Three men, one on death row, may be set free today after a deal is made between state prosecutors and defense attorneys. For seventeen years the men have been incarcerated for the murders of three 8-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas on May 5, 1993.
New DNA evidence surfaced in 2007 showing that none of the DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime could be attributed to any of the defendants.
This evidence was eventually reversed by the Arkansas Supreme Court but newly tested evidence from July 2011 of materials from the crime scene were found to not match any of the defendants yet again.
All three men received severe punishments for the committed crimes. According to officials the slayings of the young boys were part of a Satanic ritual.
- Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison.
- Damien Echols was sentenced to death.
- Jessie Misskelley Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment and two 20-year sentences.
The DNA evidence will not completely exonerate the men but it does make the case circumstantial because there is a lack evidence implicating any of them.
The HBO documentary series Paradise Lost sparked much of the criticism about how law enforcement handled the crime scene and the case. According to the films, there was also very little blood evidence found by the bodies, indicating that the boys were probably not even murdered at the same location that their bodies were found.
The defense argued that much of the substantial evidence gathered by the police was actually gained by coercion. Misskelley confessed to the crime but later recanted. It was this confession that sealed the conviction for the ‘West Memphis Three.’
“I don’t know what kind of deal they made,” said Steve Branch, the father of victim Steven Branch. “Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you and you can walk free for killing somebody,” he added.
Many legal experts, celebrities and defense attorneys support the innocence of the three defendants.
From the New York Times:
“Should Mr. Echols be freed, it would be the highest profile release of a death row inmate in recent memory.”
These men were boys when they were arrested and have spent years in prison. Will DNA evidence be enough to set them free?
What do you think?
CNN is streaming the video live from the hearing.
There is also a Free the WM3 Support Fund created by a group of individuals fighting for what they believe is the “truth.”
UPDATE (8/19/11 1:30PM EST) : An Arkansas judge has set the three men, Echols, Baldwin and Miskelley, free. To regain their freedom and get out of prison the three men agreed to pleading guilty, preventing the possibility o a civil lawsuit against the state of Arkansas.
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