August 22nd, 2011
The high profile case of the West Memphis Three took a surprising turn last week when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who were convicted of the murders of three boys in 1993, entered Alford guilty pleas which allowed them to maintain their innocence while conceding that the state had enough evidence to convict them. In a horrific crime, three 8-year-old boys from West Memphis, Arkansas were found dead with their hands bound behind their backs to their feet. The gruesome nature of the crime made police suspect that the murders were part of a satanic ritual. Suspicion soon turned to local teenager Damien Echols, who was a gifted yet troubled 18-year-old at the time.
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted in 1994 based on Misskelley’s coerced confession after a 12-hour police interview, during which he implicated Baldwin, Echols and himself. Misskelley, who has an IQ of 72 and is considered borderline retarded, later recanted his statement which contradicted facts police knew to be true, such as the time of the murder. Police determined that Echols was the ringleader, and he was sentenced to death. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison. After recent DNA testing failed to tie any of the three men to the crime scene, and with the possibility of a new trial on the horizon, defense attorneys and prosecutors worked out the Alford plea deal last week. All three proclaimed their innocence but pled guilty to first- and second-degree murder. The three men then walked free for the first time in 18 years and were greeted by their supporters, including such high profile names as singer Eddie Vedder and members of the Dixie Chicks. While they have no immediate plans, defense attorneys say that all three will continue to try to clear their names once and for all.