Dear Friends & Supporters:
I have waited a long time to write you this note.
Just hours ago, our attorneys filed a SECOND AMENDED PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS proving that three innocent men were wrongfully convicted of murder in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Citing DNA testing and evidence from several witnesses and leading experts, the nearly 200-page writ asks the court to order a new trial for my husband, Damien Echols, or release him.
In short, DNA testing has been conducted on dozens of pieces of evidence. The DNA results show no link whatsoever to Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley or Jason Baldwin ñ and all of the experts agree that, under the prosecution theory of how the crime was committed, their DNA would be present at the crime scene if they were guilty. Instead, the DNA results match Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims. Our new filing also includes strong evidence from Pam Hobbs (the ex-wife of Terry Hobbs and the mother of one of the victims) implicating her former husband in the murders.
The writ includes scientific analysis from some of the nationís leading forensics experts, stating that wounds on the victimsí bodies were caused by animals at the crime scene -- not by knives used by the perpetrators, as the prosecution claimed. These wounds, and evidence about knives, were the centerpiece of the prosecutionís case.
Beyond writing to share this exciting news, I want to thank you for your support. Each person who spoke out about this case or donated money--each person who refused to let the world forget about three men locked away forever, one on death row, for a crime they so clearly did not commit --made this week's filing possible. Without you, we could not have made it this far, and we cannot thank you enough.
I am not an expert on science or the law. But I know that the writ that we just filed in federal court completely undercuts every argument and piece of ìevidenceî that was used to convict Damien, Jessie and Jason. Our lawyers and other legal experts say that any one piece of evidence in our filing, by itself, would be enough to overturn these convictions ñ and that, combined, all of the evidence makes it clear that this was a grave injustice that the federal court must step in and correct.
That won't happen easily.
In the weeks ahead, the court will review the writ we just filed, and the Arkansas Attorney General will file a response. We will then reply to that filing, and the court will rule. We hope and believe that the court will rule to overturn these convictions, but we still have a lot of work to do to get there. I am also writing to ask for your help ñ which we need now more than ever.
You and I know that Damien, Jessie and Jason would not have been convicted if they werenít teenagers without more than a few dollars to their name, who were perceived to be 'different' than other kids. They did not have the resources to fight a zealous prosecution in a poisonous atmosphere, and so they were convicted. The state still has millions of dollars at its disposal to defend these convictions. Despite all of the evidence we have uncovered and filed in court this week, the state is going to fight us in federal court. No matter what, they will have more money than we do. But with your help, we can follow up on this unprecedented court filing and secure justice.
We only have a few weeks to gear up for the next phase. Our experts, investigators and attorneys need to refute everything the state will throw at us, and we need to keep the court focused on the scientific truth in this case. Please make checks payable to the Damien Echols Defense Fund, PO Box 1216, Little Rock, AR 72203.
You can also donate online, through PayPal. It's easy, free and allows you to use your credit card. We also suggest that International Supporters use this option. Click this LINK to find out more. Please use LDavis11@hotmail.com as the "recipient" address. PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR NAME & ADDRESS TYPED IN YOUR MESSAGE! The button you can click to include your address does not always work.
I cannot overstate how important it is that you donate now. Damien, Jessie and Jason were convicted more than 12 years ago based on nothing but fear, hysteria and innuendo. We now have the evidence we need to overturn these convictions based on cold, hard science ñ but we need your help today.
We are close to overturning these convictions -- if we have the money it will take over the next few months to pursue this appeal. Go HERE to read the writ we just filed in federal court, and you'll see that we are at a critical juncture in this case, and that your help and support has gotten us here. Please help us, and please know that your support has already gotten us farther than many people thought possible.
Thanks very much,
and the Damien Echols Legal Team
Attorneys seek to overturn the convictions of three young men who were found guilty of brutally killing three Cub Scouts in 1993.
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 30, 2007
Attorneys for a death row inmate found guilty of killing three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1993 filed a motion in federal court to overturn his conviction based on new evidence, including DNA test results that found no genetic material on the victims' bodies from his client or two others convicted with him.
The sensational case in West Memphis concerned three Cub Scouts whose bodies were found submerged in a drainage ditch not far from their homes; one boy's body appeared to have been sexually mutilated. Two of the defendants frequently dressed in black and were described as "Goths." Accusations of satanic rituals were presented in court testimony.
In June 1993, three teenagers -- Damien Wayne Echols, 18 at the time of the killings, Charles "Jason" Baldwin, 16, and Jessie Lloyd Misskelley Jr., 17 -- were arrested and charged with murder. They were convicted a year later. Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin received life without parole and Misskelley, who told prosecutors he saw Echols and Baldwin beat and assault the boys, got life with parole.
But skeptics have long doubted the guilt of the three young men. The case also has drawn the attention of documentary filmmakers and others.
Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the rock group Pearl Jam, performed at a benefit concert that helped fund the DNA tests and appellate work. Lorri Davis, a New York landscape architect who saw a film about the case in 1996 and became so interested that she moved to Little Rock, Ark., married Echols and took a key role in organizing post-trial investigations and appeals.
On Monday in Little Rock federal court, Echols' appellate attorney filed a habeas corpus petition, along with dozens of exhibits and affidavits, alleging that his client, along with the other two young men, had been wrongly convicted.
The brief states that DNA tests of items recovered at the crime scene show that no genetic material of three defendants was present on the victims' bodies.
"That is an exculpatory fact of great importance," according to the brief submitted by five attorneys led by Dennis P. Riordan and Donald M. Horgan of San Francisco. That, they said, undercut the confession of Misskelley, who said that he saw Echols and Baldwin beat and sexually attack Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and James Michael Moore.
In addition, an unidentified person's genetic material was found on the penis of one victim.
Tests also revealed that a hair containing DNA consistent with that of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the boys, was found on black-and-white shoelaces used to hog-tie another of the victims. Another hair found on a tree root at the crime scene contained the DNA of David Jacoby, who, according to court documents, was with his friend Hobbs in the hours before and after the victims disappeared.
The brief acknowledges that this evidence "does not establish guilt of Hobbs or Jacoby." Hobbs has said the hair on the shoelaces must have been innocently transferred from himself to one of the victims, who "played with our little boy regularly."
The new petition includes analyses done by seven forensic scientists, including Dr. Richard Souviron, chief forensic odontologist at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, who played a significant role in Florida's successful 1979 prosecution of serial killer Ted Bundy. All of them challenge prosecutors' claims that Christopher had been sexually mutilated with a knife.
The forensic pathologists and odontologists, who separately reviewed autopsy tests, photos and trial testimony, state that the evidence strongly indicates that after Christopher was killed by blunt-force blows, animals ate parts of his body.
The brief also states that some of the key testimony asserting that the teenagers were part of a satanic cult -- something they have denied -- was presented by a so-called witchcraft expert with "a fraudulent PhD" from a California school that was put out of business by state authorities.
Echols' attorneys maintain that members of the jury that convicted and sentenced him to death in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1994 made misleading statements about what they knew about the case when questioned during voir dire, and considered Misskelley's confession during their deliberations -- something that the trial judge specifically told them not to do.
Misskelley was tried first. His attorneys maintained that he was borderline mentally retarded, and that he had only made a statement to prosecutors in the hope of being rewarded.
He was convicted, but it was established in court that he had changed key aspects of his story more than once. He initially told police that he saw the crimes occur at a time at which it was established that the three victims and Baldwin were in school, Echols was at the doctor's and Misskelley was at work on a roofing job.
During voir dire for the separate trial of Echols and Baldwin, the judge learned that virtually all of the jurors had heard a lot about the case from newspaper and television accounts.
The judge specifically told the jury not to consider anything they might have heard about Misskelley's statement to the police. But in recent interviews, three jurors -- including the foreman -- said the statement was a factor they considered. "How could you not?" the foreman said, according to court documents. "It was a primary and deciding factor."
The jury's consideration of the statement alone violated Echols' right to a fair trial, according to his attorneys.
Chief prosecutor Brent Davis did not respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment.
On Monday, Davis said she was hopeful that her husband and the other defendants would eventually be freed. "After all this time, you have a case that was built on a lot of hysteria and satanic panic. . . . The truth is finally seeing the light of day."
New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: October 30, 2007
ATLANTA, Oct. 29 — In 1994, three teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, “Burn in hell.”
Damien W. Echols is challenging his conviction in the killing of three young Arkansas boys.
But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the three defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least one person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene.
Supporters of the defendants hope the legal filing will provide the defense with a breakthrough. Two of the men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are serving life in prison, while one, Damien W. Echols, is on death row. There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.
“This is the first time that the evidence has ever really been tested,” said Gerald Skahan, a member of the defense team. “The first trial was pretty much a witch hunt.”
Brent Davis, the local prosecutor, did not respond to requests for comment about the new evidence and the case, but in general prosecutors and investigators have continued to express confidence in their investigation.
The story the defendants’ supporters have presented — of three misfits whose fondness for heavy-metal music made them police targets — has won the men the support of celebrities like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Marilyn Manson and the creators of “South Park.” Many learned of the case through an HBO documentary, “Paradise Lost,” and a sequel.
The prosecution hinged on a confession riddled with factual errors and a Satanic cult expert with a mail-order degree. Mr. Echols’s own lawyer called him “weird” and “not the all-American boy.”
Many viewers who watched the sequel, in fact, concluded that the police should have been investigating John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the children, who made seemingly drug-addled, messianic speeches on camera, gave the filmmakers a blood-stained knife, and had a history of violence and run-ins with the police. His child, Christopher Byers, was the most badly mutilated of the three.
But there was a surprise in the new forensic report filed by Mr. Echols’s lawyers: a hair found in one of the knots binding the children belonged most likely to the stepfather of another of the victims, not to Mr. Byers.
The three victims — Christopher, Steve Branch and James Michael Moore — were last seen riding their bikes on May 5, 1993. They were found the next day in a drainage ditch in Robin Hood Hills, near West Memphis, a low-rent town across the Mississippi River from Memphis. The boys were naked and hogtied with shoelaces.
The police quickly zeroed in on Mr. Echols, then 18, who was familiar to them because he was on probation for trying to run away with his girlfriend. They also believed he was involved in cult activities.
But they could find little evidence against him until Mr. Misskelley, mildly retarded and with a history of substance abuse, came in to speak with them. At the time there was a $30,000 reward.
After hours of questioning, Mr. Misskelley, 17, gave the police a taped statement that implicated himself, Mr. Baldwin, then 16, and Mr. Echols, then 19. Despite coaching by the investigators, Mr. Misskelley was incorrect in several significant details, including the time of the crime, the way the victims were tied and the manner of death. He said the children had been sodomized, an assertion that even the state medical examiner’s testimony appears to refute.
The team of forensic experts assembled by Mr. Echols’s lawyers, which included Dr. Michael Baden, the former medical examiner of New York City, also said there was no evidence of sexual abuse. Many of the wounds sustained by the victims were caused by animals, they said, including the castration of Christopher.
As for the stray hair, the West Memphis Police Department and the stepfather it appears to belong to, Terry Hobbs, have discounted the finding, saying it could easily have been picked up at home by his stepson, Steve Branch. But Dennis P. Riordan, a lawyer for Mr. Echols, said the hair was found in the shoelaces tying Michael Moore, not Steve Branch.
Further, Mr. Riordan said, a hair was found at the scene that most likely belongs to a friend of Mr. Hobbs who was with him for part of the evening.
The court filing also argues that jurors relied on the statement Mr. Misskelley gave the police to convict Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin, even though it was deemed inadmissible except in Mr. Misskelley’s trial. Several jurors have acknowledged that they knew about the confession before the trial, though they did not say so during jury selection.
The passing of time has not only allowed the defense to gather new information, but has also softened the public’s belief in the guilt of the convicted men, said Mara Leveritt, the author of “Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three.”
“What I’ve seen in the past 14 years has been not quite a 180-degree, but maybe a 170-degree turn,” Ms. Leveritt said. “It all comes down to, ‘Where’s the evidence?’”
Eyewitness News Everywhere received the following news release on Monday, October 29, 2007, from a public relations firm respresenting Damien Echols' legal team.
(LITTLE ROCK, AR; October 29, 2007) – Advanced DNA testing and other strong scientific evidence – combined with additional evidence from several different witnesses and experts – proves that Damien Echols was wrongfully convicted of murdering three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993, according to legal papers filed today in federal court.
The 200 page motion filed today by attorneys for Echols, who has been on death row in Arkansas for more than a decade, says that new evidence proves Echols’ innocence – and implicates Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims.
The evidence includes DNA testing on dozens of pieces of evidence; under the prosecution theory for how the crime was committed, it would be nearly impossible for at least one perpetrator’s DNA not to match crime scene evidence. No biological evidence from the crime scene matches Echols or the other two men convicted of the crime, according to the DNA test results included in today’s filing. DNA testing on multiple pieces of evidence does, however, link Terry Hobbs to the crime scene – and other evidence has emerged implicating him in the crimes.
“In recent months, we have uncovered powerful scientific evidence that Damien Echols is, in fact, innocent. The motion we filed today with the federal court that is empowered to overturn this conviction lays out overwhelming and irrefutable scientific evidence that Damien Echols is innocent,” said Dennis Riordan, Echols’ lead attorney. “By itself, any single piece of evidence we present in this filing could overturn Damien Echols’ conviction – and, combined, all of this evidence makes clear that this was a grave miscarriage of justice that must be corrected.”
The evidence in today’s filing includes:
DNA test results that fail to link Echols or the other defendants to the crime scene; in light of the prosecution claim that Echols sodomized the victims, the lack of his DNA at the crime scene is exculpatory itself.
DNA test results showing that a hair found in the ligature of one of the victims matches Terry Hobbs, the step-father of another one of the victims.
DNA test results showing foreign DNA – from someone other than Echols or the two other men who were convicted – on the penises of two of the victims.
DNA test results matching a hair at the crime scene to a man who was with Terry Hobbs on the day of the crimes. This places Hobbs at the scene of the crime, since it refutes any theory that the Hobbs hair (found in the ligature of one of the victims) was there before the crime.
Scientific analysis from some of the nation’s leading forensics experts, stating that wounds on the victims’ bodies were caused by animals at the crime scene – not by knives used by the perpetrators, as the prosecution claimed. These wounds were the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case, and evidence was presented that a knife recovered from a lake near one defendant’s home caused the wounds. The conclusive expert analysis showing that animals caused the wounds after the victims died also completely undercuts the testimony of a jailhouse informant (who testified about Echols using a knife to cause the wounds) and a discredited “expert” who testified that the knife wounds were part of a Satanic ritual.
Sworn affidavits outlining new evidence uncovered by Pam Hobbs (the ex-wife of Terry Hobbs) who found a knife in Terry Hobbs’ drawer that her son (one of the victims) had carried with him at all times. After her son was killed, the knife was not among his personal effects that police gave to the Hobbs families, and Pam Hobbs always assumed that her son’s murderer had taken it during the crime.
New information implicating Terry Hobbs – including his own statements to police in recent interviews where he acknowledged that several of his relatives suspect him in the crime. The filing also includes a chronology of Hobbs’ activities on the night of the crimes, when he washed his clothes for no reason other than to hide evidence from the crimes.
A sworn affidavit that refutes hearsay evidence from Echols’ trial. The mother of one of two girls who testified that they overheard Echols admit to the crime at a softball game now says that Echols’ statement was not serious and that neither she nor her daughter believes he committed the crime.
Today’s filing amends an earlier filing in the case, which outlined prosecutorial misconduct and juror misconduct in Echols’ trial.
The motion filed today in federal court says that the advanced DNA testing linking Hobbs to the crime scene was not available at the time of Echols’ trial. The filing notes that Echols was 18 years old and penniless at the time of his trial, and a court-appointed attorney represented him. That attorney failed to challenge a pattern of inaccurate and inflammatory statements made by prosecutors and others during the trial, and also failed to engage forensic experts who could have refuted the testimony that was used to convict Echols, today’s filing says.
Today’s court filing also notes the poisonous atmosphere during Echols’ trial that contributed to his wrongful conviction – citing the lead prosecutor himself, who said at the time that the community’s outrage, the national interest and the media coverage created a “shark feeding atmosphere” during the trial. The prosecution alleged that Echols and two other teenagers committed the crimes as part of a Satanic ritual.
“At the time of Damien Echols’ trial, there was no scientific evidence to support the prosecution’s case. With today’s court filing, science is finally having its day in this case – and it shows that Damien is innocent,” Riordan said. “The science backs up what witnesses and people involved with the trial now say uniformly: that Damien Echols did not commit these horrible crimes. The scientific evidence and witness affidavits we filed today flatly refute every supposed piece of evidence and every innuendo that the prosecution used to convict Damien.”
In February 1994, Echols was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. Three eight-year-old boys were found dead in a drainage ditch in Robin Hood Hills, a local wooded area near their homes, on May 6, 1993. Less than a month later, 17-year-old Jesse Misskelley “confessed” to the crime and claimed that Echols and Jason Baldwin sexually abused and beat the victims. Miskelley, a mentally handicapped boy with an IQ of 72, believed he would get a reward for confessing; many of the details of his confession (including the time of day the crimes were committed) did not match the facts of the crime. Misskelley was tried and convicted of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in February 1994. Baldwin and Echols were tried together after Misskelley’s trial, and they were convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in February 1994. The following day, Echols was sentenced to die, and he has been on death row ever since. Since 1995, Echols has filed a series of appeals on several grounds.
In 2001, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law granting post-conviction access to DNA testing. The law passed largely as a result of widespread doubts about the convictions of Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin. Within months of the DNA testing law taking effect, Echols filed a motion seeking DNA testing in the case. In 2004 and again in 2005, a state court ordered DNA testing to be conducted in the case, and a range of DNA testing has been conducted over the last two years."
For video on this story click here.
Reported by Janice Broach
DNA evidence proves he is innocent and he's demanding a new trial.
Echols is one of three men found guilty in the brutal murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis in 1993.
Renowned forensic expert Vincent DiMaio and Memphis attorney Gerald Skahan walked into the office of a private investigator.
Soon after Pam Hobbs, mother of Stevie Branch, and Mark Byers, father of Christopher Byers, walked in through a side door.
They came to hear new evidence that points to Hobbs' ex-husband Terry Hobbs as the killer and not the so called West Memphis Three.
After about an hour, Pam Hobbs' sister came out and talked.
"Terry Hobbs had the motive. Terry Hobbs is the one suspected of murder and the wounds that were inflicted on my nephew were where turtles bit his face. No knives and not weapons were used," says Jo Lynn McCaughey.
McCaughey says her sister is very upset. She says she is too because they believe they are hearing different stories.
In July, Terry Hobbs knew defense investigators were looking at him because his hair was discovered in the shoe laces of one of the murdered boys.
Pam Hobbs did not want to comment after the meeting saying, "I have no comment at all." Mark Byers also had nothing to say.
For years, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin said they didn't do it.
They say someone else murdered those little boys.
Stevie Branch was an honor roll student who had an active imagination and loved to sing. He wrote a song when he was 8-years-old.
"He was a very intelligent little boy. I could have had the next president had he not been murdered," says Pam Hobbs.
Hobbs remembers vividly the last time she spoke to her son. She says he asked if he could ride bikes with his friends on the afternoon of May 5th, 1993.
He left her home and never came back.
Investigators found Stevie's nude body along with the bodies of Michael Moore and Christopher Byers bound in a shallow creek off I-40 in Crittenden County.
Hobbs adds, "for the first five or six years it was hell on earth. If they could put that into words, if they could describe how I felt.'
After a massive manhunt, police charged Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley and Jason Baldwin with killing the boys.
Echols got the death penalty. Miskelley and Baldwin got life in prison.
"I feel like the ones that killed my son, the three that were tried and convicted they are guilty. But I am like everyone else, was there someone else out there other than those three," says Hobbs.
For years, investigators have denied the possibility of anyone else being involved in the murders, while websites devoted to the case poke holes in the detectives' work.
The HBO documentary "Paradise Lost" also claimed West Memphis police botched the case.
Action News 5 reporter Janice Broach covered the West Memphis Three case extensively.
There were questions about other suspects who could have been involved.
Hobbs says she doesn't mind people supporting the West Memphis Three. She does think they are guilty. And she just doesn't know if they worked alone.
"If that's the way he wants to go down in history as a child murderer, then that's the road he chose to take in this life," adds Hobbs.
Hobbs says she's forgiven Echols and anyone else connected to the murder of her son and hopes something positive can still come from the killings.
"If God would save their souls then the devil didn't accomplish anything out of this. He just made my life a little miserable," says Hobbs.
Even though the West Memphis Three are behind bars, this case is not over.
By Marc Perrusquia
Originally published 04:20 p.m., October 29, 2007
Updated 04:20 p.m., October 29, 2007
New DNA evidence filed today offers fresh hope to three men who claim they were falsely convicted in the horrific 1993 West Memphis child murders and points a finger at a stepfather who sat through two sensational trials in a front row as a grieving parent.
Pam Hobbs tells members of the media that she has no comment outside the offices of Inquisitor Inc. Monday afternoon. Hobbs and family members of three boys murdered in West Memphis in 1993 met to go over new evidence in the case.
The bodies bore hundreds of wounds including a reported castration — evidence of a ritualistic, satanic slaying, prosecutors suggested at trial.
Prosecutors’ assertions of a satanic motive was key to the convictions of then-teenagers Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, all widely rumored to have been involved in cult activities. The three, all now in their 30s, are in prison; Echols is on Death Row.
However, forensic reports offered by the defense attribute nearly all those injuries to predators — possibly dogs or raccoons — who fed on the bodies after death.
West Memphis Asst. Police Chief Mike Allen said this afternoon that he hasn’t received full details of the DNA testing, yet said he stands by the convictions.
“I personally think they do have the three right individuals in jail,’’ said Allen, who investigated the murders as a detective in 1993.
He said defense lawyers are trying to make a suspect out of Terry Hobbs, a stepfather of one of the victims, just as they had once pointed fingers at another parent, John Mark Byers.
“It’s just like Mark Byers, for 14 years they tried to make him a suspect,’’ Allen said, dismissing new defense claims that two hairs now link Hobbs to the crime scene.
DNA testing by the defense determined that Hobbs was among less than one percent of the population who couldn’t be excluded as the donor of a hair fragment found on one of the bodies and that a second hair found nearby likely came from one of Hobbs’ friends.
News of the first hair broke this summer, and Hobbs told reporters then that his hair could have landed on any of the boys through normal contact with them while they were alive.
However, news of the second hair — reportedly from a friend who was playing guitar with Hobbs in the hours before the boys disappeared — adds intrigue.
“It’s questionable that even that the (first) hair they found was that of Hobbs,’’ Allen said, but when asked of the second hair he said, “I don’t know if it would be explainable or not.’’
Hobbs couldn’t be reached today. A cell phone he carried earlier this year has been disconnected.
The new defense evidence is incorporated in a writ of habeas corpus filed today in federal court in Little Rock seeking the release of the defendants, known as the West Memphis Three by a growing network of supporters including some well-known and wealthy Hollywood actors and pop musicians.
The filing seeks federal intervention in the case. Lawyers want the federal court to overturn the convictions of all three.
The three, all indigent and represented by court-appointed counsel at trial, now have a defense with deep pockets and resources to attract big names in the forensic pathology and to conduct expensive DNA testing.
Scientific testing in the case was authorized in a 2003 court order and has taken years to complete. Its completion adds a dimension of anticipation to a case that has long puzzled and mesmerized the Mid-South.
From the moment the bodies of West Memphis second-graders Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Steve Branch were pulled from a rainy-weather creek in a patch of woods along Interstate-40 on May 6, 1993, the case has stirred great fear and unending legal twists. Now there’s yet another.
A key finding of the DNA testing that Echols’s defense team conducted in DNA laboratories in Virginia and California involves two hairs found at the crime scene. Echols’ lawyers say the hairs link Hobbs — Steve Branch’s stepfather — to the crime scene.
A hair fragment attributed to Hobbs was found by police in 1993 in a shoelace use to tie the hands and feet of victim Michael Moore, defense lawyers wrote in the writ. The second hair found nearby on a tree root appears to have come from a friend, David Jacoby, the writ says.
Defense lawyers wrote in the 193-page writ that they can’t say for certain that Hobbs was involved in the murders, yet they note that the two hairs didn’t come from the victims or the defendants.
“That is an exculpatory fact of great importance,’’ defense attorneys wrote.
In a case light on physicial evidence, the hairs loom large. The convictions were built around a confession by Misskelley, a troubled youth with a low IQ, who told police how he watched as Echols and Baldwin sexually assualted and beat the boys.
“Certainly had the victims been forcibly sodomized by Echols and Baldwin, as claimed by Jessie Misskelley, it is inconceivable that those assaults could have been accomplished without leaving any genetic material.’’
The writ also tells how a team of leading forensic scientists retained by the defense believe that state investigators grossly misinterpreted wounds on the victims.
The defense forensic team, including Dr. Michael Baden, the celebrated former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, concluded that hundreds of wounds of the victims came from predators who fed on the bodies after they were dumped in the creek.
Those findings are key on several fronts. Students of the case have long marveled at the absence of blood at the crime scene. Yet defense experts now say the answer is simple: The victims were dead when most of the injuries were incurred and dead bodies of the deceased don’t bleed.
A state pathologist had testified at trial that victim Christopher Byers was castrated — something Misskelley said he witnessed in his confession. That, too, was puzzling because the state pathologist, Dr. Frank J. Peretti, said such an unusual and jagged removal would have taken him hours to perfrom under pristine conditions in a lab.
Yet defense experts say there was no castration. Rather, they concluded, the boys’ penis and testicles were removed by a predator that pulled the organs off in a manner similar industrial accidents known as “degloving.’’
The West Memphis Evening Times
October 26, 2007
by LAURA SMITH
Sources could not confirm whether a meeting would take place Monday between attorneys for the three defendants and the families of the three West Memphis boys slain 14 years ago.
A spokesman for the defendants - Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin - declined to comment.
Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were convicted in 1994 for the murder of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, 8-year-old boys who were found dead in a ditch along the 10-Mile Bayou on May 6, 1993.
Brent Davis, prosecuting attorney for the Second Judicial District which encompasses Crittenden County, said he hadn't been advised of a meeting.
"I haven't been advised by the victims' families that there is a meeting, and I haven't been advised there's not one," Davis said. "The best I can tell is that the defense will probably file something next week, and I don't know what's contained in that."
Multiple appeals at the state and federal levels have been filed by the defendants, and one appeal has sought testing on hundreds of items from the crime scene.
Davis said that testing is nearly concluded.
"As far as the testing of the items we've agreed upon to test, it appears to me - based on the original list - we've pretty much reached the end," Davis said.
Defense attorneys requested DNA tests under a new law that allows the retesting of evidentiary items when technology wasn't available at the time of the trial or crime.
Test results reported in July found no DNA connection between the defendants to evidence tested.
Nearly all of the material tested belonged to the victims except a hair found on a victim's shoelace belonging to Terry Hobbs, the step-father Stevie Branch.
Police attributed the finding of Hobbs' hair to transfer evidence and said Hobbs is not a suspect in the case.
The defendants were teens at the time of their arrests and are now in their early 30s. Damien Echols was sentenced to receive the death penalty, Misskelley is serving a sentence of life plus 40 years and Baldwin is serving life in prison without parole.
On Oct. 23rd, reknowned profiler, John Douglas, was a guest on the "Lionel" show on the internet radio site Air America. At the end of the interview he spoke briefly about the West Memphis Three case.
John Douglas: Just recently I've been involved in another investigation that's going to be breaking in the news probably in about 10 days or so and I'll come back and talk to you about this one...it's known as the West Memphis Three....you probably aren't even aware of this...this case has a lot of celebrity backing, world-wide backing, where these three 8 yr old boys were murdered in West Memphis Arkansas May 5th 1993, and the prosecutor blamed it on satanic murders and they targeted three teenage boys, and they ..or, one of them was into Metallica music and wore black t-shirts.
Lionel: This was something like an HBO special.
John: That's right...Paradise Lost... they had cameras in the courtroom, and a so-called expert, a former cop, on satanic murders who got his degree from a mail order university in California. They wanted to bring in experts, the defense did, on false confessions like the Central Park murder up there where those kids confessed to crime they didn't do ....and they wouldn't allow this expert to testify
Lionel: John Douglas, unfortunately now the clock is my enemy...we'll have to do this again
John: Well...I'll come back...follow the press...this will be in the news in about 10 days.....
via John W. Morehead
In previous posts I have mentioned the case of the West Memphis Three, the three teens (now adults) who were convicted in 1994 for the murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas as an alleged ritual murder perpetrated by members of a satanic cult. Despite the sensationalism surrounding the trial, and that two documentaries and several books have been written as a result of this case, it has received little national mainstream media coverage, and next to none in the Christian community. Dan Stidham was the defense attorney for one of the accused, Jessie Misskelley, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions related to this fascinating and troubling case.
Morehead's Musings: Judge Stidham, thank you for making time in a busy legal schedule to share a few thoughts related to this case. For readers who may not be familiar with it, can you summarize the case for them beyond what I've mentioned in my introduction?
Dan Stidham: John, it would be an almost impossible task to try and briefly summarize a case that is so complicated and fascinating as this one. When I am invited to speak about the case on college campuses, my basic presentation generally lasts anywhere from 4-6 hours. I usually will turn down any requests for a speaking engagement that won’t allow me at least 4 hours as my powerpoint presentation alone takes at least 4 hours divided into two segments, this just to get through most of the slides and answer a few questions.
The only “one-stop,” if you will, reliable and accurate account of the entire case is Mara Leveritt’s brilliantly written book, Devil’s Knot, and it certainly is not a short read. Once you pick it up, however, you can’t put it down.
The only way I can describe the case in just a few short words is to say that the WM3 case has become an icon for “Injustice in America.” It is a chilling account of just about everything that can go wrong within our criminal justice system if we don’t have the proper safeguards in place.
Morehead's Musings: For those interested in learning more about the case I recommend two HBO documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, as well as the book that you have already mentioned by Mara Leveritt, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West The West Memphis Three (Atria Books, 2002). But there are a a few aspects of this case that I would like to focus on in our interview if we could. First, I am struck by the lack of any significant emphasis on forensics in either the investigation or the trial, and this in a case of triple murder that should have been filled with forensic evidence. Why was this evidence lacking, and why didn't either the Prosecution or the Defense pursue this area in more depth?
Dan Stidham: John, that is an outstanding question. The lack of any physical evidence in this case, a fact that has always been quite candidly admitted to by the Prosecution, is utterly amazing. The convictions are based entirely upon the ridiculous and confusing confession of a mentally challenged teenager with an I.Q. of a five year old child which was corroborated by no real physical evidence in the case at all. The confession itself is just so plainly and patently lacking of any real substance every person that I have ever talked to who actually bothers to read it in it’s entirety is left scratching their heads wondering how this alone could result in anyone’s conviction in our modern day criminal justice system.
I was asked to prepared a synopsis of the evidence in this case after the trials, and it was later updated after I was finally able to consult with some forensics experts on the case post trial after the airing of the initial HBO film. This synopsis appears on the wm3.org website and the link to that page is here.
Justice is supposed to be “blind,” but the reality of the situation in Arkansas in 1993 was that is was not. There was no State funded Public Defender system yet in place at the time of the slayings and no Death Penalty Resource Center or Capital Defense system in place at the time of the trials in 1994. In fact, the County and the State fought a rather protracted legal battle over who would be responsible for the legal costs associated with the trials. The County prevailed, and two years later my law partner and I, Greg Crow, finally received $19.00 per hour for the 2000 plus hours that we had expended on the case in defending our client. We had been told that we would receive an average of $50.00 per hour for our work on the case. In addition, we had no money whatsoever other than what Mr. Crow and I could pay out of our own pockets to retain experts which resulted in my having to beg experts to assist us. Two of the best, Dr. Richard Ofshe and Warren Holmes, answered the call for help because they were so convinced after reviewing the case file that my client, and the other two Defendants, were absolutely innocent of these crimes. Ironically, it took two HBO documentaries on the case before other “Freedom Fighters” started showing up to help. I find it less than amusing that some of the same “experts” who refused to even talk to me back in 1993, because I didn’t have $15,000 to retain them, have now rushed to volunteer to work on the case. What a difference a few movies makes!
The State of Arkansas, obviously understanding the shortcomings of the Arkansas Crime Lab and the quality of the Medical Examiner’s office, consulted with experts and laboratories from outside the State. We did not have that luxury. They had unlimited funds and legions of investigators. We had one volunteer investigator, and all our experts were volunteers. Simply stated, we had no funds with which to defend our client.
At trial, Misskelley’s confession with all it’s impossibilities and factual inconsistencies, coupled with the “Satanic Panic” and hundreds of autopsy and crime scene photographs of the victims that were paraded in front of the juries prevailed over the tremendous lack of any real physical evidence and all the examples of “reasonable doubt” that we were able to demonstrate including evidence of alibi. The crimes were so brutal that someone “had to pay.” It is clear that the juries wanted to punish someone really bad. They did. The three Defendants were poor and expendable, and Damien Echols was the perfect “patsy” with all of his pre-trial and Courtroom antics with the media, and displayed in front of the jury.
Morehead's Musings: There have been forensic developments in this case since the trials. Can you touch on some of this?
Dan Stidham: There are some astounding recent developments in the case. There are some things that I can’t discuss because of confidentiality, and there are others that I simply don’t know about yet because we are waiting for more test results to come in. I can confirm what has been published in recent Court filings which are public record and other things that have been reported in the media. First, there has been some DNA recovered from some items of evidence in the case that does not match any of the three convicted men. Secondly, a hair recovered from a ligature that was used to tie up one of the victims has been linked by DNA to one of the victim’s stepfathers.
This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, the hair from the stepfather was not found on a victim that was not his own stepson. This is important in and of itself, but even more important when you think about where the hair was recovered from. It was lodged in the knot of the ligature itself, making the inevitable explanation by the State that it was merely a normal stepfather to stepson “secondary transfer” so ridiculous that one wonders if they will even have the courage to argue it. I can’t go into any more detail, but there are other significant forensic and evidentiary discoveries as well that will shed significant light on this case and make it even more obvious than it already is that the WM3 are innocent of these crimes. And speaking of “courage,” that’s all this case really needs. A little “courage” to do the right thing would go along way right now. I pray each day for someone to simply accept the challenge.
Morehead's Musings: Another area that intrigues me is the prosecution's claim that the three teens allegedly perpetrated this crime as part of an occult ritual which they did as members of a cult. This would seem a foundational part of their case, and yet as the first documentary reveals, the prosecution's "expert" on the occult and Wicca did not possess the necessary education or credentials to discuss let alone substantiate the prosecution's claim, and there is a wealth of good scholarly material available that debunks the existence of satanic cults and occult ritual crime. Why weren't competent scholars brought in to counter this foundational aspect of the prosecution's case?
Dan Stidham: First of all, as you point out, there is no such thing as “Satanic Ritualistic Homicide (SRH)” This is a mere invention by the so-called experts of the day back in 1993. According to the FBI and other research done in the U.K., there has never been a single case of SRH ever documented on the planet.
I know what you are thinking, “What about David Berkowitz and other Serial Killers who have proudly professed that they killed in the name of “Satan.” The difference is that these killings were the work of one deranged individual who suffered from some rather serious and profound psychological disorders, not the work of an organized group of Satanists who are sacrificing children, or even adults for that matter, as part of an organized Satanic Ritual. The “Devil” told me to do it, or the “Devil” in the form of the neighbor’s dog as in the Berkowitz case, are not the same thing as SRH.
Are there Satanists in the world? Sure there are. Do teenagers dabble in the occult? Sure they do. However, there is no evidence that any known group of Satanists have ever engaged in cult style ritualistic slayings. If you buy into the Prosecution’s theory, as set forth by the now “famous for lack of credentials,” Dale Griffis, then you would have to be compelled into believing that the West Memphis Case is the first ever case of SRH ever documented any where in the world.
I remember years ago watching Geraldo Rivera devote an entire episode of his show to the topic. He even had a Catholic Priest on the show as an “expert.” They told millions of viewers that there was a large group of Satanists in this Country that were kidnapping thousands of our children and killing them in “Satanic Rituals” all around the Country. There was a time when every missing kid was generally believed to have been the victim of SRH. These Satanists must be real good at hiding the bodies! Maybe they know where Jimmy Hoffa is?
I do know this, the three teenagers convicted of these horrible crimes, one of which who is on Death Row, are not sophisticated enough to pull off the robbery of a Seven-Eleven, much less a triple homicide. If anyone does believe that they were even remotely this capable, then I suppose that they would also have to believe that:
1. The kids were so sophisticated that they were able to kill all three victims, and sexually mutilate one victim which resulted in a tremendous amount of blood loss by that particular victim, while not leaving any of their own DNA behind at the scene; and
2. They were so sophisticated that they also managed to put a hair from one of the step-fathers inside a ligature binding one of the victims so that they could frame him for the crime 15 years later.
Morehead's Musings: Some of the unfortunate chapters in history include the American witch trials and the satanic panics of the 1980s and 1990s. There is a good scholarly body of literature on these topics that might have provided background considerations for the prosecution's argument for motive. Why weren't these considerations brought into the defense case, and in retrospect, do you feel like the socio-cultural context of Arkansas with its fundamentalist Christian population might have produced conditions that led to a contemporary witch hunt with the conviction of the West Memphis Three?
Dan Stidham: In order to answer this question, you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious "cults." He had a dual expertise.
The conditions were quite obviously very ripe for this kind of thing to happen in Arkansas in 1993 because it did happen here in Arkansas. But I do not believe for an instant that this type of situation is unique to Arkansas. The atmosphere that allowed this type of phenomena to occur can, and does, happen anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps I am naïve, but I think that this type of thing happens more as a result of simple unadulterated intolerance to anyone different than that held by the mainstream in society, rather than due to any particular set of religious mores, or beliefs. It’s a matter of being “different,” outside the mainstream of society, wherever that happens to be. Is Arkansas different than New York City or L.A.? You bet it is. When you are in L.A., you see a thousand “Damien Echols” walking down the street and no one seems to think anything about it, or even care. People wearing Black clothing and listening to Heavy Metal Music are the norm in some places around the Country, but not in Arkansas in 1993.
Intolerance can raise it’s ugly head in many other contexts besides religion, i.e. race, age, gender, sexual preference, etc., etc. We see examples of this throughout history, both ancient and recent. Also, it is worth pointing out that the similarities between this case and what happened during the Salem Witch Trials almost exactly 300 years ago is absolutely stunning.
Remember, the first “Witch Trial” occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, not West Memphis, Arkansas! Will history repeat itself again, I hope it won’t, but unfortuneatley, I bet it will.
Morehead's Musings: As I have researched the witch trials and satanic panics, and then looked at the situation surrounding this case, it seems to me as if Christian sociophobics and the creation of an evil social other played a large role in arrests and outcome of this case. And yet curiously, while various Neo-Pagans, celebrities, musicians, and people from the general population have rallied around this case to raise awareness and raise funds for appeals, I have not been able to track down much if any concern for social injustice from Christians on this issue. Has your experience been different? Might the concerns about an alleged satanic cult involving a Wiccan confirm the worst fears and stereotypes of Christians and this then turns away any consideration of speaking out on this issue?
Dan Stidham: My experience has been quite different from the inside looking out as opposed to only being exposed to the case based on what I saw in the media. I get a lot more letters, emails, phone calls and other outpourings of support from people all over the World that you would identify more as “Christians,” than I do from people whom you would describe as “Pagans, celebrities and musicians.” The difference is, simply put, that the media shows up when “celebrities and musicians” take a stand on social issues. When John Doe Citizen starts a “WM3 Awareness Group” in Russellville, Arkansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Ft. Meyers, Florida; or Fort Hays, Kansas, the media just doesn’t seem to care. But these are the folks who fight the fight in the trenches every day. Out there organizing fund raisers and raising awareness in their communities about this case.
Having said that, the “celebrities and musicians” who do get the media attention are an integral part of the fight for justice in this case. These are folks who have figured out that they have a unique power to change things in the World, and they are not afraid to step up and fight for what’s right. For this, I admire them greatly. They also have more resources to assist than most other folks. While I have not met them all, many of the “celebrities and musicians” that I have encountered while working on this case have left me in awe of them when I consider the magnitude of their impact and contributions to the case. I am not in awe of them because they are famous, but instead because they are famously compassionate about social justice, and the plights of others less fortunate. The more I got to know them, the more I realized that they don’t fit the stereotypes of “celebrities and musicians” and are really no different than anybody else and are truly wonderful human beings.
Morehead's Musings: Do these three young men have any hope of appeals left?
Dan Stidham: Yes, tremendous hope is still out there. While this fight is far from over, I am more hopeful today than at any other time during the past almost 15 years that I have been working on the case. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of the people I described above, in response to your last question, we have finally put together a team of lawyers, investigators and forensic experts that are second to none. I can tell you without hesitation that they are the best I have ever seen.
Morehead's Musings: How can interested readers get involved in helping with this case?
Dan Stidham: By just remembering that everyone counts and everyone can make a difference. There are support groups all over the World who are dedicated to this fight. The best place to start is the http://www.wm3.org/ website. It is filled with information on how everyone can help. Also, please continue to pray for Justice, not just for the WM3, but for Justice for the victims’ families who deserved so much better than what they got in terms of an investigation and closure for the death of their loved ones. We can also never forget that a killer is still out there, and this killer needs to be brought to justice.
Morehead's Musings: Judge Stidham, once again, I think you for making time for this interview, and thanks as well for being the only attorney from the original trials who has continued to be involved in working for justice for these young men.
Dan Stidham: I sincerely appreciate your kind and generous words and the opportunity to talk about this very unique case. I hope that you will allow me to thank some very special folks who have inspired me to keep moving forward in this case, even in it’s darkest days, and on the days when it seemed no one cared, and I was all alone in the fight. There were only two days that I wanted to quit. Not just quit the fight, but quit the legal profession as well. This was the two days after the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Misskelley’s confession in a 7-0 decision. After licking my wounds for a couple of days, I emerged with an even stronger resolve to keep fighting, thanks to the support and encouragement from my family who never complained about all the time I was gone from home working on this case.
Also, I cannot thank enough the people from whom I got all the emails, letters and prayers from. They may have been complete strangers at the time, but a phone call or a letter of encouragement, out of the blue, would sustain me for weeks and even months. Sometimes these strangers became friends, good friends. “Good friends” are like my own family to me, and I have made many good friends from all over the world. Regrettably, I have lost touch with some of these folks over the years, but all of them have become my heroes in this case. My “heroes” have names like Bruce, Mike, Joe, Mara, Lanette, Grove, Burk, Pam, Mark, Richard, Warren, Kathy, Lisa, Eddie, Kevin, Winona, Laura, John, Mandy, Michael, Ron, and a very wonderful and special person whom I have never even actually met, at least not in person, because she lives all the way on the other side of the planet, way “down under.” She inspires me on an almost daily basis, and I must say, Jill, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
John, I thank you, for your interest in Justice, and your interest in this case.