Holy … wow. What an amazing … I just … seriously. I have been on the verge of happy tears all day.
Eighteen years were stolen. Three eight-year-old boys are still dead. Their murderer is still free. Justice has not been served. Not completely. The case – even at this juncture – especially at this juncture – has exposed incredible deficits in our legal system. This entire story is riddled with heartache, corruption, and unimaginable wreckage. There is no way to know how far the ripples of this tragedy reach.
But … today … three innocent men are free.
I first heard about the West Memphis Three (WM3) sometime around 2002. To sum up the story: In 1993, three boys, Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, were found murdered, their bodies mutilated and dumped in a river in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas.
The mismanagement of the case – from the crime scene investigation through the trial – was astounding. The WM3, Damien Echols (18), Jessie Misskelley Jr. (17), and Jason Baldwin (16), were convicted based on an illegally produced confession and zero evidence. They were accused because police believed the crime had satanic motivation and the WM3, who wore black and listened to metal, were feared in this small and conservative community.
Personally, I believe they were convicted based on blind rage and need of the community to lay blame somewhere, anywhere.
Damien was sentenced to death and the other two were given life without parole. They’ve spent half their lives in prison. Damien has been in solitary confinement for the better part of the last decade. The gross mishandling of the case by police, prosecutors, and judges not only robbed these three of the last 18 years and the lives they may have developed, but also dishonored the lives and deaths of three young boys.
If you aren’t familiar with this case, I strongly recommend you watch Paradise Lost. It tells the story much better than I can.
They have maintained their innocence since the beginning. Thousands of people have fought for their release – from lawyers taking on their cases pro bono to celebrities working to publicize the issue to the average citizen gathering petitions and picketing the courts. I knew the tide of evidence had changed over the last year and the fight was growing momentum, but I shook with wonder when I heard the news today.
Their freedom was granted at a price. They have not been exonerated, but given a plea deal. They plan to continue the fight to clear their names, but now as free men.