That alphabet soup of a headline refers to a hearing tomorrow in Jonesboro in the appeal of the West Memphis Three
murder case and the case's potential, according to defense lawyers, for becoming a landmark on use of DNA evidence.
(JONESBORO, AR) – In what could potentially lead to a historic moment for the Arkansas justice system, an appearance will be held April 15 in the Craighead County Superior Court to schedule a hearing on new DNA and forensic evidence in the case of the West Memphis 3. Exoneration based on this evidence would mark the first DNA-based amnesty in the state of Arkansas.
“With this case comes the chance to change the future, particularly as it pertains to the Arkansas justice system,” said Dennis Riordan, attorney for Damien Echols. “Clearing the good names of these three men will hold the system accountable, helping to ensure justice for these individuals and so many others like them.”
In 1994, these three men—then teenagers—were convicted in the triple homicide of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in May of 1993. Just a month after the murders, with no physical evidence tying them to the crimes, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., found themselves facing life in prison, while Damien Echols was forced to confront the horror of death row. Coupled with the coerced and facially false confession of Misskelley, a mentally deficient 17-year-old, negligible circumstantial evidence landed these boys in prison, where they have been forced to grow up over the last 15 years.
Now, circumstance and conjecture have given way to hard science: not a single one of the DNA samples taken from the crime scene indicates the presence of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin or Jessie Misskelley at the scene or near the victims. DNA on the bodies and clothing of the victims does, however, indicate the presence of others at the crime scene.
In addition to the DNA evidence, several nationally recognized experts such as forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron and forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz have given testimony that effectively debunks and rebukes the prosecution’s theory of Satanic murders. In 1994, the prosecution, using literally a grapefruit and a serrated knife to “prove” its point, asserted that marks on the bodies were knife wounds inflicted as part of an occult ritual. However, in a November 2007 press conference, both Souviron and Spitz clearly explained the wounds to be bite and claw marks as a result of post-mortem animal predation often common to Arkansas Delta Bayou ecosystems.
“It took maybe seconds to make that observation,” Spitz said. Regarding the prosecution’s knife theory, Souviron said, “To sell that to a jury is unconscionable, in my opinion.”
In a motion for a new trial based on the scientific evidence, counsel for Echols have stated: “The years since Echols’ 1994 convictions have witnessed the development of new scientific techniques that have generated DNA evidence then unavailable, as well as ‘other evidence in the case’ that must now be considered regardless of whether the evidence was introduced at trial.
Under Arkansas’s statutory scheme, to gain a new trial Echols need not prove who was the party or parties responsible for these terrible crimes, nor need he prove his own innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather he must and will demonstrate that the evidence now available, viewed in its totality and with a dispassion that was simply impossible when the case was first tried, ‘clearly,’ ‘convincingly,’ and ‘compellingly’ ‘establish[es] ... that a new trial would result in an acquittal.’”
In response to an urgent need for local awareness about this case, Arkansas Take Action, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was founded in 2007. This diverse group of concerned Arkansas citizens is fighting to set these innocent men free and see the true killers brought to justice. More information about the case and ATA can be found at www.freewestmemphis3.org