by Max Brantley
Jackson found no justice in a deal that forced the three to admit guilt, even as they proclaimed innocence. He was harshly critical of Prosecutor Scott Ellington for continuing to defend the convictions and he injected gubernatorial politics in evaluating Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's role in the deal that unfolded. Jackson offered insight to recent days:
The last two weeks have been very tense, because the State told the three defense teams that they would consider an "Alford Plea" - but it had to be "all or nothing". All three men had to accept the conditions of the plea - if one refused, they would all stay in prison, probably for another 2 to 3 years, until their inevitable retrial, which would have almost certainly found them innocent. When he received the plea offer, Jason Baldwin refused to accept it. And why the hell should he? He's an innocent man, who has had the last 18 years - half his life - robbed by the State of Arkansas. This was a brave and noble stand by Jason, but it created a very tough time for Damien, and his loved ones.
You see, Damien Echols had to get out of prison, Alford Plea or not. Unlike Jason, Damien has spent the full 18 years on death row. He has not seen sky for over 10 years. He has not had sun on his skin for over 10 years. He is shackled hand and foot whenever he leaves his cell. His eyesight has deteriorated. Look at this morning's press conference - see how Damien has his hand over his mouth? It's because he has severe continual dental pain, and has had for years. On Arkansas death row, the only serious dental care they offer is extraction. No point killing men with nice new crowns. Everyone who knows Damien, has been fearful for his health. He's very weak, and frail - and has limited ability to fight off any infection. Up there in the Varner Unit death row, they don't tend to be as interested in basic medical care as your family doctor.
For several nerve-wracking days, Jason was saying no to the "Alford Plea", but he has been confined in a different, much less severe prison environment and had no contact with Damien. Damien's lawyer wrote to Jason, several friends talked with him. They explained Damien's situation to Jason, and he immediately agreed to change his mind. Jason is a decent guy, and did the right thing for his friend, just as he did many years ago when he was offered a much reduced sentence if he testified against Damien. He refused then - because he knows Damien is innocent, as he is - and he wasn't going to take the bait and sell out his friend. He's been in prison ever since as a result.
PS — Jackson's sarcastic evaluation of McDaniel's role is written in a more straightforward way today by John Brummett.
On Friday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel boasted that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley had now been convicted twice of this horrific crime.
That is technically true, but audaciously spun.
The first conviction was unjust and the second a transparent charade.
If a guy running to be your next governor wants to brag about something like that, then let him. If you want to vote for him as a result, then we’ll let you do that, too.