West Memphis Three reach plea deal for freedom


Image Credit: LISA WADDELL/The Commercial Appeal/Landov

The West Memphis Three, three men who’ve been imprisoned since 1993 for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., despite a lack of forensic evidence, have reached a plea deal. According to the AP, a judge today accepted the plea bargain that will allow Damien Echols, who’d been on death row, and Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., both serving life sentences, to maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors had sufficient evidence against them. Prosecutor Scott Ellington told the AP the men had been placed on 10 years’ probation and could face 21 years in prison if they re-offend.

Hollywood has long shown its support for the trio, most notably with Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s 1996 award-winning documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

 In February 2010, Johnny Depp defended them in an interview with 48 Hours Mystery, adding his name to a list of celebrity crusaders that includes Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Deadline reports Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will today reveal that they’ve been financing private investigators and forensic experts to aid investigative efforts for years.

Berlinger and Sinofsky, who made a 2000 sequel Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, will premiere their third documentary, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, at the Toronto film festival. HBO confirms Berlinger and Sinofsky were in court today to witness the ruling, and film a new ending for the movie, which will debut on HBO in January 2012. “Eighteen years and three films ago, we started this journey to document the terrible murders of three innocent boys and the subsequent circus that followed the arrests and convictions of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly,” Berlinger said in a statement. “To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.” Added Sinofsky, “Today, we, along with HBO, are humbled to be a part of this remarkable outcome.”

Read more:
Johnny Depp, on ’48 Hours Mystery,’ will go to bat for a convicted killer — but before this case attracted a movie star, it was already a great movie

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  • Tom

    Henry Rollins has done more to raise awareness of the crime against these men for longer that other celebrities. He was talking and supporting them since the mid-90s, yet gets no recognition by the media as the guy who brought a lot of musicians on board to support them.

    It is a fallacy that Hollywood has long shown support. They jumped on the bandwagon after Johnny Depp did, a decade after most musicians had.Musicians brought the awareness and defense funding to them, Hollywood was late to the party, as usual.

    • Jesus Christ Tom, you’re like the kid that isn’t happy that he got a new power ranger doll because he wanted the green one, not the red one! Be glad that this is finally coming to an end.

      • Tom

        I am very glad genius, but the fact is that he brought a LOT of musicians on board with this trial over the past 15 years. Way before any of the celebrities mentioned in the article even heard of the case. Besides the documentary, Rollins was the ONLY supportive public voice at one point & he deserves credit for raising public awareness of the bogus charges and getting a lot of people to open their eyes to it.

        I’ve been following this case since about 1995-96 & Henry Rollins & the makers of Paradise Lost were the only voice these men had back then and were responsible for a lot of punk fans & metal fans getting on board back then because we all thought it could be us next.

      • Moira

        Who would want the green power ranger over the red one? I don’t understand that analogy…

    • TQB

      You know what, Tom? i think today, Henry is overjoyed with this announcement and doesn’t give a rat’s arse that his name isn’t mentioned. He didn’t do it for the attention, he did what he felt was right. As a fan, you should celebrate all he’s accomplished without expecting entertainment rags to give credit. Who cares what EW.com says?

    • Lois

      There is a seperate story on EW about Henry Rollins and this case.

    • Ames

      Anyone with half a brain knows it was the step dad, and his buddy.

  • Hermione

    Never heard of these before. I will def check it out, sounds very interesting.

  • nunya

    I highly recommend the Paradise Lost documentaries…it’s amazing how screwed up the justice system can be.

  • Gretchen Weiners

    One of the biggest miscarriages of justice in history. I hope for their release!

  • Diane

    So who killed those three little boys? They are still dead, their families still lost their children.

    • BC

      The unfortunate answer is no one knows. As much as we all want to believe in justice for everyone, there will always be unsolved crimes. It’s terrible, but it’s reality.

      • Jon

        There’s at least some evidence- including DNA evidence- that the step father of one of the boys was involved. But for years, the justice system in Arkansas has been so insistent on defending the original verdict that it’s refused to look at him as a serious suspect.

      • Diane

        Thank you. I still say they were involved, as they acknowledged themselves as part of the agreement: the plea bargain … will allow Damien Echols, who’d been on death row, and Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., both serving life sentences, to maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors had sufficient evidence against them. Prosecutor Scott Ellington told the AP the men had been placed on 10 years’ probation and could face 21 years in prison if they re-offend.

        The poor parents of those three little boys. Heartbreaking.

      • ktabor24

        Jon, they did investigate Stevie Branch’s stepdad, they ruled him out as a suspect

      • Leah

        Diane, plea agreements like this one happen often in cases like this. Is does not mean they were involved. It was the only way they could be freed.

      • Jon

        KT, I know they looked at him, but it appeared to me that the authorities had zero interest in making a serious effort. For example, some of this DNA evidence which proves he and a friend touched the boys in some way has been known for well over a year.

      • heather

        Leah, I agree with you totally. My father knows a lot on the inside of the situation and basically the state made that offer to save face and avoid lawsuits. Since they plead, they cannot sue anyone for injustices…… I believe they did what was best for them so that they can move forward and put all of this behind them….

      • calla

        Diane, that “significant evidence” is a load of crap. They’ve never had any good evidence against them. They had a coerced confession of mentally handicapped boy they questioned without any representation for hours on end, plus two hearsay confessions from the other two boys, no forensic evidence, no eyewitness accounts, no motive, no murder weapon, and no physical evidence linking any of them to the crime. They basically had three boys who didn’t fit in with the community, all who were a little different because they listened to heavy metal and had painted their fingernails black. So it was decided by a terrible prosecutor who has built his entire career on this base and some backwoods cops that they did it before these boys even had a chance to defend themselves. It’s about time they were let out of jail.

      • Olivia

        Believed to be the creepy father who’s Swiss army knife had blood on it from one of the victims. A bit suss that after the boys were killed, his remaining step son went to live with relatives and his wife mysteriously dies afterwards.

        But don’t forget the African American that ran into the petrol station near the woods with blood on him, acting all weird. And when the station attendant rang the police, they said not to worry about it. Hmmmm

    • Ames

      The step-dad and his buddy did. Watch the first 2 documentaries, and you will want to kick your TV off of the stand due to the injustice these 3 received.

  • Nathan

    It’s amazing that Casey Anthony got away with obviously killing her daughter but these three clearly innoncent young men had to serve almost 20 years, great system. Great to see them finally get out!

    • Debi

      Amen to that, Nathan!!

    • Lois

      The difference is these 3 guys couldn’t afford good lawyers, and Casey Anthony had lawyers begging to represent her for the publicity.

    • Ty

      What a waste of a comment. Casey Anthony has nothing to do with these boys. The stories don’t compare. Let it go the prosectution failed at it’s job we don’t need a comment on every story on how Casey Anthony is free. The system fails because we are human and unfortunately that alone will always create room for error.

  • Debi

    I hate the thought that ANY innocent people sit in a prison cell. I saw a 48 hours mystery about these men, and the young boys that died, about a year ago. It WAS Johnny Depp that made me aware that there was doubt about these men’s innocents. So I am glad the the system has finally come the the conclusion that they should be set free. For once, Justice is prevailing. Now if they could search through what they have and figure out who killed those young boys, more justice will be served!!

    • Lois

      True. Releasing these men is only part of finding justice. The other part is finding out who really killed those boys.

    • MacJew

      I heard about this case long before Johnny Depp. Unfortunately, Celebs jump on the bandwagon without always knowing the truth. Fortunately, this was NOT one those cases. Justice will prevail in this instance, and these men will go free.

  • Flip

    A black man killed those boys.

  • PennyBeGood

    What gets me about this case is the tragedy we’ll probably never know with certainty who killed the three boys because the local police handled the investigation badly. Maybe it’s the three guys they convicted, maybe it’s Mr. Bojangles, or maybe it’s the Byers parent. Can’t know for certain because evidence was tainted, people were coerced in their testimonies, and the police seemed fundamentally unprepared for a case of this complexity.

    • Sandyp

      Penny, I totally agree. The case has been so botched for so long that no one will ever know what really happened to those kids. I’m glad for the WM3, but my heart breaks for those parents who will never really see justice served.

    • dlauthor

      It staggers one to think that there are surely many more cases like this that will never get the attention this one did via the documentaries and celebrity involvement. West Memphis can’t be the only police force in this country capable of such bone incompetence, inertia, and/or corruption.

    • Cathy

      The Byers parent eventually cooperated, and his DNA did not match anything found at the scene. However, there was a match to Terry Hobbs and one of his friends. I doubt this will ever be followed up seriously, because acknowledging that the prosecution had enough evidence in the original trial lets them off the hook from ever having to find the real killers.

  • Shellibelli

    woohoo so glad that they are released but damn, having to plead guilty, so they cant sue isnt justice for them at all.

    Now lets look at Branchs step dad – the one whose dna was found on the knots?

    • Cathy

      My understanding is that this was not a guilty plea, but an acknowledgement that the prosecution had enough evidence to try them. This is basically the prosecution and the courts covering their butts for the horribly inept job they did. It is really a shame they can’t be fully exonerated, but I can understand how if I were them, I’d just want my life back after all these years of wrongful imprisonment.

      • Sarah

        Yes, this is just to prevent a lawsuit

  • Jay

    I hope these young men are able to survive in public society. After everything they’ve been through, the real world is going to the toughest thing to deal with.

  • Sarah

    I was in high school when this happened and living in Memphis (right across the Mississippi river from West Memphis, AR) and I remember everyone thought they were satanic because they listened to Metallica. No wonder so many musicians jumped on the cause. Too bad Mr. Hobbs was never seriously looked at as a suspect. He was a former cop so no one suspected him even though years later, DNA evidence was found connecting him and one of his friends to the crime scene.

  • sunny

    can anyone suggest somewhere to find these docs? netflix canada doesn’t have them.

    • Jen40

      You can watch them on youtube. You just have to watch in 10 minute segments but it is worth the trouble.

  • JCM

    . . .accepted the plea bargain that will allow (them) to maintain their innocence ….the men had been placed on 10 years’ probation and could face 21 years in prison if they re-offend.

    OK, if they are innocent why is there probation and to “re-offend” would be implying that they offended before. How can this be if they are allowed to maintain their innocence. There is something seriously wrong with the justice system.

    • Tajah

      Agreed. The whole situation is sick, and still, 18 years later, the prosecution is more worried about covering their own @sses than giving these men justice.

    • MacJew

      Here’s the screwy part. On probation, you are not allowed to drink alcohol. You are not allowed to be with anyone who drinks alcohol. You are not allowed to be with anyone who does drugs (of ANY kind). You have to check in to your probation officer once a month. If they step out of line with those silly little rules, their asses are thrown back into prison.

  • Crystal

    In a recent 48 hour mystery on the mother’s of the little boys is fighting for there release! After the documentaries and taking to them she thinks that none of those boys had anything to do with a crime, and there conviction was a quick and easy way to make a town feel like “justice” had been served, In the same 48 hour mystery there is also new evidence about the step father involved. He swore that the day of the murders he never saw the children, while a neighbour said that she specifically heard the man yelling at the children, and heard a truck door close. It’s amazing that Echols is as brave as he is in a way. He said he would rather be put to death than to admit to anyone that he actually harmed those boys.

    Anyways the documentaries are very moving!

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