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The Robin Hood Hills murderer(s)

2011: Case summary. Book reviews.
2013: "West of Memphis" movie released.

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Summary of the case, from the Free West Memphis 3 blog's press release:

"In 1993, shortly after three eight-year-old boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, police arrested Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley and charged the three teenagers with murder based solely upon an error-filled and police-coerced false confession, extracted from 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley Jr. After 12 hours of questioning, without counsel or parental consent, mentally disabled Jessie Misskelley, lured with promises of reward money, repeated back to the police what they wanted to hear.

From the beginning, the police conducted almost no investigation other than to try to link Damien Echols to the murders. Other leads in the case, including eyewitness accounts that a man was found with blood on him near the crime scene on the night of the murders, went uninvestigated.

Jessie Misskelley recanted his statement, stating that the police forced, via threat and the lure of money, the story he told, but it was too late. Jessie Misskelley was tried first because he refused to testify against Damien and Jason, knowing that his so-called confession implicating the three of them was untrue. Constitutionally, Jessie’s “confession” could not be used against Damien and Jason.

Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols, known as The West Memphis 3, were all convicted of murder. Jason, 16 at the time and a model student, was sentenced to life without parole; Jessie Misskelley got life plus 40 years. Damien Echols, 18 at the time, was sentenced to death. Damien, now 36, has spent 18 years in solitary confinement awaiting death by lethal injection for a crime neither he, Jessie nor Jason had anything to do with.

A panicked community, desperate police, overzealous prosecutors and a rush to judgment condemned them. There was no physical evidence linking them to the crime, no weapon, no motive, and no connection to the victims.

New evidence of their innocence had been presented in court in recent years including new DNA testing that revealed that none of the DNA at the crime scene matched the three defendants, while a hair linked to the stepfather of one of the children was found in the knots used to bind another of the boys. Some of the country’s leading pathologists have presented evidence that the wounds found on the children were primarily the result of post mortem animal bites and not knife wounds as prosecutors believed. Shocking juror misconduct was also uncovered in the case that revealed that Jessie Misskelley’s coerced confession was introduced into deliberations at the Echols/Baldwin trial, which was constitutionally forbidden." 1

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Full length movie released on 2013-FEB-01:

The film "West of Memphis" tells their full story. It opened on 2013-FEB-01. Bruce DeMara, entertainment reporter for the Toronto Star, gave it 3.5 stars out of 4. He eloquently wrote:

"There is no justice when the misconduct of the prosecutor, John Fogleman, at trial goes unpunished. He introduced a knife as an exhibit, knowing full well it had no connection to the crime.

There is no justice when police investigators, who botched the case from the outset, are never held accountable.

There is no justice in a deal that forced the defendants to plead guilty in a legal ploy called an Alford plea, allowing the state of Arkansas to avoid millions of dollars in reparation for wrongful imprisonment.

There is no justice when the real killer remains free.

That director Amy Berg and co-writer Billy McMillin dare to point a finger at Terry Hobbs -- the step father of one of the victims -- and to cite compelling evidence of his guilt is an act of staggering courage. That the justice system in Arkansas refuses to hold any of its own to account for an avalanche of incompetence and collusion -- and worse -- is an appaling act of cowardice." 2

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Three books about the case:

  • book cover image "Life After Death," by Damien Echols. Available in hardcover for $17.73 plus postage. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Received 4.5 stars out of a maximum of 5 from Amazon reviewers

    Review by John Grisham:

    "Damien Echols spent eighteen years on death row for murders he did not commit. Somehow, in the depths of his unspeakable nightmare, he found the courage and strength not only to survive, but to grow, to create, to forgive, and to understand. Life After Death is a brilliant, haunting, painful, and uplifting narrative of a hopeless childhood, a wrongful conviction, a brutal incarceration, and the beginning of a new life."

    By Kirkus Reviews rated "Best of 2012:"

    Exceptional memoir by the most famous of the West Memphis Three. Bare facts alone would make for an interesting story. However, Echols is at heart a poet and mystic, and he has written not just a quickie one-off book to capitalize on a lurid news story, but rather a work of art that occasionally bears a resemblance to the work of Jean Genet. A voracious reader all his life, Echols vividly tells his story, from his impoverished childhood in a series of shacks and mobile homes to his emergence after half a lifetime behind bars as a psychically scarred man rediscovering freedom in New York City. The author also effectively displays his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities the Arkansas criminal justice system had no interest in recognizing during Echols’ ordeal. Essential reading."

  • book cover image "Devil's Knot: The true story of the West Memphis Three," by Mara Leveritt. Available in Paperback for $10.88 plus postage, or Kindle format for $19.88. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Received 4.5 stars out of a maximum of 5 from Amazon reviewers.

    Reviews:

    "Brutal, riveting....The true horror of Leveritt's well-written book is that this barely believable fate could potentially befall any American." (Henry Rollins )

    "The abuses of the criminal justice system shown here are so blatant—and so profoundly tragic—that they would be hard to believe were it not for the depth and even-handedness of Mara Leveritt's reporting." (Sister Helen Prejean author of Dead Man Walking )

    "An affecting account of a controversial trial...Leveritt's carefully researched book offers a riveting portrait of a down-at-the-heels, socially conservative rural town with more than its share of corruption and violence." (Publishers Weekly )

    "Well written in descriptive language, Devil's Knot is an indictment of a culture and legal system that failed to protect children as defendants or victims. Highly recommended." (Library Journal )

  • book cover image "Untying the Knot: John Mark Byers and the West Memphis Three," by Greg Day. Available in hardcover at $29.95 plus postage, paperback at $19.95 plus postage, and Kindle format at $3.02. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Received only 3 stars out of a maximum of 5 from Amazon reviewers

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "The West Memphis Three are Free," Arkansas Take Action, 2011-AUG-19, at: http://www.freewestmemphis3.org/
  2. Bruce DeMara, "West of Memphis review: Innocence lost," Toronto Star, 2013-JAN-31, at: http://www.thestar.com/

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Copyright 2011 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2013-FEB-01
Author: B.A. Robinson
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