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WM3 four months later
December 7, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

When a prosecutor argues a bullshit case to a jury, he typically does so for one of two reasons: Either he is not terribly bright or he is cravenly amoral. [West Memphis Three Prosecutor] Fogleman would not speak to me on the record, which means I cannot report what he said. But my impressions are fair game. John Fogleman is pleasant, charming, and oddly forthcoming. He is also perfectly bright.

Life after prison and the machinations behind the Alford Plea taken by the West Memphis Three.
posted by mudpuppie (24 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great quote.
posted by nospecialfx at 1:37 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm certainly... enjoying this article so far (I have a hard time using that word in regard to anything surrounding this case).

There are so many unanswered questions regarding the initial investigation, and on one hand I'm sad that they will never be answered.
posted by muddgirl at 1:46 PM on December 7, 2011


I'm also incredibly saddened by the fact that there are thousands of wrongly-convicted people, some undeniably on death row, who don't have the benefit of an embedded documentary crew during the trial phase.
posted by muddgirl at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


This was the second time I'd met with (current prosecuting attorney Scott) Ellington in less than a month, and I'd gone back to Jonesboro because he deserved to be told in person that I think he's full of shit. That he does not, in fact, believe the West Memphis Three are guilty. That despite being in an impossibly complicated political and legal position, he found a way to get three innocent men out of prison. That he volunteered to eat the maggot sandwich. And that he will never admit as much because he can't.

He settles back in his chair and thinks for a minute. Then he leans forward. "As an officer of the court," he says slowly, "I can't allow someone to accept a guilty plea unless I believe they're guilty." Beat. "How's that?"
Such strange situations people find themselves in.
posted by rewil at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of something that happened when I was in high school - something that seems related to the other discussion about Mumia Abu-Jamal.

There was this bully, see. Eddie H----. In retrospect, he was obviously from a messed-up working class home, but he was absolutely tenacious, nasty and terrifying to me. He had a real gift of torment and he never, ever stopped. I hated him so much that I can still feel a physical surge of rage and helplessness when I remember him, over twenty years later. If it turned out that religion were true and he was possessed by a devil, I would not have been surprised at the time - his tenacity, his cruelty and the obvious pleasure he took in tormenting people barely seemed human to me.

And there was this other kid who sat in front of me in assembly. I didn't know him and I don't remember his face, although I remember that he had thick curly medium-brown hair and a denim jacket with punk patches and Dean Kennedys lyrics written on it in pen. I remember his back. We weren't in any classes together. He was also, obviously, working class - unlike the slightly posher punks who could afford hair dye. I always wondered about him a little because this was in the suburbs before the internet and it was horrible and racist and conformist and threatening and anyone who looked like they might be a little different and thus not hate me on sight was interesting.

Eddie had also been bullying the other kid. The other kid stabbed him with a pocket knife one day then ran off and holed up in an empty classroom until the cops came and took him away to juvvie, whence he never emerged. Eddie survived to bully me for three more years, until I left for college.

The media showed up and there was a big satan panic - they said that the Dead Kennedys lyrics on the kid's jacket were satanist and that he'd stabbed Eddie because he worshipped the devil. It was a big local story because we were such a respectable suburb, media coverage for days. No one said "Eddie H- was a monster and a bully and it was entirely reasonable to believe that you could only stop him through violence", which was the truth.

I have always wondered what happened to that kid, but I don't even remember his name.
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2011 [51 favorites]


Um. Jason wants to go to law school. But he won't be called to the bar, will he? Because of the deal, he's a convicted murderer. Doesn't that sort of thing disqualify one from the bar? Whether or not it's true?
posted by zomg at 2:57 PM on December 7, 2011


That was a moving article and, like others dealing with monolithic indifference by the system, hard to read. The ending of it was well-written; hearing how they're still supportive of one another really warms the heart after such a cold story.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:06 PM on December 7, 2011


No, although it would make admission challenging. My would depend on whether he admits culpability or not. Alternatively, he could teach law, which does not require bar admission. Interestingly, in California you do not need a college degree to attend law school; you can qualify by examination if so inclined. This makes admission somewhat trickier, but since he's a special case that likely wouldn't be a major barrier.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:08 PM on December 7, 2011


Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, mentioned in passing in the article, apparently had quite a lot to do with them getting released. They bankrolled the DNA testing which was instrumental in them finally getting released. They also hired John Douglas to work as a consultant for the 3's legal teams. All's well that ends well, that's what my gaffer used to say.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


under the Alford plea, are the WM3 still required to comply with Megan's Law-style rules in Arkansas and elsewhere?
posted by Bwithh at 3:14 PM on December 7, 2011


Last month, Paradise Lost 3 screened at the Indie Memphis film festival and I had the privilege of meeting Jason Baldwin and spending some time with him. I don't know what I expected him to be like, but it wasn't what he was like. He was very serene, very Zen, and not the least bit angry or bitter. At one point, I said "You know, I don't think I could be strong like you, because I get angry and resentful over the little things that happen to me in life. And you've been through all of this and you're like the Dali Lama." And he said, "You would be surprised how strong you can be when you have to."
posted by vibrotronica at 3:31 PM on December 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


under the Alford plea, are the WM3 still required to comply with Megan's Law-style rules in Arkansas and elsewhere?

Things have been made pretty bad for Jessie on this score, as he chose to stay in Arkansas to be near his father.

It's my understanding that there had to be some legal maneuverings for Damien to be allowed a visa for New Zealand. I'm not sure what the case has been for Jason (who I believe is traveling in Europe right now).
posted by scody at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2011


The people who write the computer programs that control spaceships are the hottest shit programmers around. But they recognize that they are human, and so have created very rigorous and reliable processes to guide their work.

When a mistake happens and a bug gets through, they find the bug and fix it, but they also check the process that allowed the bug to get through, find the problem with the process, and fix the process.

Any time there is a wrongful conviction exposed, there never seems to be any desire on the part of police or prosecutors to fix the process that lead to the mistake. I know I'm a (software) engineer, and work with much more predictable material than people in the criminal justice system, but I can't help feel a little disgusted when I see this.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


I've always believed Fogleman welcomed the opportunity to prosecute these boys because he knew the climate was right for him to get a conviction on the Satanic panic angle and that victory would earn him a lot of Bible Belt votes when he ran for judge. It did, though he also erected a campaign billboard, visible from the interstate highway, near the location of the murders in the Robin Hood Hills area, in case voters needed a reminder. He won the judgeship. He was from a decidedly privileged place in a segment of society where the fate of 'nobodies' has always been of little concern.
posted by Anitanola at 7:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there was any devil in the whole case, it was in the US Justice system.
posted by Twang at 10:23 PM on December 7, 2011


The one kid that wanted to hold out for the trial was so right, it is a shame that the prosecutor managed to save his own ass at the expense of these three admitting guilt. What's another six months or a year? There could have been a big wrongful conviction settlement I imagine, too. The Alford deal stinks, very. Why did the defense allow it to happen like this?
posted by Meatbomb at 12:37 AM on December 8, 2011


Why did the defense allow it to happen like this?

As far as I've read there was no guarantee that Damien would even be alive in six months or a year.
posted by PenDevil at 12:45 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Any time there is a wrongful conviction exposed, there never seems to be any desire on the part of police or prosecutors to fix the process that lead to the mistake.

It's not in their interest to fix the system and it won't be as long as judges, public prosecutors and others are elected. Nothing makes you as popular as getting some poor bastard on death row. Whether or not they're innocent doesn't matter.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:26 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


mudpuppie: "When a prosecutor argues a bullshit case to a jury, he typically does so for one of two reasons: Either he is not terribly bright or he is cravenly amoral. "

There is a third and far more common reason - that pesky constitution and its guarantee of counsel:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:18 AM on December 8, 2011


1manyusernames: the Constitutional right to a speedy and public trial in no way whatsoever compels a prosecutor to proceed with a weak case. That's . . . I mean, there are no words for how wrong it is it say that the US Constitution mandates that a prosecutor proceed with a weak case.

Did I misread your point?
posted by crush-onastick at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


2manyusernames, the roles of the prosecutor and counsel for the defence are asymmetric. The defendant has a right to a lawyer who will defend him, even if he is guilty. The State does not have the converse right to a lawyer who will prosecute someone he believes to be innocent.
posted by atrazine at 8:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The one kid that wanted to hold out for the trial was so right, it is a shame that the prosecutor managed to save his own ass at the expense of these three admitting guilt. What's another six months or a year?

There was a good chance they'd win, which is why the prosecution didn't want to move forward with a new trial. But there wasn't a guarantee. This is exactly why Jason, who didn't initially want to take the deal, agreed in the end (just before the prosecution was going to take the deal off the table): because this way, they knew they could save Damien's life and try to clear their names while being able to live outside prison.

The Alford deal stinks, very. Why did the defense allow it to happen like this?

Look, not only was Damien on death row, he had been held in solitary confinement for about a decade. His physical health had been failing for years, without access to adequate medical or dental care. So even if the state didn't fix an execution date any time soon, he was becoming progessively more and more ill behind bars (his teeth were falling out, due in part to the beatings he had suffered at the hands of guards; he was starting to go blind without adequate sunlight and never being able to see more than ten feet in front of him; he was suffering from malnutrition, given that death row inmates in Arkansas are fed little more than gruel). The fact that in spite of losing his physical health he seems to have held on pretty well to his mental health under what essentially amounts to long-term torture is astonishing. All that considered, it's not really surprsing that Damien and his wife and legal team jumped at the chance to at get him physically out, even with an appallingly imperfect deal.
posted by scody at 12:13 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a good chance they'd win, which is why the prosecution didn't want to move forward with a new trial

Sorry, this may be unclear. I meant to say that there was a good chance that they -- meaning the West Memphis 3 -- would win at a retrial, which is why the prosecution wanted to avoid it.

posted by scody at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2011


crush-onastick: "1manyusernames: the Constitutional right to a speedy and public trial in no way whatsoever compels a prosecutor to proceed with a weak case. That's . . . I mean, there are no words for how wrong it is it say that the US Constitution mandates that a prosecutor proceed with a weak case.

Did I misread your point?
"

Ah, I misread the sentence. Yes, you and the others who corrected me are right. There is zero constitutional justification for a prosecutor to file charges and continue to fight a case where he believes the man is innocent. It is one of the problems with prosecutors being elected. They want to appear to be tough on crime and don't give a shit about people's innocence or guilt. That happens far too often.
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2011


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