by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, led by Christian Ruud, issued this statement on today's action in the West Memphis Three case:
We mark the release of Damien Echols from death row and co-defendants Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — both serving life terms — with a somber sense of gratitude.
We are pleased that Damien Echols does not now face the prospect of an execution for the murders of three 8-year-old boys.
We are somber in our gratitude because we know this is not over for the families of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore. They have endured this ordeal from that first tragic discovery in Robin Hood Hills to this day when they find themselves no closer to justice.
And for that, we are deeply sorry.
Given what has happened here, we urge officials who have taken the laudable step of releasing these young men to first determine what more they might be able to do to support the Branch, Byers, and Moore families at this time.
We further urge them to take the next step of determining why it is that Echols was sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin to life sentences only to be released these many years later while still maintaining their innocence.
Now is the time for a frank and open debate about whether there are adequate protections in the law to prevent innocent people from being sentenced to death and executed. We also have to ask ourselves some hard questions about whether, given the difficult decisions that must be made when allocating limited resources for law enforcement, education, and child protective services, it makes sense to retain the death penalty as an expensive feature of our criminal justice system.
We believe that a fair and honest dialogue will lead policy makers and the public to see that in the end — whether you support the death penalty or not — as a practical matter, the system cannot be maintained. The extraordinary protections and systems required to reduce the risk of a wrongful execution are costly both in monetary terms and in the impact on law enforcement, court personnel, and to the families of victims. Even with these costs, there are no guarantees.
We urge you to join us in this discussion. You need give only a little of your time and attention to make a big difference. Learn more at www.ACADP.org.