On July 17, Burk Sauls, Lonnie Soury and I did a JOHN TALK radio interview regarding the WM3 and Damien's upcoming ASSC hearing. Please scroll down to the "On Demand" section and listen at your leisure!
Date: Saturday, July 17, 2010
Time: 5:00pm - 11:30pm
Location: Nutley Masonic Lodge
Street: 175 Chestnut Street
City/Town: Nutley, NJ
Horrorwood Ending (6:30)
Robby Bloodshed & The Hit Men *FIRST SHOW EVER* (7:30)
Bad Whoremoans UNPLUGGED (8:30)
The Doomsday Prophecy (9:30)
The Zombie Mafia (10:30)
$10. No tickets will be sold in advance
ALL PROCEEDS MADE AT THIS SHOW WILL BE SENT TO THE FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS
THREE SUPPORT FUND FOR THE APPEAL IN SEPTEMBER. The bands won't get a cut
out of what's made, and we won't keep a penny out of what's made.
ONLY BANDS CAN GET IN FOR FREE but their friends WILL have to pay to get in.
However it would be much appreciated if bands donated. There will be plenty
of ways to donate. We're having a bake sale, a raffle, and we're selling
drinks, all of the money made from that will be put into the fund.
Jessie's birthday is July 10th--hopefully his last one at Varner Unit-- so we're asking everyone to send him birthday wishes in any way that you can. He will be 35 years old this year.
What would make him the happiest is helping out with a donation to his commissary account.The commissary is the only way Jessie, Jason and Damien are able to obtain nutritious food and supplies such as stamps and paper for all the mail they get so a decent balance is essential to their health and mental well-being in there. Any amount is appreciated. Or-- send a donation to the Defense Fund to pay for the continual legal motions that will eventually free the WM3.
Supporters can also send Jessie books or magazine subscriptions from Amazon if they so desire -- cars/trucks or pro wrestling will make him happy. Click here for his Wish List.
Jessie gets the least attention of the three of them because many unfairly blame him for his coerced confession when this entire tragedy was set in motion by the incredible incompetence of the WMPD. Please show Jessie your support on this birthday-- he's now spent half his life in prison. Thank you!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of a 4-part series in the Jonesboro
Sun stemming from a recent prison interview with convicted killer
Damien Echols. Some of the information is more graphic than previously
By George Jared
VARNER — The last time Dana Moore saw her son Michael, he was wearing
his Boy Scout shirt, blue jeans, his scout cap and a name badge.
Michael was on his bike in their West Memphis neighborhood riding with
two friends, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, on May 5, 1993. Dana
told her daughter Dawn to call the trio because it was dinner time,
according to court documents.
“Right after I went around the neighborhood, and I thought he just ...
you know I missed him,” Dana Moore said during Jessie Misskelley’s
trial in January 1994. “I went back home and waited for him to come
back. ... He didn’t come back.”
The next day police pulled the boys’ nude, bound bodies from an
irrigation ditch in Robin Hood Hills, a wooded area not far from their
neighborhood. Michael’s Boy Scout uniform was found submerged by a
stick not far from his body.
A month later Misskelley, then 17, Damien Echols, 18, and Jason
Baldwin, 16, were arrested and charged with capital murder. Misskelley
and Baldwin were given life sentences for killing Stevie, Michael and
Echols, the alleged ringleader, received a death sentence.
The convictions might be the most controversial in Arkansas justice
history. No DNA or forensic evidence linked the three teens to the
crimes. There were few facts to support the alleged motive — an occult
or Satanic act.
Echols often thinks of the three boys whose bodies were found in the
ditch, he said. Three boys he claims he never met or ever came into
“So many people have been destroyed by this,” Echols said from a
holding cell in the Department of Correction’s Varner Unit.
For years supporters of the so-called “West Memphis Three” claimed a
botched police investigation, zealous prosecutors Brent Davis and John
Fogleman, and Judge David Burnett convicted innocent men.
In 2007 the state did DNA tests of dozens of pieces of evidence
collected from the scene where the bodies were discovered. Several DNA
profiles were found, but none of them matched Echols, Baldwin or
“Test everything,” Echols said. “Test. Test. Test. I want them to test
every damn thing.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Sept. 30
about the new DNA evidence and allegations that Echols-Baldwin juror
foreman Kent Arnold introduced inadmissible evidence into the jury
room, according to court documents.
DNA collected did not match the convicted, but a hair pulled from the
ligature binding Michael was a mitochondrial match for Stevie’s
stepfather, Terry Hobbs, court documents state. Another hair found on
a tree stump near the crime scene was a possible mitochondrial match
for Hobbs’ friend, David Jacoby — the man Hobbs said he was with when
the boys disappeared.
Hobbs vehemently denies killing his stepson and the boy’s friends.
Attorneys, forensic experts and private investigators hired by
supporters and Echols’ wife, Lorri Davis, have cast a false light on
him, Hobbs said.
“These people should be ashamed of themselves,” Hobbs said. “I can’t
believe what they’re willing to say and what they’re willing to do.”
Stevie’s mother, Pam Hobbs, divorced from Hobbs, has said her
ex-husband could have been involved in the murders.
Pam Hobbs said she thinks her son and the other boys were murdered
somewhere else and dumped into the ditch. At a 2009 court hearing Pam
Hobbs approached Jason Baldwin and told him, “I hope God grants you a
She also corresponds with Echols.
Christopher’s stepfather, John Mark Byers, said Hobbs was involved in
the murders, according to sworn affidavits filed in federal court.
Hobbs said he still remains in contact with his former wife. Intense
media coverage and bombardment from West Memphis Three supporters
prompted his ex-wife’s most recent accusations, Hobbs said.
The two have a daughter, Amanda, and grandchildren, he said. Amanda
has been talking with filmmakers and investigators working to free
Echols and has been put under hypnosis, Hobbs said.
“It’s as low-down as it can be,” Hobbs said. “That Lorri Davis is behind this.”
Pressed further, Hobbs said he fears hypnosis might lead his daughter
to conjure a false memory that places her and him at the crime scene
with the dead boys.
“It’s kind of keeping me on the edge,” he said.
Davis said she heard Amanda underwent hypnosis but denied funding it.
Hobbs said the jailed men are guilty and “can rot in hell as far as
Echols stopped short of accusing Hobbs. “I’m hesitant to put the
finger on anyone because of what I’ve been through,” he said. Asked
again, Echols said “I feel the two men whose DNA was found at the
scene are the most likely suspects.”
Case remains closed
The West Memphis Police Department has steadfastly maintained neither
Hobbs nor Jacoby is a suspect, and the case is closed. Detective Mike
Allen, who discovered the bodies in the ditch, was not available for
comment, but in a recent interview with The Sun he said police in his
department still think the convicted men are guilty. Allen said Hobbs
and Jacoby’s hair probably reached the crime scene by secondary hair
“We’re not saying Hobbs is the perpetrator,” Arkansas Take Action
spokesman Lonnie Soury said. “But it [lack of DNA] strongly exonerates
the three men in jail.”
ATA is an advocacy group for the West Memphis Three.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is most responsible for his
continued imprisonment, Echols said. McDaniel could ask for a new
trial based on the new DNA evidence, allegations of juror misconduct
or the findings of forensic pathologists, Echols said.
Dr. Michael Baden, Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. Richard Souviron and Dr.
Janice Ophoven testified in August the victims’ injuries were not
inflicted by a knife attack, a position held by prosecutors. The
forensic pathologists believe the majority of cuts to the bodies were
post-mortem animal predation.
Baden previously was the chief medical examiner for New York City, and
Spitz has written text books for doctoral forensic pathology courses.
Souviron identified bite marks on women in Florida who were killed by
notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.
Ophoven is regarded as one of the top pediatric forensic pathologists
in the country, according to experts.
“The attorney general doesn’t engage in back-and-forth with death row
inmates,” McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said. “However, to say that
he is responsible for this inmate’s situation is ridiculous. The
attorney general wasn’t on the jury. He wasn’t the judge. He wasn’t
the prosecutor. He’s required to uphold sentences, and anyone serving
as attorney general would do that.”
Review of court briefs
Court briefs filed by McDaniel’s office in the Arkansas Supreme Court
say Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley’s DNA wasn’t collected at the crime
scene. But that’s not enough to set them free.
“That the appellant [Echols] was excluded as the source of the
biological material tested from the crime scene is inconclusive as to
his claim of innocence because his exclusion as a source does not
prove that he was not at the crime scene or not a killer, particularly
as it was apparent there was an attempt to conceal the crimes,” the
It further states: “It is conceivable that the appellant left no
biological material or that any he left was not recovered or tested,
and there are wholly and obvious innocent explanations for the
recovery of biological material of the victim’s stepfather and that of
Echols hopes to be released within the year. If he gets out of prison,
Echols said he wants to speak on college campuses about false
imprisonment. He hopes to continue to meditate, study, and spend time
with his wife.
He wants to make two trips his first year — one to celebrate Halloween
in Salem, Mass., and the other to Branson, Mo., to see the Christmas
If he could sit in a room with Burnett, Davis and Fogleman he’d ask
them one question.
“How long do I have to sit here?” an agitated Echols asked. “They know
what’s going on here. High school kids, junior high kids can come to a
conclusion that they can’t? They should think about that.”
This is the third of a 4-part series in the Jonesboro Sun stemming from a recent prison interview with convicted killer Damien Echols.
Some of the information is more graphic than previously published.
By George Jared
LITTLE ROCK — Lorri Davis first saw her future husband in a film chronicling his murder trial.
Davis attended a screening for “Paradise Lost” at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in February 1996. The documentary depicted the
arrest and trials of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., charged with the sadistic murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis.
The film opens with detectives combing over a wooded area in West Memphis known as Robin Hood Hills. The pale, nude bodies of Michael
Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers lay on a ditch bank, bound from wrist to ankle with their own shoelaces.
Davis was haunted by the film that night. It wasn’t just the boys’ gruesome murders that kept her awake.
“I’d never been affected by something like that,” Davis said. “I felt this kinship with Damien. There was something about him that wasn’t sinister to me.”
The film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky started a sensation when it was released by HBO later that year. Support groups formed for the
so-called “West Memphis Three.”
Berlinger and Sinofsky initially thought the men, who were teens at the time, sodomized, tortured and drowned Michael, Stevie and Christopher near a rain-filled ditch on May 5, 1993.
But as the court hearings unfolded, the directors began to believe the men might be innocent. Many who watched “Paradise Lost,” including
Davis, also believed Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were innocent.
The film might have started an international movement, but Echols said from a death row holding cell last month that he didn’t see “Paradise
Lost” until years later.
“It literally felt like I was going through it again,” Echols said. “It was so real. I only watched half of it. I couldn’t do it.”
Echols said the documentary was the beginning of his potential salvation.
“I’d be dead right now if it weren’t for them [Berlinger and Sinofsky],” Echols said. “They would have murdered me and swept it under the rug.”
Davis, now 47, began writing Echols and exchanging books with him immediately after her harrowing night. Months later she flew to
Arkansas from New York to meet him. Every two or three months she returned to death row to visit the man she describes as her soulmate.
“I have never shared with any other person what me and him share,” she said.
Early in 1999 Davis left her job as a landscape architect in New York City and moved to Little Rock. She didn’t have a job, and her family
had no idea why she moved.
“I did it for Damien,” she said.
Later that year Echols asked Davis to marry him.
“She is my entire world — she fulfills me,” Echols said. “She makes me feel whole.”
Up to that point Davis’ parents, Harry and Lynn Davis, didn’t know their daughter was involved with a notorious convicted murderer.
Davis was born July 16, 1963, in Charleston, W.Va., the middle child of a self-described conservative family. She said she wanted to be a
sculptor at an early age — she studied art and design in England.
“My family didn’t understand anything I was doing,” Davis said. “They were shocked. They were afraid of what to say. I was asking them for a
Echols and Davis wed Dec. 3, 1999.
It took her parents a year to meet Damien. She said the connection was immediate. “My dad loves Damien,” Davis said. “He knows he didn’t do it.”
When Davis married Echols, she expected him to be released within five years. As appeals slogged through the courts, the movement to free the West Memphis Three grew.
Musicians such as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, along with actors such as Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, began to publicly support the men. Millions of dollars have been raised to hire new attorneys and expert witnesses to prove the men’s
Davis worked for the City of Little Rock for a brief time and helped with the Riverfront Park river trail, she said. Working on the case consumes her time now.
On weekdays she calls Echols at 8 a.m. and talks to him for 15 minutes. On weekends she calls at 8:30 a.m. and talks for up to a half hour.
Davis said she has spent more than $100,000 on phone calls over the years.
Davis and Echols often try to do an activity at the same time of day, such as meditating. Echols said he meditates up to seven hours a day.
More than 10 years into their marriage, the two have barely touched, she said. Prison guards monitor their visits, and almost all contact
Davis scoffs at those who think she’s married for the publicity. Early in their marriage, Davis said, she shied away from the spotlight.
“It’s one of the hardest lives a person could live,” Davis said. “Anyone who’d believe [she sought publicity] is pretty ignorant.”
Echols’ intelligence is his most attractive feature, Davis said. His least attractive is his anger.
“He gets upset by the way he’s treated in prison,” she said. “This whole thing has taken so long.”
Berlinger and Sinofsky created a second documentary in 1999, “Paradise Lost II — Revelations,” outlining Echols’ ongoing court battles and
casting doubt on Byers’ stepfather, John Mark Byers.
Described by Sinofsky as “one of the most interesting figures in film history,” John Byers was considered the true killer by many West
Memphis Three supporters.
John Byers’ antics on film, such as removing his teeth when experts testified that wounds on the bodies might be human bite marks, and his
run-ins with Echols leading into the courthouse continued to cast suspicion on him.
The focus shifted from John Byers to Stevie’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, in 2007 when detailed, modern DNA analysis revealed a hair collected
from Michael’s ligature came from Hobbs, according to court records. No DNA evidence linked John Byers to the crime scene.
None of the evidence tested had DNA from Echols, Baldwin or Misskelley.
John Byers, who publicly admonished the West Memphis Three for years and scorned supporters, now believes the men are innocent.
“They didn’t kill my little boy,” a tearful Byers said outside a courtroom in August 2009. Christopher’s mother, Melissa Byers, died in 1996.
During a 2009 Rule 37 hearing for Baldwin and Misskelley, Byers became visibly upset when Victoria Hutchinson, a key witness in the
Misskelley trial, prepared to testify. “That’s the bitch who started all of this,” Byers said as she made her way to the stand.
He later said the “witchcraft stuff was caused by her.”
Hutcheson originally testified that she attended an Esbat, or witches’ gathering, with Echols and Misskelley. Her testimony was meant to
prove the two were involved in the occult.
She now denies attending an Esbat with Echols and Misskelley, according to a sworn affadavit obtained by The Sun. That was further
affirmed in comments she has made to reporters. She now says police coerced her testimony.
Prosecutors would not grant her immunity at the August hearing, and she refused to recant on the stand for fear of being charged with
perjury, she said. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel would not comment as to why Hutcheson wasn’t given immunity in exchange for her testimony.
John Byers gives talks about the case to college students on various campuses and plans to release a book sometime this year.
Berlinger and Sinofsky are slated to release a third film about the case at the end of the year. Another filmmaker, Amy Berg, is also
shooting a documentary.
Davis thinks her husband will be out of jail soon — “hopefully in the next year,” she said.
NEXT: Echols tells when he thinks he’ll get out of prison, who he thinks might have killed the boys and what he plans to do with his life should he be released
This is the second of a 4-part series in the Jonesboro Sun stemming from arecent prison interview with convicted killer Damien Echols. Some of the information is more graphic than previously published.
By George Jared
VARNER — If he ever leaves death row, the first thing Damien Echols wants to do is eat an apple and feel the sunshine on his face.
It’s been seven years since the convicted murderer has experienced the sun.
Shackled at the ankles, Echols is sometimes allowed to walk in an outside structure he describes as a grain silo with a metal roof. The man, now a celebrity whose friends include actor Johnny Depp and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, typically spends 24 hours a day in a cramped cell.
“I used to really like pizza, but I can’t remember what it tastes like,” Echols said. “You never know what you’ll keep and what you’ll lose.” He
added that fame “is irrelevant to me. I’m not exposed to it.”
For 17 years Echols has sat on Arkansas’ death row for killing three West Memphis 8-year-olds — Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers —on May 5, 1993.
The boys’ nude bodies were found in a ditch, and, according to prosecutors, Echols and his cohorts, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., killed the boys in an occult ceremony. No forensic or DNA evidence linked the then-teens to the crime, and for years some have questioned their guilt.
Echols, 35, has always professed his innocence, and the case has convinced supporters of the so-called “West Memphis Three” to raise funds to pay for new attorneys and hire experts.
He may be internationally famous, but Echols said it does him little good on a day-to-day basis.
“I live in a cell where I can take two steps in any direction, and I have to stop,” he said.
Prison hasn’t been kind to him, Echols said. His eyesight is waning, and his teeth are deteriorating. Echols claims that prison guards hurt his teeth when they hit his face. He said he was told that one tooth could be repaired, but officials will only allow it to be pulled.
“They’re not going to spend a lot of money for medical treatment for someone they plan to kill,” he said.
Echols claims he’s been repeatedly raped after family visitations and forced to perform sex acts with guards.
“I’ve never met a murderer, drug dealer or rapist in jail that scared me,” Echols said. “The guards scare the hell out of me.”
Arkansas Department of Correction officials deny the accusations.
“He made the allegation awhile back, which was investigated thoroughly,” ADC spokeswoman Dina Tyler said via e-mail. “It came down to shakedowns after visitation. We are thorough because a lot of contraband comes through visitation, and he does have contact visits.”
“Inmates don’t like strip searches,” she said. “We have them bend over, squat and cough, which they really don’t like. But that’s one of the
most-used places to hide contraband.”
During Echols’ 1994 trial he got to spend a few moments with his infant son Seth. To this day, the two have remained in contact. “I can’t even begin to understand the culture he’s growing up in,” he said. Later he added, “I’ll never get to take him trick-or-treating on Halloween. I’ll never get to be Santa Claus. It’s all gone.”
A death sentence has prevented Echols from being a father, he said. Echols said his own father had very little to do with him.
“I didn’t set out to be to Seth what my father was to me,” he said.
Echols’ mother, father and sister rarely visit. He said he’d rather they stayed out of the limelight. “You can’t expect everyone’s world to stop, just because you’re in prison,” he said.
Each week Echols said he tries to respond to the many letters he receives from around he world. Two people who write him often are Pam Hobbs, Stevie’s mother, and John Mark Byers, Christopher’s stepfather.
Both have stated publicly they believe the West Memphis Three didn’t kill their sons. Echols said he tries to write them as often as he can.
Michael’s parents, Todd and Dana Moore, reportedly still believe the men are guilty. The Moores rarely speak in public about the case.
Echols said he wouldn’t try to convince the Moores of his innocence. “I try to look at it from the perspective of what they’ve been through,” he said. “They have to come to a conclusion on their own like Pam Hobbs and John Mark Byers.”
Changes and passions
The way the world has changed during his incarceration amazes Echols. He’s never been on the Internet, talked on a cell phone, played a CD or DVD or voted.
When he was a kid, he looked forward to watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” or Christmas specials aired once a year. Cultural events, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the election of Barack Obama are of little importance to Echols.
“I miss Christmas and Halloween,” he said. “They’ve taken almost 20 of them away from me.”
Food in prison is extremely bland, and Echols said if he’s released the first thing he wants to do is go out for pizza. Inmates used to get to get
fruit at Christmas, but that stopped when too many inmates used the fruit to make alcohol.
Hot dogs are a delicacy in the prison, and Echols said he’s seen fights break out over them.
He spends his time writing letters, mediating, doing yoga and push-ups, and occasionally watches television. An avid Boston Red Sox fan, Echols said he likes to turn the game on and listen to it while he’s thinking. Joel Osteen’s weekly TV sermon is among his favorites, he said.
Echols said he spends a lot of time studying herbal alchemy and archangels. He wonders why people don’t use herbal treatments to cure ailments and doesn’t know why modern medicine costs so much. Buddhism is the religion with which he most closely identifies.
Music was a passion of his before prison. An old radio he has access to picks up two country music stations, which aren’t his favorites.
During his trial prosecutors suggested his taste in heavy metal and hard rock groups like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses were signs of his bent for the occult.
He once heard a faint voice whisper his name through a slit in the cell door. On the other side was a skinny, gangly man who Echols didn’t
It was Jason Baldwin.
Baldwin was brought over from another prison on a cleaning detail. Seconds later he was gone. That’s the only time, Echols said, he’s seen Baldwin in 17 years.
“I would like to see him again,” Echols said, later adding, “It’s like we were brothers.”
Misskelley and Baldwin were offered shorter prison terms by prosecutors to testify against Echols. Neither did.
“He [Baldwin] has more honor and integrity than people like [Brent] Davis and [John] Fogelman.”
John Fogelman and Brent Davis were the prosecutors in the case.
Echols might have been executed by now or at the very least have no hope for release if it were not for two unknown filmmakers who made their way to Arkansas in the days after his arrest.
Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger were given unprecedented access to witnesses, victims’ families and the courtroom during the trials. Even as Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley remained in prison, “Paradise Lost” was on its way to casting serious doubt on their convictions.
NEXT: Echols’ wife, Lorri Davis, tells how they met and how the case evolved into an international sensation.
This is the first of a 4-part series in the Jonesboro Sun stemming from a recent prison interview with convicted killer Damien Echols. Some of the information is graphic.
By George Jared
VARNER — He watched cars splash in the rainy streets.
Damien Echols doesn’t know which November day it was when he stood in a Subway restaurant parking lot, but he cannot forget the sound of wheels in the water.
He meditates for hours in his prison cell, wishing he could feel the water and hear the sound again. Some days thinking about that sound is the only thing that keeps him sane.
It’s been almost two decades since Echols, who now sits on death row for killing three West Memphis youths, has felt a raindrop.
“This situation has been horrendous and 17 years of pure hell,” Echols said from a holding cell at the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Varner unit on June 16. “If anybody with an IQ of more than 15 will look at the evidence in this case, they’ll know what happened. They’ll know we didn’t do it.”
Few would have sympathy for a man convicted of such a heinous crime. But new DNA evidence and the findings of a slew of renowned forensic pathologists and legal experts have some questioning the convictions of Echols and two other men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.
Prosecutors allege that the three, teens at the time, were drinking beer and whiskey near a rain-filled ditch in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis on May 5, 1993. Around 7 p.m. 8-year-olds Michael Moore, Christopher Byers and Stevie Branch rode their bikes near the ditch.
The state contends that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley attacked the boys, beating and sodomizing them. At one point, prosecutors say, Baldwin brandished a knife and skinned Christopher’s penis and cut his testicles off.
Belief in the occult or Satanism motivated the killings, prosecutors said. A single child’s shoe was found floating in the ditch the next day. Searchers found the boys’ nude, bound bodies floating nearby moments later.
Did Echols kill the boys?
“No,” he said, his dark brown eyes never blinking. “Every time I answer that question, it’s like getting kicked in the stomach. You never get used to it. People either look at me like I’m getting screwed, or I’m some kind of child molester.”
Within days police interviewed Baldwin and Echols, before autopsy reports were complete or evidence gathered at the scene was processed.
Echols wonders how the police could have identified him as a suspect so quickly with no evidence or leads.
A month later Misskelley gave a controversial, and in some instances inaccurate, confession to police, implicating himself, Echols and Baldwin.
During his confession Misskelley said the boys were bound by ropes, although they were tied by their own shoelaces. He said the attack occurred in the morning when authorities knew the boys were in school. Misskelley told police the juveniles were sodomized. Autopsy reports and defense forensic pathologists found no evidence of a sexual assault on any of the boys.
Prosecutors insist that Misskelley correctly identified Christopher as the emasculated child and said two of the children, Michael and Stevie, drowned. Even after his trial Misskelley gave several more elaborate and more factual confessions.
His then-attorney, Dan Stidham, said the later confessions were more accurate because Misskelley, who has an IQ of 72, gleaned more details during his trial. Later he recanted all the confessions.
Stidham said he thinks the convicted are innocent.
Baldwin and Echols were arrested June 3, 1993, while watching the horror movie “Leprechaun” with two girls. Echols learned of the confession after his first court arraignment.
“I asked the judge to read it in court, but he wouldn’t,” Echols said. “They put me in a broom closet at the jail, and that’s when I read it. I thought it must be a joke.”
Years later Echols said he tries not to think of Misskelley’s statements. They were not friends before the murders, Echols said. He doesn’t blame the then-17-year-old. He believes police tricked Misskelley into the statement.
Echols sat in jail for months awaiting trial. During that time he spent only five hours with his lead attorney, public defender Val Price of Jonesboro.
His family was poor and couldn’t afford a lawyer, Echols said.
“We lived in abject poverty,” he said. “My parents had no education. I got through the ninth grade, and that’s as far as anyone in my family got. We had no future to look forward to.”
To this day sitting in his cell, Echols said he wouldn’t return to the life he left behind in West Memphis.
“We thought rich people went to places like McDonald’s to eat,” he said. “That was a big deal for us.”
Misskelley’s confession could not be used against Echols or Baldwin because he refused to testify. With no confession, prosecutors told family members it was a “50-50” shot that Baldwin and Echols would be convicted.
The state produced clothing fibers found on Michael that microscopically matched fibers from Baldwin’s mother’s house coat. But experts admitted the fiber could have come from a number of sources.
Two girls, Jodee Medford and Christy Van Vickle, testified they heard Echols admit at a softball game weeks after the murders that he killed the boys. Echols said their testimony was key for the prosecution.
“I might have said it, but it wasn’t because I did it,” he said. “I was a teen-ager. People were saying a lot of stuff about me. But I might have said it joking around.”
Expert witness testified
A key prosecution witness, Dr. Dale Griffis, testified that the crime had the trappings of the occult. He said the number of victims and time of month indicated it was a satanic sacrifice.
Echols said he’s still mystified Griffis was allowed to testify as an expert witness. Griffis admitted on the stand he never took any graduate courses to receive his doctorate, which came from a “diploma mill” in California.
Dr. Frank Peretti’s testimony that emasculating Christopher would be nearly impossible for a professional under those conditions should have carried more weight with the jury, Echols said.
Price failed in one crucial way during the defense portion of the trial, Echols said. The attorney never credibly established Echols’ alibi.
The day in question was typical, unmemorable, Echols said.
Actions on day in question
Echols went to a pharmacy with his family to pick up a prescription the afternoon of May 5, 1993, he said. Later, he went with Baldwin to Baldwin’s uncle’s house to mow the yard. That night he talked on the phone with three girls, including Jennifer Bearden.
Bearden was not called as a witness at the original trial. Bearden testified at an August 2009 hearing that she talked to Echols three times that night, the last conversation starting at 9:20.
Echols and Baldwin lived more than six miles from the crime scene, and neither had a driver’s license. To this day Echols says he’s never driven a car.
“When I think about it — driving on a highway — it’s scary,” he said. “Maybe on a gravel road.”
Without a vehicle it would have been almost impossible for Echols to have committed the murders and returned home in time to talk on the phone, defense attorneys contend.
Media coverage of the arrests and trials was a “circus,” Echols said. One television station reported a club with blood and hair on it was recovered from Echols’ home. “I saw that on TV and thought’ these bastards have set me up for real,’” he said.
It turned out to be a paint stick with dog hair on it.
At times during the trial, Echols hissed, licked his lips and smiled at victims’ families.
“I was young. It was a mistake,” he said.
Echols’ body went numb when he heard the verdict.
“It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s real and not real at the same time. It’s like getting punched. There’s no way in hell they can convict me for
something I didn’t do.”
The person most responsible for his conviction is Judge David Burnett, Echols said.
Echols contended Burnett led the prosecution’s case from the bench and made critical decisions, such as allowing Griffis to testify as an expert, that swayed the jury.
In previous interviews Burnett said he will not make any comments about the case until the appeals process is finished. The judge pointed out the state Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court have upheld his rulings in the case numerous times.
Years of languishing in prison with horrors untold awaited the Marion teen, who was 19 years old when he received a death sentence for killing the three boys. Echols’ original execution date was set for May 5, 2000.
Support and money from people around the world may have saved his life. But prison life is almost unbearable, Echols said.
“There’s no relief,” Echols said of prison life. “Anything can happen anytime, but nothing can never happen.”