In a case that shocked America, three eight year old boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Their badly bruised and mutilated bodies were found in a creek; they had been tied up with their own shoe laces and one of the boys had been dismembered. Three men were convicted of the murders: Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols. They were just teenagers at the time and have since become collectively known as the “West Memphis Three”. The latter, Damien Echols, was believed to be the ringleader and was therefore sentenced to the death penalty, while the others were sentenced to life imprisonment. He should originally have been put to death back in 1994, but he is still waiting for the legal system to give its final verdict.
The reason that Echols is still alive is that, although his innocence has never been proved, there are doubts over his guilt too. He has a number of people out there fighting his case, including celebrities such as Johnny Depp. In an interview with 48 Hours Mystery, Depp said: “They were easy targets…There was a need for swift justice at the time to placate, understandably, an angry and frightened community.” Now there is new DNA evidence, which could prove, once and for all, the innocence of the “West Memphis Three”. The Arkansas Supreme Court has now granted a new hearing. Echols’ attorneys are planning to put forward the DNA evidence, as well as a testimony that will apparently prove that Echols and his two fellow convicts were convicted under a miscarriage of justice. The case will be heard later in 2011.
Although a number of people appear to believe in Echols’ innocence, there are still those who stand by the original verdict. Arkansas Attorney General, Dustin McDaniel, claims that the new evidence does not necessarily prove the complete innocence of the threesome and that his office has the responsibility to back the original jury’s findings. Nevertheless, Echols, who has long protested his innocence is said to be grateful to have the opportunity to be able to finally clear his name. He is hoping to be reunited with his wife, Lorri, who he has married since his conviction, and a son, who was the result of a relationship he had before his conviction.
Whether Echols and the other two men convicted of the murders will eventually be released from jail does remain to be seen. He has, by his own admittance, said some things in the past that make him sound guilty; part of the defence against him was that the murders were part of a Satanic ritual that he led. He has attempted to explain this by saying to CNN’s Ted Rowlands in a 2007 interview: “…you know, I was a teenager. I was a very foolish kid, basically. There was that aspect of it and there was also the aspect of – my behavior felt to me at the time sort of like defiance in the face of injustice.” Of course, if he is proved innocent, it won’t be the first time that such a serious miscarriage of justice has been made. In a report by UN Special Investigator, Philip Alston, he claimed that the US death penalty has led, in some cases, to the death of innocent people.