might be tempted to donate money to the “free the WM3″ movement because it sounds like a good cause.

This site is addressed to that latter group. It aims to present the real case against the West Memphis Three and to debunk the misinformation spread by WM3 supporters.

Don’t take my word for it. This case is one of the most thoroughly documented criminal cases ever, thanks to the excellent case archive at callahan.8k.com. If you prefer to read up on your own, start there.

Or you could read Blood of Innocents, a true crime book about the case published in 1995, the year before Paradise Lost came out. It’s not very well written, but it’s mostly accurate.