by Max Brantley
Briefs have been filed as expected arguing that West Memphis Three defendants were denied fair trials because of misconduct by the jury foreman, particularly in bringing inadmissible evidence into the jury deliberations.
Here's the brief filed on behalf of Damien Echols, sentenced to die in the 1993 slayings of three children.
(Little Rock, AR, May 2, 2011) — In his motion for a new trial, Damien Echols today submitted a “Brief on The Admissibility of Evidence of Juror Misconduct,” in which he asks presiding Judge David Laser to admit evidence of juror misconduct at his first trial in this proceeding. He also asks the judge to conduct oral arguments and allow testimony at the hearing scheduled to begin December 5, 2011.
The filing goes into detail about how police obtained Misskelley’s so-called confession during his interrogation, how the prosecution introduced it via news reports prior to the trials, and how the jury came to consider the inadmissible “confession” during its deliberations.
The filing includes shocking evidence that the jury foreman at the Echols/Baldwin trial, Kent Arnold, allegedly lied to the court during jury selection so that he would be sure to be selected and that he allegedly introduced Misskelley’s false confession into jury deliberations although it was constitutionally barred from consideration because Misskelley refused to testify.
Lloyd Warford, a prominent Arkansas attorney, former prosecutor, and state official, submitted a sworn affidavit detailing a dozen improper conversations that Kent Arnold held with him while the original trial was in progress, clearly violating the law and the rights of Echols and Baldwin to a fair and impartial trial. In those conversations, juror Arnold indicates that he had prejudged Echols’s guilt and was trying to convince other jurors to convict them based upon news reports of the false confession of Misskelley, portions of which had even been published in newspapers before the trial.
During one conversation, Arnold informed attorney Warford that the prosecution had presented a weak case and that the prosecution had better present something powerful the next day (the end of the prosecution’s case) or it would be up to him to secure a conviction.
According to the legal briefs, “… Echols contended in his 2008 motion, and asserts again here, that the 1994 judgments were fundamentally flawed and unreliable, and thus are not entitled to a presumption of validity. Rather than being convicted on “evidence developed [on] the witness stand in a public courtroom where there is full judicial protection of the defendant’s right of confrontation, of cross-examination, and of counsel,” Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 472-73 (1965), Echols was found guilty principally based on what biased jurors had heard and read outside the courtroom. Echols’s jury convicted him based on information both unadmitted and inadmissible at trial: media reports concerning a demonstrably false statement of codefendant Jesse Misskelley implicating Echols and Baldwin in the charged crimes. Mr. Echols contends that, to the contrary, the prior convictions must be afforded no weight whatsoever in the court’s calculus of the likelihood of acquittal because, tainted by misconduct of the most egregious and blatant sort, their probative value on that crucial issue is nil. Indeed, the evidence of misconduct now on file before this court makes clear that Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin were convicted in 1994 only because the jury foreman relied on information that was not only inadmissible, but demonstrably false, to convince his fellow jurors to vote for guilt.”
In a separate filing, attorneys for Baldwin, state, “Baldwin has tendered ample evidence of misconduct by his original jury as part of his Petition/Motion for New Trial, including the record of the jury selection, affidavits, juror notes, and other evidence demonstrating that the original verdict was tainted by misconduct.”
Lorri Davis, wife of Echols and co-founder of Arkansas Take Action, said, “We ask the court to consider the seriousness of the juror misconduct in Jason and Damien’s trial, as well as the evidence that Jessie Misskelley’s confession was just plain false.”