In its final review of the trial of Damien Echols, one of the men known as the West Memphis Three, the Arkansas Supreme Court last week agreed to consider an affidavit filed under seal last year by a Little Rock attorney.
Echols was found guilty and sentenced to death for the murders of three eight-year-old children. Lawyers for the Arkansas attorney general's office had argued that the affidavit, which alleges juror misconduct, was irrelevant and should not be considered.
Lloyd Warford, an attorney with the Arkansas Public Defenders Commission, filed the affidavit in May 2008 in the circuit court in Jonesboro where Echols and co-defendant Jason Baldwin were tried in March 1994. Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison.
Sources familiar with the case say that, in it, Warford states that Kent Arnold, the foreman for the Echols-Baldwin jury, telephoned him repeatedly while the trial was in progress and talked about what was happening.
Judge David Burnett, who officiated at the trial, expressly forbade such discussions. Lawyers for Echols argue that Arnold's conversations with Warford compromised the integrity of the jury process and that Echols deserves a new trial.
Documents submitted to the Supreme Court by Echols' lawyers describe the content of the men's conversations, without identifying either of them by name. According to those filings, Arnold told Warford that he had prejudged Echols' guilt, based on news reports he'd seen from the trial of Jessie Misskelley Jr., a third defendant in the case whose trial was held a month earlier.
A jury found Misskelley guilty, largely due to a confession he made to police that implicated Echols and Baldwin. Those two were tried separately from Misskelley because they did not confess, and information about the Misskelley trial was not supposed to enter their trial.
Nevertheless, the affidavit reportedly states, Arnold told Warford that he was growing frustrated by the “weak, circumstantial” case prosecutors were presenting against Echols and Baldwin, and that if they did not present something powerful soon, it would be up to him to secure a conviction.
A large chart used by jurors during their deliberations and a smaller one kept by one juror support the claim that jurors for Echols and Baldwin discussed the Misskelley confession.
Until filing his affidavit, Warford, a former prosecuting attorney who was once an assistant director of the Arkansas Division of Youth Services, had no role in the case. Arnold knew Warford because he'd represented his brother on a charge of child rape, eventually resolved by a guilty plea to first-degree sexual abuse.
Warford did not come forward with the information about his contact with the jury foreman until May 2008, after a co-worker recalled hearing him mention the improper conversations and passed that information to Echols' lawyers.
Warford did not return a phone message seeking comment.
In 2004, two lawyers representing Echols interviewed Kent Arnold. According to affidavits they filed, Arnold said that Misskelley's confession had been “a primary deciding factor” in the jury's conviction of Echols.
It didn't take long for the state Department of Environmental Quality to run afoul of a new state law aimed at addressing regulatory shortcomings in dealing with environmental impact of the gas drilling in the Fayetteville shale zone.
March 11, Gov. Mike Beebe signed a law requiring financial assurances from companies operating facilities to handle drilling waste. March 17, the department issued a permit to Arkansas Petro 1 for such a facility at Griffithville (White County). The facility didn't provide the newly required financial assurances to cover the costs of closure or cleanup in the case of an accident.
Did the department revoke the permit for failure to meet the law? It did not. It asked — asked — the facility to comply by May 15. A department spokesman said the oversight was, well, an oversight.
Meanwhile, the city of Griffithville and about 50 residents have appealed the permit. As a result, the permit was stayed and a hearing was set April 27. Mayor Windle Porter says the city has passed an ordinance banning such facilities in city limits. The facility is partially in Griffithville. The city fears harm from runoff.