In mid-April, I helped cook up a scheme with a convicted killer.
My co-conspirator was Jason Baldwin, one of the three young men who became known as the “West Memphis Three” after their convictions in 1994 for murdering three 8-year-old boys in that city.
In 2002 I wrote a book, “Devil’s Knot,” about the case. It ended, as had the trials, with Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., at ages 16 and 17, being sentenced to life in prison, and Damien Echols, 18, being sentenced to death.
Twelve years later, appeals for all three continue.
I wrote my book as a journalist. But researching it convinced me that the trials were unfair.
Many others share that view and have worked for years to see justice in this case. It represents a mounting disgrace to this state.
In the 12 years since the trials, thousands of letters have been sent to Arkansas public officials, only to disappear into the black hole of bureaucracy. So here was the conspiracy:
I rented a post office box, and Jason Baldwin wrote a letter, which I forwarded to the Worldwide Web.
In his letter, Baldwin appealed to supporters to write letters to Gov. Mike Huckabee explaining their concerns.
This time, though, Baldwin asked that the letters be sent to Huckabee in care of the post office box I’d rented.
In just over two months, more than 450 people, from as near as Little Rock and far away as Paddington, Australia, took the time to write to Arkansas’s governor.
And, per Baldwin’s request, many of them noted on the outside of their envelopes some of the key points they raised within, to publicize what disturbs them about this case.
Thirty-two letters came from outside the United States. Here’s a sampling.
From Holland: “These young men have been sentenced because of their individuality, because of standing out and being themselves. They deserve a fair trial.”
From Norway: “Innocent ’til proven guilty. Not the other way around.”
From Ireland: “These men were convicted on hearsay that snowballed out of control and this tragedy rolls on and on.”
And from Poland: “I used the case ... with my 18-year-old students as an example of how justice can be violated in a democratic country. Inside this envelope there are letters written by them, asking Mr. Governor to have the case re-examined...”
More than 350 letters came from states in the U.S. outside of Arkansas. Some writers demanded, “No more witch hunts!” Others simply asked Arkansas officials, “Got evidence?”
A few alluded to Huckabee’s presidential aspirations.
From New York: “Is a ‘confession’ from a disabled and challenged youth enough ‘evidence’ in your state to ruin lives?”
From Kentucky: “The lives of three young boys were taken in a heinous crime. Hopefully, three more lives will not be needlessly wasted.”
From Ohio: “I discuss the difficulty many of us have in high school finding our identity, and I am concerned that if a crime had taken place in my area during my difficult transition, would I have been blamed also?”
From Pennsylvania: “If the citizens of Arkansas, or anywhere in this nation, can be sentenced to death solely on the basis of the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the books they read, the poems they write, and the religion they practice, surely our personal freedom and the underlying principles of our legal system have been severely compromised.”
From Oregon: “guilt should be proven, not innocence.”
From Illinois: “The use of so-called Satan worship as evidence of crime, supported by an expert witness who had never taken a course in his subject, makes this trial seem like a replay of Salem.”
From Arizona: “There are too many inconsistencies in this case, and now that America is over its Satanic Fever Panic, it’s time to help these three men, one waiting to die.”
From Colorado: “...no physical evidence, murder weapon, or motive, coupled with the an error-filled confession...”
From Virginia: “Show me one piece of evidence that proves these boys are guilty and I’ll never write another letter for their support!”
From Utah: “I have admired your willingness to make your struggle with diabetes public. I hope you will show the same openness and ability to admit mistakes in the case of the West Memphis Three.”
From Michigan: “Demonstrate that you are a man willing to stand up to injustice, a man unafraid to follow the righteous path this nation has set forth.”
From Wisconsin: “This would have never happened in Wisconsin.”
And this: “Here in California, we live with our own same [problems] concerning the convictions in the McMartin case and in Kern County, the lives blighted due to a misguided societal hysteria about the sexual and Satanic abuse of children. We have only just begun to try to make amends much too little, much too late. It is with knowledge of the gravity of our mistake that I ask you to take the wider course.”
Huckabee has rebuffed calls for him to get involved in efforts to support new trials. He has said he has seen little interest in this case from inside Arkansas. But 52 of the letters–more than 10 percent–were written by Arkansans.
From Pine Bluff: “My name is Gunner Lowry. I am 12. The three kids were killed before I was born but I still know about them. I know that the police caught the wrong people. That isn’t right. What can you do about it? Please help before Damien gets the death penalty.”
From Mountain View: “Certainly the families of the murdered children deserve to know the truth...”
From Fayetteville: “The governor needs to face reality and show the world we are reasonable and fair people.”
From Clinton: “Because we are human, we make mistakes. Correct a mistake made years ago; give the boys a trial free of constitutional error.”
And from Little Rock:
– “If this is how a murder investigation is conducted in Arkansas, then I’m afraid to think of how many other innocent men and women are behind bars.”
–“The Constitution gives me the freedom of Speech and Religion. I can wear black, listen to heavy metal music and worship anything I want to! God, Satan, a goat or even a stop sign! It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t make a person a murderer.”
–“Stop Satanic Panic in Arkansas. It’s wrong.”
–“Please educate yourself on this case, Governor, before these innocent young men spend another day in prison or lose thier lives. Please call a halt to the corruption and shameful practices that put them there, by launching your own investigation, or granting clemency.”
And finally, this succinct statement, also from Little Rock:
“There was no physical evidence linking any of the accused boys to the crime–absolutely none–and no plausible motive. More importantly, the state’s principal ‘evidence’–the ‘confession’ of a mentally challenged boy who was interrogated for six hours without having a lawyer or parent present–was riddled with errors.”
These letters will be delivered to Gov. Huckabee’s office on July 14. Arkansans who want add letters of their own may send them, no later than next Tuesday, to:
Write to Freedom
Attn: Gov. Mike Huckabee
P.O. Box 7406
Little Rock, AR 72217.