by Max Brantley
An advocacy group seeking to overturn the convictions of the West Memphis Three says the attorney general's office has said it won't fight introduction of evidence about juror misconduct in one of the trials, though it is not agreeing that this is ground for a new trial.
News release follows from Lonnie Soury for Arkansas Take Action:
The office of the Arkansas Attorney General submitted a brief to the Craighead County Court of Judge David Laser agreeing to the admission of juror misconduct evidence in evidentiary hearings in the West Memphis 3 case. The evidence presented by attorneys for the men 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.
According to the Attorney General’s filing, “The State does not resist admission of the juror misconduct evidence, although the State does not believe it will aid the Court’ resolution of the question on remand - whether a new trial would result in acquittal.”
In the motion for a new trial, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin asked presiding Judge David Laser to admit evidence of juror misconduct at their first trial into this proceeding. They also asked the judge to conduct oral arguments and allow testimony at the hearing scheduled to begin December 5, 2011.
The filing included 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’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. 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.”
Lorri Davis, wife of Echols and co-founder of Arkansas Take Action, said, “The original convictions were so tainted by the shocking behavior of the jury foreman, we hope the court agrees to the admission of the juror misconduct evidence in the evidentiary hearings.”