West Memphis Three: 2 Will Go Free on August 19
WM3: Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley & Jason Baldwin- 2 Will Go Free
The West Memphis Three (WM3), Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were convicted of murder the killings of 8-year-old boys Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers in West Memphis, Arkansas. The murders took place in 1993, and the WM3 trial was in 1994. The West Memphis Three had always maintained their innocence.
On August 19, two of them will go free after confessing to the murders. According to Steve Branch, father of one of the victims, said that Damien Echols will be one of the WM3 freed. Echols had been sentenced to death.
WM3, Moral Panic and Police Error
At the time, the crime scene was handled as badly as that of Jon-Benet Ramsey: the police basically trampled the area. Jessie Misskelley (who is mentally handicapped) was coerced into a confession. Aaron Hutchinson, a child who supposedly witnessed the murders, never told the same story twice during questioning. (See Synopsis of Police Errors in WM3 Case)
Also, the lead on "Mr. Bojangles", a dazed, bloody man seen by patrons and staff of the nearby Bojangles restaurant the night before the bodies were found, was never properly followed up: investigators brought environmental debris from the Robin Hood Hills crime scene with them to the Bojangles restroom where the suspicious man was last seen.
Add some moral panic into the mix: prosecutors alleged that the murders were part of a Satanic ritual. This was a spurious claim: no evidence was recovered at the crime scene to suggest anything of the sort.
The rest of West Memphis thought that the WM3 were weird. They had had run-ins with the law in the past, but nothing to credibly suggest that they would murder three children.
DNA Testing Adds Further Doubts to WM3 Convictions
DNA evidence from the crime scene was tested in 2007, and did not match Echols, Misskelley or Baldwin. However, DNA was present that matched to Terry Hobbs Stevie Branch's stepfather. Also, a hair found in the ropes binding one of the victims potentially belonged to Terry Hobbs.
Pam Hobbs, mother of Stevie Branch, publicly stated that she thought that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, teenagers at the time of the boys' deaths, were innocent.
If two of the West Memphis Three formally admit to a crime that they did not commit, then pressure would be taken off the actual killer or killers: no police resources would be deployed to follow a closed case.
HBO did two documentaries on the case: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills in 1996, and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations in 2000.