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West Memphis Three Case: Court Orders New Evidentiary Hearings

4 years ago
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After 17 years of asking, the West Memphis Three are finally getting another day in court.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a judge to consider whether newly analyzed DNA evidence might exonerate the three men convicted in the 1993 murders of three West Memphis Cub Scouts. The justices also said a lower court must examine claims of juror misconduct, which opens the door for defense attorneys to bring in all evidence not presented in the original trials. The court voted unanimously for new hearings.

Damien Echols sits on death row for the murders of the three children. Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr. received life sentences.

At the time of the murders, there was speculation that the case was an occult killing. Echols was singled out because he wore black clothes, listened to heavy metal and read horror novels, although he did not know the three boys. He and Baldwin and Misskelley were accused of murder, sexual mutilation and cutting and beating the victims. The evidence and the facts of the crime never matched. All three of the accused were teenagers when they were convicted.

Damien Echols, West Memphis ThreeThe WM3 case has generated major netroots activism, and drawn celebrity support from Johnny Depp, singer Patti Smith, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, among others. They staged a concert in August to draw attention to the case, especially in Arkansas, where it had gotten very little attention until recently. HBO has produced two documentaries and is currently filming a third.

The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists' campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing.

McDaniel said he respected the court's ruling but added that his office "intends to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to defend the jury verdicts in this case."

When the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late September, activists from around the world for Free the WM3 and Arkansas Take Action filled the chamber.

Over the years, Echols has petitioned higher courts numerous times, including the U.S. Supreme Court, but has been denied a new hearing.

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No, "those who backed them" should not "pay a price." Guilty or innocent, these three defendants have not had a fair trial, and there's no reason they should not have one. Exactly what kind of "price" would you propose that "backers" pay, and why? If it turns out the three are guilty, who exactly was harmed by the people who sincerely believed they were innocent, and who wanted to see justice done? What about their defense lawyers? If the three turn out to be guilty, should they "pay a price"?

November 06 2010 at 6:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If these three are innocent, then the State of Arkansas has some "splainin' to do. However, if the evidence does bear out that these three did kill those children, then those who backed them should pay a price as well.

November 04 2010 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why did it, (or why should it) take 18 years for the Arkansas Supreme Court to reach their conclusions?

November 04 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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