On Thursday, an Arkansas Judge denied a request to test DNA evidence in the “ritual murder” of 3 small children. This has been met with harsh criticism, as it means the victims have not received full justice, and the real perpetrator could still be free. The judge cited a local statute that only allows those still in prison to petition for new DNA testing. The petitioner, Damien Echols, along with two others, were convicted of the crime, but released in 2011 on an Alford Plea after public outcry over many trail inconsistencies.
The original trial of the “West Memphis 3” took place in 1994, but it has long been a subject of controversy. At the time, three teenagers were convicted of the brutal murders of three 8 year-old boys. The children were kidnapped after school, hog tied, and left submerged in a shallow creek in the woods near an interstate. The scene was horrific and brutal.
Evidence to suggest that the teens were innocent was left out of the original trial. The West Memphis 3 were met with the surprising “fact” that evidence that could have helped clear their names was lost to a fire. Years later, the real truth surfaced. No such fire had ever occurred, and the evidence was still being held and untested.
How did this happen?
This crime would be shocking for any community, especially during the famed “satanic panic” era. Without any definite leads, and no training in such a horrific situation, the police latched onto suspects they convinced themselves were the culprits. One of the main reasons given was “they listened to Metallica.”
As a result, the prosecution try to insinuate the suspects had performed a “ritual sacrifice.” There has been zero evidence to support those claims.
A Coerced Confession
A false confession is what started the extreme travesty that befell the three teenaged boys. Coerced out of 16 year-old Jessie Misskelley, who was interrogated alone and had an IQ of 72. Misskelley was interrogated for hours, with only a mere thirty or so minutes being recorded as proof of a confession. Full of factual inconsistencies, the confession was used as proof of the crime. Misskelley would later recant the statement.
Bias and cover-ups
Aside from the confession, evidence used to support the investigator’s claims of guilt were the teens wore black band shirts, painted their nails black, had (natural) dark hair, and had tattoos. They listened to heavy metal music, educated themselves in occult literature, were interested in other religions outside the Catholic Church. Aside from a false confession was all they had to pin this triple murder on these teens. Interests that many normal, respectable, and ordinary people have in common today.
Nearly two decades on death row before release
Damien Echols was convicted when he was 18, spent 18 years on death row. Jason Baldwin was convicted when he was 17, and spent 18 years of a life sentence in prison. Jessie Misskelley, who was 16 at the time of the murders, was convicted he was 17, and spent 18 years of a life sentence in prison. Actual DNA evidence was never used in court, and anything to directly suggest the innocence of the three teens was also never permitted to be used in court as well.
Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Micheal Moore’s murderer(s) are still suspected to be free, and have never had to stand trial for the crimes against the three 8 year olds. There are currently no other suspects of the crime.
Editor’s note: If the background of this case has upset you, good. It should. The coercion and corruption implicated by the West Memphis police demands attention. The victims of the case are not just Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelly, but the forgotten three children as well. Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Micheal Moor deserve justice. They deserve to have the world know who is responsible for taking their lives. Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelly deserved a fair trial and did not receive such. The West Memphis police and local government must be held accountable.