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"NoNonsenseMcGuire" presents: The Unbelievable Injustice of The West Memphis 3
What is "No Nonsense McGuire?"
I love to make people laugh. My goofy nature can barely be contained in my writing and I personally think that's a gift. However, I can also be serious minded and to that end I am periodically doing articles with zero humor about subjects I am passionate about.
For my first entry, I can think of no other topic that has had more impact on me and moved me so deeply than that of the infamous West Memphis 3 case, which I have been following since 1998 when I saw the first of three documentaries on the subject called, "Paradise Lost."
The West Memphis 3: 3 murders that were just the beginning
The small religious community of West Memphis, Arkansas was forever changed on the afternoon of May 6, 1993, when the mutilated bodies of three 8 year old boys (Steven Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers) were found in a muddy creek in the Robin Hood Hills area of town. This marked the beginning of a horrible tragedy that would only get worse.
The media frenzy began almost immediately and kept growing as new details were uncovered. The bodies were found bound with shoelaces and had been plagued with multiple lacerations and, in one case, genital mutilation. Fueled by fear and grief, the popular theory became that these boys were murdered in some ritualistic fashion by Satan worshipers and local authorities knew just where to point the collective fingers: at local "troublemakers" Damien Echols, 18, Jason Baldwin, 16, and Jessie Misskelley Jr, 17, who wore black, listened to heavy metal, and read books by Stephen King and Aleister Crowley.
It is clear to me, and to the millions of people who have investigated the case through viewing the documentaries and books on the subject, that these 3 teenagers became victims of a modern day witch hunt that echos the Salem trials with disturbing accuracy.
Damien Echols was a typical teenager in a small town. He was bored, he was poor, and he felt disconnected from the world he lived in.
"Looking back, the worst part about living in the shack [in a West Memphis trailer park] wasn't the poverty, the heat, the cold, or even the humiliation of living under such circumstances; it was the absolute and utter loneliness." -Damien Echols "" Life After Death
He had some emotional issues, the kind that visit us all from time to time; nervous breakdowns over girls, a curiosity about the morbid and the macabre, etc. Nothing serious, though he did run afoul of the law on a few occasions and even spent time in a mental hospital for evaluation. What did he do? He started fights, obsessed over a girlfriend who dumped him and called her once to often, started small fires; stuff of that nature. He did all this in his teen years, which by all accounts is mostly normal, but for the authorities of West Memphis, this was disturbing behavior.
I can tell you in all honesty, I have set fires before. I have also obsessed over a girl who broke up with me to the point where all I did was drink and bemoan my sorrows. I even dug up a deceased cat once in my youth, but I am far from insane, dangerous, or homicidal I can assure you. Teenage boys do stupid teenage boy things. Unfortunately for Damien Echols, this behavior put him on a few local officials' radars and when the murders came to light and the fires of occult dealings began to spread, Mr. Echols sprang to the top of the West Memphis police's list of suspects.
Upon his conviction, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
There isn't a whole lot to say about Jason Baldwin. Described as a skinny kid with an unassuming manner who did well in school, Baldwin fits the profile of a nerd more than a "Satanic Thrill Killer."
But appearances aren't everything, so I am backing up his shy nerdy demeanor with the fact that his criminal record prior to the murder convictions was a couple of incidents of shoplifting. Jason's arrest and conviction appear to be more of a "Guilty By Association" scenario due to his friendship with Echols.
Upon his conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Jessie Misskelley Jr
Jessie Misskelley Jr barely knew Echols before the arrests and associated with Baldwin only on occasion. He was a borderline retarded boy, with an IQ of 72, who developed a reputation as being "hot-tempered" and would occasionally incite fights with neighborhood kids. Whether this was due to him being bullied for being slow or not is unclear, but in my opinion seems like a likely connection.
The case against the WM3 cracked wide open for the police when 17 year old Misskelley confessed that he was present as Echols and Baldwin beat, tortured, and killed the 3 victims and that he himself had chased after one of the victims and subdued him. This confession has itself become infamous for reasons I will discuss later on.
Upon his conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole and 40 extra years.
With potential suspects on radar and the entirety of a nation looking upon them, the West Memphis police began compiling evidence against the teens. People with even limited knowledge of police investigations often refer to this method as, "shoddy police work." A standard police investigation is to interview people connected to the victims and thin out the list of potential suspects based on motive and means. In this case they based the proceedings around 3 suspects unrelated to the victims and built evidence that supported the story they wanted.
People connected to Echols were interviewed repeatedly with questions regarding Echols' demeanor, after-school activities, and whereabouts at the time the murders would have taken place. A few folks who barely knew Echols came forward to testify that he had bragged about the murders openly after the fact or confessed privately to them. It was revealed long after that many of them were lying, even under oath, and those that gave testimony during the trial have since recanted their testimony.
One piece of evidence used during the trials was a knife found in a lake behind Baldwin's trailer park home. What is ultimately curious about this is how the police found it. The investigation was stalling without a murder weapon and very shortly after that fact was acknowledged, the police found the knife. They found it in a very large lake in a relatively short amount of time. That just seems far too convenient, as if they already knew exactly what small area of the lake to look in.
The knife was used in the trials and it was suggested by the prosecution that, since the victims weren't stabbed (cause of death was asphyxiation from drowning and head trauma), the killers used the reverse serrated edge to sort of whack at their victims and to scrape them, which appeared consistent with the wounds inflicted. This was proven false long after the trials by more qualified experts. More on that later.
Jessie gave a confession of the crimes to the WMPD that was used during Jessie's trial, was not allowed in Echols' and Baldwin's trial (They were tried separately from Misskelley.) The circumstances with which Misskelley gave the confession are highly suspect. Police held him for over 12 hours, without legal counsel and without his parent's authorization. The authorization of a parent or legal guardian, with signatures of acknowledgement of Miranda rights, is required by law for a minor. This should have gotten the entire confession disavowed, but for reasons unknown, the Judge presiding over the case allowed it. Plus, and this is very interesting, of the 12 hours that Jessie was held and interviewed, only 35 or so minutes were ever recorded.
There's more; Jessie's confession is riddled with false information and leading statements by police. In the transcript, he claims he witnessed Echols and Baldwin tie up the boys with ropes and sexually assault them. In reality, the boys were tied up with shoelaces, not rope, and more importantly, no evidence of rape was discovered with the victims. Jessie also initially gives a time frame that could not have been accurate due to the fact that Baldwin was confirmed as being in school at the time and so were all 3 victims. The officer taping the confession can be heard leading Misskelley to changing his answers on the time frame to fit with the evidence. It's painfully obvious that this is happening and that Misskelley is not smart enough to figure this out. Misskelley later told reporters that he just wanted to go home so he started telling the officers whatever they wanted to hear in hopes that they would let him go home. Regardless, this confession is still sufficient proof of guilt in the eyes of people still convinced of the WM3's guilt.
What's even more aggravating to me, is the things that were ignored by the prosecution. For example, on the night of the murders, at the established time when the murders were said to have occurred, witnesses at a diner called Bojangles all stated that an African American man burst through the door of the diner covered in mud and blood. He ran to the bathroom and stayed there for a brief time before leaving the restaurant before police could arrive. He is said to have been in a state of panic and acted as if no one else was around, even though all the diner patrons were staring at him in shock. Bojangles was located near the freeway, on the edge of the area called Robin Hood Hills, where the bodies were found the next day. To this very day, no has seen or heard from "Mr. Bojangles" and the police never followed up on this potential lead.
Another error by the police that I touched upon earlier, was the lack of attention paid to the victims' families. Steven Branch and Chris Byers both come from broken homes and had step-fathers with criminal records and a history of violence. I won't act like the West Memphis police here and accuse them of murder based on that, but I feel that is a hell of a good place to start the investigation. Both men were haphazardly interviewed with no real seriousness by the police because in the eyes of the police, they already had their killers.
John Mark Byers, step-father to victim Chris Byers, is the loudest (and scariest) voice crying for the heads of the West Memphis 3 in the first 2 "Paradise Lost" documentaries. He is an imposing and terrifying individual whose alibi initially seemed frail and was long considered a prime suspect in the public eye outside of West Memphis. He was a very suspicious character with a criminal rap sheet including threats of violence, drug abuse, and grand theft, which shined a light on him that any normal police agency would have investigated as is standard protocol. In addition, his stepson was the victim most violated in the murders. Curiously enough, in 2007 he issued a statement that he now fully believed the West Memphis 3 to be innocent and that he would dedicate his life to helping uncover the truth about the real killers of his son.
Terry Hobbs, the step-father of Steven Branch, is a very interesting subject. When interviewed by police during the ichoate stages of the investigation, Hobbs provided an alibi for his whereabouts that night. Since then, he has repeatedly changed his alibi to accommodate his story. What's even more damning is that recently uncovered forensic evidence, which could not link the 3 accused men to the scene, revealed a hair belonging to Terry Hobbs that was woven into one of the knots in the laces used to tie up the victims. If the hair was found draped across, then the evidence wouldn't hold much weight, but the fact that the hair strand was tied into the know itself in highly suspect. It was with this new evidence that defense attorneys sought a new trial for the 3 accused and were denied by the original Judge who presided over the cases, David Burnett. (The law states that whenever new evidence in an old case is discovered, the original judge is the one who makes all the decisions.) The appeal then went to the Supreme Court of Arkansas based on this new DNA evidence, as well as statements made by Pamela Hobbs (mother of Steven Branch and now ex-wife of Terry Hobbs), who now believes that Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley did not murder her son and that she believes Terry capable of committing the crimes.
Futhermore, top experts were hired to review all the evidence and found that the marks on the victims' bodies were not made by any knife, but rather are consistent with animal bites and claw marks made post-mordem over the hours the boys spent undiscovered in the drainage ditch. The boys were never tortured and mutilated at all. This goes a long way in proving that these murders were not part of any ritual, Satanic or otherwise. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defense that new evidence could be heard at an evidentiary hearing that would determine whether a new trial should be given. A new Judge was issued the case after Judge Burnett was elected to State Senate and the law states that a Senate member cannot preside over criminal trials as a Judge.
--The Alford Plea--
In August of 2011, while things were still moving, though slowly, for their evidentiary hearing, the prosecution offered the defendants a rarely used plea called the Alford Plea. This plea states that a defendant is pleading guilty while maintaining their innocence and being released on time served. This plea deal allows any new evidence that might surface to still be considered for exonerating the defendants, but the defendants can never hold the state accountable for any wrongdoing in handling their case. It is a terrible deal and none of the defendants wanted to take it, however, all 3 agreed after it was made clear to them that gaining a new trial could still be years away and was not guaranteed. With Damien's life hanging in the balance, the men felt they had no choice and took the plea. They were released that same week.
The case of the West Memphis 3 has become infamous. It's a story that refuses to die in the public eye, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in the initial investigation. The multiple documentaries and writings have even attracted celebrity fans--such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, famed director Peter Jackson (who produced the new doc, "West of Memphis,") and more--who have dedicate countless funds, and even personal time, to the legal defense.
This article merely scratches the surface of what has become one of the most tragic, twisted, and convoluted criminal cases of our time. This case is one of the inspirations I cite for wanting to become a homicide detective at one time. I believe with my dying breath that these teenagers had nothing to do with the case and that they were railroaded by a scared and uneducated town of religious zealots who had them convicted before they were even arrested. As a result of this close-mindedness and short-sighted thinking not 3, but 6 lives were tragically cut short and a killer of 3 small children still walks free with a sickening smile on his face. These teenagers are now men in their mid 30s who have grown up behind prison walls and, in Damien's case, rarely seen the sunlight.
I urge you to investigate the case yourself and come to your own conclusions. Recommended resources include, "", " The Paradise Lost trilogyWest Of Memphis", "The Devil's Knot" a novel by Mara Leavitt, and "Life After Death" a memoir by Damien Echols.