West Memphis Three Get Mystery Hearing

According to CNN, three men convicted of killing thee West Memphis boys in 1993 will have a short-notice hearing on Friday morning.

All three of the men — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, dubbed the “West Memphis Three” — are expected to attend the session in Jonesboro. CNN says that the state’s attorney general’s office said it could not comment on the matter, citing a gag order on participants in the case. Stephanie Harris, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said the convicts would appear before a judge in chambers before the public hearing is held.

Echols was sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin were given life sentences in the May 1993 slayings of second-graders Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. The boys’ bodies were mutilated and left in a ditch, hogtied with their own shoelaces.

Prosecutors argued that Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin, then teenagers, were driven by satanic ritual and that Echols had been the ringleader. But DNA testing that was not available at the time failed to link any of the men to the crime, and the state Supreme Court ruled in November that all three could present new evidence to the trial court in an effort to clear them.

The case has drawn national attention, with actor Johnny Depp and singer Eddie Vedder trying to rally support for the men’s release.

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  1. Have you seen the two Paradise Lost documentaries? There’s a third one coming out, presumably catching us up to date with what’s going on now. So disturbing. And if they DIDN’T do it (and I don’t think they did) – then that mean that someone out there got away with murder. It’s chilling.

    • Cara Ellison says:

      No I haven’t seen it but I’ll keep my eye out for it now. I feel like the WM3 are innocent too, and I fear that one of the stepfathers committed the murders.

  2. Scuttlebutt around here is that they’re going to accept a no-contest plea in consideration for time served. (The news and the papers are calling it an Alford plea, even though there’s no such thing in Arkansas.)

    There’s a saying in the judiciary that if both parties are upset, then it was the right decision. That seems to be the case here. The people who are convinced they are innocent are going to be upset because they wanted them to be completely vindicated, and the people who are convinced they are guilty are going to be upset because they think they ought to be in prison.

  3. Lisa – I’ve been reading the reports and trying to get my head around it. I get it, but I don’t get it. Is it basically a way to “save face”? For both sides?

    • Cara Ellison says:

      I think its a way for all of them to save face. This kind of motion is extremely unusual and I think (based on NOTHING but my own speculation) that something big has happened (I’ve heard about a new DNA test), and the prosecution now realizes that they’ve got to backpedal quickly.

      Just my guess. But this is gripping. I’m dying to see them walk out of prison today!

      • billy krimmel says:

        I done time with two of the west memphis three and I’m not saying they are innocent because I think they know more than what’s been said and misskelly and baldwin are throwed off everyone only knows what they read not the behind the scenes take on it all all I know is that I went to prison and lived in the same pods with these guys and you can tell who is capable of crazy things and who is’nt after you been there for a while and from first hand knowledge both of them are capable of this crime.

  4. It’s not unusual. We do it all the time.

    • Cara Ellison says:

      I was mistaken; it was the result of a ruling by the state Supreme Court; somehow I was thinking this was just a random event (sorry – I’m on vicodin right now, my thinking is less than crystal clear!)

  5. I just. . .if I were completely innocent as these men purport to be, I would demand a new trial. Yeah, I’d have to wait in prison (in Arkansas, the State has a year to try you, which would begin from the date of the Supreme Court’s ruling granting them a new trial, as best I can tell) but still. I’d be completely vindicated.

    Even though they’re not technically pleading “guilty,” (shut up, Natalie Maines) a No Contest plea *still* says you think the State has enough evidence to find you guilty. And, from what I can tell, that flies in the face of what all their supporters have been saying.

    Is it “saving face?” I guess. But whose face?

    • Cara Ellison says:

      Well I know from my Enron experience, and Big specifically, that after so many years being pursued, it can just wear you down. These guys were already in prison so I guess the financial motive to just end it wasn’t there, but in many cases (pre-conviction) it is a motive to sign a plea.

      I used to think the way you do, Lisa. But now I know the craving for freedom can be worth the cost the state demands (i.e., saying you’re guilty.) So I understand taking a plea, even if I don’t agree with them on principle.

  6. Lisa – Yes, if one was innocent, you would want your name cleared. That is what makes sense to me. The cloud of guilt around them has lessened considerably over the last 20 years – but still: you’d want that “Oops, we totally effed up here” stamp of approval. That’s why I’m a bit confused.

  7. I guess I meant “saving face” for the prosecutors and the entire legal system? Or is it deeper than that: something much more concrete. I’m getting bogged down in legalese. Someone send help!

  8. Cara Ellison says:

    The deal allows the WM3 to have their freedom back, and the prosecution gets their pound of flesh. Echols won’t be put to death and the others won’t live forever in prison. I think that is the best they can hope for. My feeling – based on nothing but knowing Enron execs – is that they’re probably exhausted with the whole thing and they’d be willing to admit to anything to be free. I don’t hold that against them.

  9. So, did they plead guilty, or plead no-contest? Contrary to what the public and news outlets say, that’s two COMPLETELY different things.

    A no-contest plea is just how I explained it. You say you’re not guilty, but that you feel that the State has enough evidence to convict you if you go to trial. We see some, not a lot, but some. Most of the time it’s when you have a recalcitrant defendant who just can’t say the words “I’m guilty,” so they’re offered a no-contest plea. The State gets their conviction, the defendant holds onto their pride, or whatever. The punishment is the same, and there’s no appeal.

    But a GUILTY plea? That’s a different. You have to ADMIT you did the crime. In fact, the exact question the judge asks is “Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty, and for no other reason?” You have to say yes. YOU HAVE TO SAY YES. And if you say, “Well, I just want to get this over with,” then the judge is REQUIRED to not accept your plea. I. . .can’t imagine any judge worth his salt would accept a guilty plea from three people who then turn around and admit they didn’t do it.

    Of course, if they plead no-contest, and the news is just reporting it as a guilty plea, then this is moot.

  10. Okay. I have a friend who’s a prosecutor in Little Rock, and she said we DO have an Alford plea (we’ve never in 13 years done one, and my judge says he’s never heard of it, so. . .there ya go). Here’s what she says:

    “Alford plea is a little different than no contest. In no contest you don’t plea guilty, but you have to in an Alford plea. It is more like a guilty plea without the admission of guilty. No Contest plea the defendant neither admits guilt nor declares innocence.”

    I still don’t get why they did it. Apparently they’re also on probation for 10 years, too. If the evidence is as strong against their guilt as everyone says, then why not go to trial and be exonerated?

  11. Could it be they have bad lawyers? I say this knowing nothing about the defense team.

  12. You know, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they had public defenders in their original trials. I don’t know who represents them now. I’m sure what with celebrity money coming in that they had better-than-average representation.

    • Cara Ellison says:

      The reason not to go to trial is pure exhaustion. If you’re given an opportunity to go free, do you really roll the dice with the chance to go back to prison? I understand taking a plea — even when you’re innocent.

      Also, wow, Damian Echols turned out pretty cute, didn’t he?

  13. Yeah, lots of media heat – I know that was covered in the documentaries but can’t remember if those are the same lawyers.

  14. // After the court session, Echols, Misskelly and Baldwin took questions from the press. Said Echols: “I feel very much in shock and overwhelmed. I spent most of the last decade in solitary confinement.“

    He says that while the state considers the murder case closed, he plans to continue the process of clearing their names.

    Baldwin told the press that he initially wanted to reject the plea deal, which requires they acknowledge the court’s assessment of guilt while they maintain their innocence.

    “This is not justice,” he said. “I did not want to take the deal from the get-go, but they wanted to kill Damien.” Echols was on death row. //

  15. My judge just got back from lunch with the other three, and NONE of them had ever heard of an Alford plea. Apparently, it’s from a federal case.

  16. Cara Ellison says:

    I was watching the press conf., Sheila. It was truly amazing seeing them talk about it. I cried when Jason Baldwin stood up and hugged Damian.

    Hallelujah, today is a great day!

    Lisa, Alford is pretty rare.

    I wonder if there will ever be any other arrests in the case. Hair from one of the boy’s step-dads matched a hair found in one of the ligatures used to tie up the boys. And there was “Mr. Bojangels,” which leaves me to wonder if there will ever be true justice in this case.

  17. Yeah, that stepdad is … well. Creepy is the word.

    • Cara Ellison says:

      The fact that two of the stepdads had their teeth surgically removed after the crimes always struck me as incredibly odd. I am trying to withhold judgement but wow, that’s weird.

  18. The prosecutor said he considers the case closed.

    I can’t think about this anymore. My very good friend worked at the AG’s office when the first appeal came in. He read the entire court transcript (something I’m not sure the supporters of the WM3 have done ever) and saw the evidence, and he is convinced of their guilt. One of our best friends is the head of the crime lab in Arkansas, and he’s seen the DNA evidence. It doesn’t put them there, that’s right, but it also doesn’t NOT put them there. He’s convinced of their guilt, too. (Re: the hair. The boys were friends. They were at each other’s houses. I bet some of my hairs are on Alex’s friends clothes and shoes, too, since they’re at my house all the time.)

    But I’ve also seen the articles and read what the people who think they are innocent. They’re just as convinced, and maybe rightly so. I don’t know. (I can’t even with Mara Leveritt, so I haven’t read the book. Nor have I seen the movies.)

    So, I just weep for the three boys who have been forgotten, and wonder what their lives would have been. And I hope for the best for all involved.

  19. Yes – if the West Memphis Three are innocent (which I believe they are) then someone out there got away with murder. So it’s not quite a victory, in my eyes.

    This whole journey must have been harrowing for the victims’ families. I hope the entire community can start to find some peace.

  20. Cara Ellison says:

    Billy, why do you think Baldwin and Misskelley are capable of the crime? And what were you in prison for?

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