West Memphis Three Freed: Alford Plea- Public Hearing Live Stream
West Memphis Three Freed from Prison on Alford Plea
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin, collectively known as the West Memphis Three, have been in prison since 1993 for the murders of 8-year-old boys Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and James Michael Moore. On August 19, 2011, they have been freed. A live stream of the WM3 public hearing in Jonesboro, AK is below.
The West Memphis Three's sentences have been converted to 18 years with credit for time served, as well as 10 years SIS (suspended imposition of sentence), which is like parole without the restrictions. The WM3 just have to stay out of legal trouble for the next ten years to avoid returning to prison.
As you read this, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin are being freed. The convictions of the West Memphis Three were not overturned. Instead, they agreed to what is called an Alford plea.
Originally it was reported that two of the WM3 would be freed, but all three will leave prison.
- Previously: 2 of West Memphis Three to Go Free on August 19
- West Memphis Three Timeline: Murder, Police Mistakes &Moral Panic
Longtime supporters Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam were also at the courthouse.
In the case of the West Memphis Three, though, the prosecution was so heavily compromised since Day One, there was never a widespread belief that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were guilty.
One of the loudest critics of the deal was Steve Byers, adoptive father of one of the victims, who said, "To me, this is just a cop-out from the state for not wanting to admit that they made a mistake."
What is an Alford Plea?
An Alford plea is one in which the defendant accepts that the prosecution has enough evidence to secure a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, while still being able to assert innocence. Technically it is a guilty plea, but one in which the defendant is not admitting actual guilt.
Most importantly, the state is shielded from false-imprisonment or -conviction lawsuits from the defendants.
This is a coup for the State of Arkansas, whose prosecution would never have survived a retrial: the case against the West Memphis Three was beyond weak. Meanwhile, Arkansas must acknowledge that the real killer or killers got away with the murder of three young boys.