by Max Brantley
Circuit Judge David Laser of Jonesboro last week amended his order releasing defendants in the West Memphis 3 case so that all three of them may appear together.
The change was needed for the three to be together tonight in New York for the debut of "Paradise Lost: Purgatory" at the New York Film Festival. It's the third in a series of documentaries about the case.
Under original terms of the plea agreement, which released them after guilty pleas to reduced charges for the 1994 slayings of three West Memphis children, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin agreed not to associate with any other felons except each other. This allowed them to leave together that day. The third defendant, Jessie Misskelley, agreed not to associate with any felons except family members who might have a felony record. Though the men pleaded guilty in return for release, they were allowed to continue to assert their innocence under a rarely used legal procedure.
Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington issued a statement about the change:
Last week, at the request of defense counsel, Circuit Judge David Laser entered Orders with the Clay and Craighead County Circuit Clerks modifying the Conditions of Suspension for Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, otherwise known as the “West Memphis Three”. The modifications were to allow the three to attend the premiere of the HBO film Paradise Lost 3.
"The prior Conditions of Suspension prohibited the Echols and Baldwin from associating with felons with the exception of each other, and Misskelley was prohibited from associating with other felons with the exception of his immediate family,” 2nd Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington of Jonesboro said.
“The original terms were requested almost as an afterthought by defense counsel during the original plea negotiations. Baldwin's attorney, Blake Hendrix, knew arrangements had been made for Baldwin and Echols to leave together with Eddie Vedder and go to Memphis, so we agreed on the initial change to the standard rules. That prompted Misskelley’s attorney, Jeff Rosenzwieg, to request a similar modification to the standard rules for his client because some members of Misskelley’s immediate family are convicted felons, “Ellington said.
Ellington continued, "I received a call from Blake Hendrix week before last requesting the recent change so all three could attend the premier of the HBO film. I spoke with Judge Laser and he approved a limited modification that allows the three to appear together at certain public events."