Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


...And Justice For All
December 17, 2009 6:41 PM   Subscribe

New WM3 Defense Letter Imprisoned since 1993, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. filed new appeals in Oct. 2007 - previously - only to have them thrown out less than a year later. But a recent article in the Arkansas Law Review, which came on the heels of support from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Conviction, has the Arkansas Supreme Court reconsidering the appeals. Meanwhile, Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the victims, had his lawsuit against the Dixie Chicks tossed out earlier this month.

YouTube playlist with both Paradise Lost films, divided into 38 parts. Not only is it a fascinating (though disturbing at times, possibly nsfw) introduction to the subject, the filmmakers found themselves caught up in the case after the aforementioned Hobbs gave one of them a knife as a gift - the same knife mentioned as 'new evidence'...
posted by mannequito (19 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apologies if I mangled any of the technical, legal speak in the post. Its not really my area of expertise, but this case has held my attention for years and I didn't want this to pass anyone by.
posted by mannequito at 6:44 PM on December 17, 2009


I'm not sure about the specifics of this case, but as a general rule the denial of reality and defensiveness of district attorneys when confronted with evidence that should overturn a conviction is mind-boggling to me. I don't understand how that sort of DA can continue to get re-elected.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A bit regarding the behavior of district attorneys and prosecuting attorneys. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are example ethics rules promulgated by the American Bar Association. Some form of the Model Rules have been adopted by every state except California. The Rules contain some special rules for prosecutors. Arkansas, however, only adopted a narrow subset of those rules. Two of the Model Rules that might've helped the West Memphis 3 but that weren't adopted in Arkansas:

Rule 3.8 (g) When a prosecutor knows of new, credible and material evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a convicted defendant did not commit an offense of which the defendant was convicted, the prosecutor shall:

(1) promptly disclose that evidence to an appropriate court or authority, and
(2) if the conviction was obtained in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction,

(i) promptly disclose that evidence to the defendant unless a court authorizes delay, and
(ii) undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.

Rule 3.8 (h) When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.

So this kind of problem is recognized by the legal profession as a whole, but some state supreme courts have not felt it necessary to address it through ethics regulations.
posted by jedicus at 7:23 PM on December 17, 2009


I used to be quite a bug about the West Memphis 3. While I'm not qualified to hold any sort of opinion about their legal claims, my couple years of interest led me to personally believe that they are in fact guilty of the crimes. Again, they might legally deserve new trials, but I encourage people to do a lot more than watch Paradise Lost before making up their minds about their guilt.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:24 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how that sort of DA can continue to get re-elected.
posted by BrotherCaine


"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"
posted by rebent at 7:33 PM on December 17, 2009


oops, realized I made a mistake in the post: the knife was a gift from John Mark Byers, not Terry Hobbs
posted by mannequito at 7:54 PM on December 17, 2009


DNA clears Fla. man after 35 years behind bars. Florida last year passed a law that automatically grants former inmates found innocent $50,000 for each year they spent in prison. No legislative approval is needed. That means Bain is entitled to $1.75 million.
posted by netbros at 8:05 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Florida last year passed a law that automatically grants former inmates found innocent $50,000 for each year they spent in prison. No legislative approval is needed. That means Bain is entitled to $1.75 million.

Wow, in Florida? That's remarkably human for Florida.

It should also include an investment adviser; 1.75 million can go away really fast.
posted by Malor at 8:15 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I assume that all that means, jedicus, is that the prosecutor just won't find any of that new evidence all that credible.
posted by kenko at 8:17 PM on December 17, 2009


While I'm not qualified to hold any sort of opinion about their legal claims, my couple years of interest led me to personally believe that they are in fact guilty of the crimes.

Could you explain why you think that? Jesse Misskelley always looked like a textbook case of false confession if you ask me.
posted by jonp72 at 8:21 PM on December 17, 2009


The Chicksie Dix.
posted by nola at 8:24 PM on December 17, 2009


While I'm not qualified to hold any sort of opinion about their legal claims, my couple years of interest led me to personally believe that they are in fact guilty of the crimes.

Seconding jonp72's request for clarification.
posted by unsupervised at 8:31 PM on December 17, 2009


Could you explain why you think that? Jesse Misskelley always looked like a textbook case of false confession if you ask me.

I can't find a link to it right now, but when I was interested in the case I found Miskelly's post-conviction confession, made with his lawyers present, undercuts the claims of false confession (and Jessie also says in that confession that he had drank an entire bottle of Evan Williams the night of the crime, which helps explain discrepancies in his statements).

There's a lot more to the story than that, of course. I'm a little hesitant to engage in it too much, being a half-decade past the prime of my interest in the case.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:49 PM on December 17, 2009


Remember the last WM3 thread? More than two years ago? Where I said that a videotape showing the murder with none of the defendants present could surface and they'd still rot in jail? And people said things like

Justinian - I think they will be out of prison in a month.
...
Here's to hoping they finally receive the justice they've been so long denied.
...
There are a hundred things wrong with the convictions of Echols and Baldwin that can lead to a quick overturning of the verdicts

Yeah, they are still in jail. They are going to stay in jail. They will never be free. This is disheartening to realize, but it's the truth.
posted by Justinian at 10:24 PM on December 17, 2009


Unfortunately I don't have the background or knowledge to engage in a discussion of the legal particulars of this case but I've been following it on and off since I saw Paradise Lost and the sequel several years ago and I really want to contribute to this conversation.

What struck me more than anything (I think--it's a little difficult to parse out which pieces of this case shock me most) was that you witness this--pardon the cliche phrase--miscarriage of justice play out before your eyes in Paradise Lost. Unless I am mistaken, the filmmakers traveled to West Memphis intending to create a documentary about ritual satanic murders, which is how the murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were billed in the media, but accidentally stumbled upon Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin being railroaded by prosecutors and public opinion into life imprisonment (for Baldwin and Misskelley) and death row (Echols) when there was not enough evidence to link them to the crime (which, we soon find out, were not satantic cult murders at all). But because the filmmakers are discovering it as they go, you as the viewer are, too (I think your post touches on this, mannequito--that the filmmakers get involved in the case pretty much inadvertently when Byers gifts them with a bloody knife). It feels distinctly unlike, say, a Michael Moore documentary where I am being spoon fed Moore's opinions/ideologies with a fact or two dropped in. With Paradise Lost, I really felt that I was discovering for myself what a complete clusterfuck the criminal justice system is for certain people and what a train wreck was unfolding around these guys. When I went and did my own research on the case, I found that everything I could dig up simply supports that 1) there was nowhere near enough evidence to convict, 2) the misconduct throughout was staggering and 3) these guys are totally innocent.

I agree that Misskelley's confession is a classic example of someone with compromised cognitive/mental capability (I know we find out that he has some kind of intellectual disability but I am also referring to the hours of intimidation and interrogation he endured before confessing) giving in and saying what the cops wanted to hear just to be over with it all.

I didn't know that Paradise Lost was available on YouTube--thank you for sharing this. I try to get everyone I know to watch it so this helps.

I realize that these kinds of disasters in the criminal justice system are par for the course--I've seen many newly exonerated death row inmates talk about their experiences. What's so terribly sad, of course, is that these kinds of situations are way more likely and frequent than we collectively admit or acknowledge.

The Free the West Memphis Three Support Fund website, last time I looked, was FULL of info about the case, documents, evidence, press coverage, etc. Anyway, thank you for sharing this, mannequito. I hope this good news is reason to think something might change.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 5:20 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, they are still in jail. They are going to stay in jail. They will never be free. This is disheartening to realize, but it's the truth.

I'm a little more optimistic. The reason it has languished so long is that while the evidence used at trial was entirely circumstantial, there had been no evidence of their innocence that was not similarly circumstantial...until, of course, none of their DNA turned up on the victims or on anything else found at the crime scene.

The reason it is still languishing is that for justice to be done, the City of West Memphis, the West Memphis PD, and the Arkansas court system have to admit that they completely screwed up, from start to finish, a triple homicide involving children. Everyone involved in the investigation and prosecution has made their career from it. Judge David Burnett, I've read, is even retiring soon to run for the Arkansas Senate. The Prosecutors? One's a judge now. The other is running for the Arkansas Supreme Court. See what I mean? They'll never do it.

But John Mark Byers, the father of one of the victims and perhaps the most outspoken person involved with this case, not only manned up and admitted his mistake, but now actively advocates for their release. And that's something else, because watch the movies and Google the guy......he is a Character, to put it mildly. So shame on all of them even more.

But honestly, I don't see how these convictions survive Echols' first Federal appeal.
posted by spirit72 at 5:55 AM on December 18, 2009


I can't find a link to it right now, but when I was interested in the case I found Miskelly's post-conviction confession, made with his lawyers present, undercuts the claims of false confession (and Jessie also says in that confession that he had drank an entire bottle of Evan Williams the night of the crime, which helps explain discrepancies in his statements).

I'm still dubious if only because of Misskelley's already documented low IQ (for example, he was unaware that Bill Clinton was president of the United States). I have a younger brother who has been tested at IQ levels similar to Misskelley's, and I can tell you from personal experience that he can be extremely suggestible, something which is definitely possible in Misskelley's case.

I have also met Richard Ofshe, the expert on false confessions who appears in the first Paradise Lost documentary. Ofshe not only told me that he thinks Misskelley is innocent, but that he was displeased with the first Paradise Lost documentary, because he claims Berlinger & Sinofsky left out slam-dunk evidence that proves the WM3 were railroaded, but didn't include it, because they wanted to make an indie documentary about "poor white trash in Arkansas."
posted by jonp72 at 11:53 AM on December 18, 2009


I have also met Richard Ofshe, the expert on false confessions who appears in the first Paradise Lost documentary. Ofshe not only told me that he thinks Misskelley is innocent, but that he was displeased with the first Paradise Lost documentary, because he claims Berlinger & Sinofsky left out slam-dunk evidence that proves the WM3 were railroaded, but didn't include it, because they wanted to make an indie documentary about "poor white trash in Arkansas."

Yeah, I kinda do agree with that. The 'Paradise Lost' films are great for getting acquainted with the case, and then moving on to the actual case documents, which are widely and readily available.

But like any film, it comes through the lens of the filmmaker. The first was certainly about 'poor white trash in Arkansas', as it was put, and the second film was undeniably the John Mark Byers Show.

They're actually making a third one, I've heard.
posted by spirit72 at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2009


The reason it is still languishing is that for justice to be done, the City of West Memphis, the West Memphis PD, and the Arkansas court system have to admit that they completely screwed up, from start to finish, a triple homicide involving children. Everyone involved in the investigation and prosecution has made their career from it. Judge David Burnett, I've read, is even retiring soon to run for the Arkansas Senate. The Prosecutors? One's a judge now. The other is running for the Arkansas Supreme Court. See what I mean? They'll never do it.

There is a similar attempt to save face here in Austin:
The Yogurt Shop Murders

I've never watched Paradise Lost. I know that if I do, I'll be angry every day until those guys are released. Because of the nature of the case, and the fact that everyone stresses that they will never be out of prison, I can't get involved.
posted by apiaryist at 1:57 PM on December 18, 2009


« Older You’re going to hire people to guard your sh*t, bu...  |  House of Happiness... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments