Like many of you today, I’ve been reading reports about the somewhat sudden release of The West Memphis Three all day. While it’s not hard to feel a sense of relief that finally, after 18 years in prison, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin are free, the news is still bittersweet.
Accused of masterminding a horrific crime that resulted in the death of three eight-year-old boys, Damien Echols spent half of his life on Death Row. In a letter published today on the Free The West Memphis Three website, Echols continues to maintain the trio’s innocence. Despite the fact that the use of the ‘Alford plea’ in their release requires that Echols, Misskelly Jr., and Baldwin acknowledge that prosecutors in the case have enough evidence against them.
Recent DNA evidence (which wasn’t available at the time of the incident and trial), has concluded that DNA found at the scene was not a match for Echols, Misskelly Jr., or Baldwin. Yet, three eight-year-old boys are still dead, and 18 years later their killer remains at large. Today, three boys leave prison, now men in their mid-30’s, half of their lives lost forever, and their collective futures uncertain at best.
The Prosecutor in the case, Scott Ellington, still believes that the three are guilty of the crime. According to Ellington, the case might be “closed” but he still believes that Echols, Misskelly Jr., and Baldwin are guilty, saying that he has “no reason to believe that there was anyone else involved in the homicide of those three children.”
Undoubtedly, some are angry that The West Memphis Three were released today, and others, like myself, are celebrating. As of this writing, the defense has named another suspect, Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys, as a suspect. DNA evidence from a hair found in the shoelaces used to bind the boys is a match for Hobbs. Three new eyewitness accounts place Terry Hobbs with the three children at his home, shortly before the boys disappeared. An accusation that Hobbs has already denied under oath.
The judge in the case will now have to make two rulings, one regarding juror misconduct, and the other regarding the DNA from the crime scene that does not belong to Echols, Misskelly Jr., or Baldwin. It’s unclear if the accusations and DNA evidence linking Terry Hobbs to the crime will ever be prosecutable.
A case based on panic and hysteria, not actual evidence and proof, is still without closure.
Over nearly two decades, the media, countless blogs, and many high-profile celebrities and musicians, like Pearl Jam and director Peter Jackson, have helped bring awareness to the case, as well as helping to fund the WM3’s massive legal defense. Now that the West Memphis Three seemingly have another shot at life, let’s not forget they still need our help. For more information, visit the West Memphis Three site.