by Max Brantley
Impressionistic takeaways after a post-discussion cool-down at Zin, with a warning that it's hard to report while you're moderating:
* MENSCH: Scott Ellington. The Jonesboro prosecutor who signed off on the release deal walked into a lion's den of WM3 supporters. He defended the deal. He continued to assert his belief in their guilt. BUT .... he said he hoped for a crime lab analysis of so-far unidentified DNA evidence to see if it points to a suspect in the case. He encouraged those with evidence to see the defense team and said he'd consider "compelling" evidence. He made a persuasive case (to me, anyway) that the deal was the best way to serve interests of those who believed in either guilt or innocence of the WM3. He acknowledged this was not the smartest decision if politics was your only objective. In other words, I fear this good man may not run for Congress after all.
* PROFITS: Capi Peck of Arkansas Take Action said, Son of Sam Law or not, Damien Echols hopes to write about his life story.
* BAD DEAL: Blake Hendrix, attorney for Jason Baldwin, spoke critically in public and after about the deal that forced his client to plead guilty to a crime he insists he didn't commit, with the alternative being leaving open the possibility of death for Damien Echols. Might Baldwin, who told Mara Leveritt he'd like to get a law degree, ever try to extract himself from this deal under the argument of coercion? Not a crazy thought, I'm led to believe.
* MOVIE MOMENTS: Two suggested to me in discussions at Zin with various actors in the drama: 1) That meeting in Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office, with 15 or so legal eagles, when the decision was made to move forward on a plea deal; 2) that prison van ride last Thursday, when Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols were together for the first time in 17 years. Misskelley told his lawyer they talked a little about sports. Misskelley's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, also relayed a bittersweet moment about informing Misskelley's father that his son would be coming home: "For the weekend?" his father asked.
The crowd was heavily populated by devotees of the WM3 cause. Cheers erupted for author Mara Leveritt and Arkansas Take Action leader Capi Peck. A relative of Jason Baldwin asked a question about the ability of the defendants to sue after the plea deal.
The interest of the victims was mentioned at beginning and end by me. I think people confuse justice for those wrongly convicted with injustice for victims. Ellington did a good job of explaining how, in a retrial, his first obstacle would be two parents of the dead children as defense witnesses who believed the wrong people had been accused.
Capi Peck vowed that the probe for the real killers would continue. It's hard to credit, absent a miraculous DNA find or surprise confession supported by other evidence, that a resolution is forthcoming. But I'm still a Pollyanna on this one. In Texas, the WM3 would be dead by now. In Arkansas, imperfect as the deal may have been, they're free men and living.