Satanic Panic
July 16, 2006 1:22 PM   Subscribe

In 1993, Damien Echols, Jesse Miskelley, and Jason Baldwin were tried and imprisoned for the ritual satanic slaying of 3 8 year old boys. I just finished watching Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 and was compelled to check out the West Memphis 3 in more depth.

Echols has written an autobiography. Miskelley, with an IQ of 72, made a confession which believed to have been a textbook example of coercion.
Jason Baldwin is active in petitioning Arkansas Governer Mike Huckabee.

Most articles
I've come across are convinced of their innocence and consider this case a result of 'satanic panic'. What's not so convincing, is the innocence of John Mark Byers.
posted by pieoverdone (34 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I blame MySpace.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2006

I remember the movie West Memphis 3. IMHO, these kids were convicted by provincial jurors primarily because they were different. Religion and religious folks can do some very good things. The outcome of this case wasn't one of them them.

...and yes, Art, we might as well blame myspace for this too -- along with global warming and god knows what else!
posted by bim at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2006

After watching the first film, I thought Byers was guilty.

After watching the second -- isn't that the one featuring Byers's drunken crying jag at the crime scene? -- I knew he was.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:34 PM on July 16, 2006

I'm not certain that the three are guilty, but they're certainly more likely to be guilty that Byers is. He was out searching for the children, and talking to cops on several occasions, right around the estimated time of death. The problem with this case is that it's very, very hard to find sources of information that don't assume the three have been railroaded. (But to be fair, is very good about getting raw documents out there).

For instance, everyone always harps on the Satanic Panic angle, but Damien Echols had, before the murders, already been found to be so mentally ill that he recieved full disability from the state, and he'd done long circuits in mental wards as well. (Not that that makes you guilty, but he wasn't just some "long-haired teen.")

Byers is a nut, for sure. But, grabbingsand, it was the second movie that made me begin to believe they were guilty. It felt like such propoganda to me: "Blame the crazy redneck!"
posted by Bookhouse at 1:43 PM on July 16, 2006

Hmmm...I think I'll buy this DVD and see what I think now. It's been a long time since I saw it at the movies.
posted by bim at 1:53 PM on July 16, 2006

This is a compilation benefit CD with some great, great songs; proceeds go to the 3s legal defense fund, I believe.
posted by docgonzo at 2:04 PM on July 16, 2006

This is the Daredevil story arc inspired by the case.
posted by tetsuo at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2006

Margaret Cho is a strong supporter of the West Memphis Three, and has routinely featured correspondence with Damien Echols on her blog.

I also think Byer's is guilty. I think he was bat shit crazy, due in part to the brain tumor he was diagnosed with soon after the murders.
posted by kimdog at 2:29 PM on July 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

My brother lives in Memphis. I have always heard that Byers was an informant for the West Memphis police, who are more corrupt than sin (according to the rumors I've heard) and that the cops were protecting Byers so that their dirt didn't come out in court. Given the provincial attitudes of many in the South, it was relatively easy to railroad the WM3. If Byers couldn't be convicted, they had to find someone, right?

And yeah, I think Byers is guilty. I think it's obvious.
posted by geekhorde at 3:08 PM on July 16, 2006

I'm pretty sure that Cary Holladay's fantastic short story "Merry-Go-Sorry" was based (if loosely) on this particular crime. It's not available online, but it is in print. Anyone interested in this case - and anyone who likes short stories - should hunt down a copy of the book and read it.
posted by anjamu at 3:20 PM on July 16, 2006

If they did it, they should be in jail forever. It is wrong to kill 8-year-olds. But I don't know why their religion should enter into it.
posted by Mayor Peace Love and Unity at 3:29 PM on July 16, 2006

As Miskelley, the one who confessed, now says, "if you didn't do it, don't ever admit that you did."

Shouldn't this one be filed under Darwin Awards?
posted by peeping_Thomist at 4:06 PM on July 16, 2006

As Miskelley, the one who confessed, now says, "if you didn't do it, don't ever admit that you did."

Shouldn't this one be filed under Darwin Awards?

Well it is obvious, but some people are actually very stupid. The one who confessed had an IQ of 75 or whatever.

That said those of you claming that you know this Byers guy is guilty are just as bad as the jury that convicted those two.
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on July 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

As Miskelley, the one who confessed, now says, "if you didn't do it, don't ever admit that you did.

Miskelley had an IQ of 72, which made him a mental 12 year old. He was detained for 12 hours without representation. He told them whatever they wanted to hear so he could just go the hell home.

But I don't know why their religion should enter into it.

Because in West Memphis, Ak, anything outside of bible beating Christianity is teh EVIL and teh SATAN. I'm about to dump my next paycheck into their their defense and commissary funds. Fuck my house payment.

And after seeing John Mark Byers, I wanted to carpet bomb Arkansas so they stop breeding such ridiculous toothless inbred white trash.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:11 PM on July 16, 2006

That last comment is a visceral reaction to growing up in the midwest. Take it as such. With a ton of beer and some Malibu out of the bottle.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:13 PM on July 16, 2006

It is a strange case and Byers is a strange dude - but how did he pass the lie detector in the second movie if he was involved?

Those convinced that Byers did it should at least offer some evidence.
posted by vronsky at 4:23 PM on July 16, 2006

Other than he's a "big dumb redneck with a brain tumor"
posted by vronsky at 4:24 PM on July 16, 2006

He was detained for 12 hours without representation.

not uncommon, a friend of mine was arrested at the ripe old age of 15. he was told he would be left handcuffed (too tightly, he was bleeding a little) to a chair for 12 hours until they could get him representation. or he could be questioned, given food and then go home. at 16 he was sent to maximum security prison. (his friend 14 year old friend was raped and they beat up the guy that did it.) since his court appointed attorney was really a real estate attorney who had never done criminal trials, oh and met him 5 minutes before the trial. god bless the justice system's inability to fulfill that whole right to representation.
posted by andywolf at 4:30 PM on July 16, 2006

"how did he pass the lie detector in the second movie if he was involved?"

lie detectors aren't that reliable. from wikipedia

"It is interesting to note that, so far, no scientific study has been published that offers convincing evidence of the validity of the polygraph test. Polygraph tests have also been criticized for failing to trap known spies such as Aldrich Ames, who passed three polygraph tests while spying for the Russian government."


"In most European jurisdictions, polygraphs are not considered reliable evidence and are not generally used by police forces."
posted by andywolf at 4:36 PM on July 16, 2006

by the way i'm not convinced he did it or they didn't. but the "confession" and the knife are more then enough reason for a retrial, i would think, or hope.
posted by andywolf at 4:38 PM on July 16, 2006

I'm not convinced that the 3 did or that Byers did it. It is hard to make a conclusion from the evidence in the documentary. Like I said, it is a strange case.
posted by vronsky at 4:42 PM on July 16, 2006

Nobody has mentioned the bloody knife yet? Well, I will. During shooting Byers gave the camera crew a knife that he said he had gotten as a gift and never used. When it was discovered that there was blood on it and that that blood was consistent with his sons or his own, he gave an entirely unconvincing story about cutting himself skinning venison.

Also, as soon as suspicion turned toward him he had all his teeth pulled to prevent any possibility of his teeth being matched to the bitemarks on the murdered children!
posted by pablocham at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2006

And after seeing John Mark Byers, I wanted to carpet bomb Arkansas so they stop breeding such ridiculous toothless inbred white trash.

Make sure you get the jews first. Otherwise they'll charge you too much for the bombs!
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on July 16, 2006

After watching Paradise Lost and its sequel on HBO a few years back, I too was convinced that John Mark Byers looked awfully guilty.

But then I remembered a rather important fact - the filmmakers here are not unbiased or objective. It is their intent to show that Echols, Miskelly and Baldwin have been unjustly railroaded. And - assuming it is indeed their honest belief that the three are innocent - I laud Berlinger and Sinofsky for their efforts to try to right a grievous miscarriage of justice - as they see it.

Both films make a clear and well crafted effort to point the finger at Byers, who comes off as positively creepier-than-fuck. And biased or not, I think the films have raised enough issues to make a real hard look at Mr. Byers a necessity.

I just don't think it is time to string him up yet. Perhaps somewhere there is/are filmmakers who could produce "Paradise Lost 3", which just as convincingly makes Byers look like a wronged little lamb and the West Memphis Three as obvious child killers. I strongly doubt this, but I would at least like to hear the other side of the story before passing judgment.
posted by John Smallberries at 7:18 PM on July 16, 2006

One thing I remember from the documentaries was Byers referring to his wife's death as a "murder". Listen closely to his interview after the polygraph, and you'll notice he says "after my wife was murdered...." or some such. I was surprised the filmmaker's didn't call him out on that.
posted by edverb at 8:45 PM on July 16, 2006

...or the filmmakers, even.
posted by edverb at 8:46 PM on July 16, 2006

Fans of these two documentaries should definitely check out their first great film - Brothers Keeper.
posted by vronsky at 8:49 PM on July 16, 2006

And Metallica Some Kind of Monster, too. Excellent filmmakers.
posted by dydecker at 8:57 PM on July 16, 2006

A problem for the WM3 is that, especially in Arkansas, there's enormous political risk for any governor who would intercede on behalf of convicted killers.

Mike Huckabee found himself in a public relations disaster for getting involved in the Wayne Dumond case. There was lots of evidence that Dumond did not commit the rape of which he was convicted, but after he got out of prison with Huckabee's help and killed someone, he became Huckabee's "Willie Horton."

Let's hope the courts come to the aid of the WM3, because I don't see Huckabee or Arkansas' next governor doing it.
posted by jayder at 9:28 PM on July 16, 2006

Well, Huckabee's not running for re-election and is trying to float himself as a presidential contender... Maybe I'll bring this up with him next time he's in Iowa.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:07 PM on July 16, 2006

Hey. Not everyone in Arkansas is a hick. Or a bible-thumping asshole. Or a slack-jawed troglodyte. Just sayin'.

At the very least, the evidence does support a new trial, I would say.
posted by geekhorde at 11:08 PM on July 16, 2006

They so need a new trial. As far as the Huckster, his clemency record is terrible. Wayned Dumond isn't the only case he's gotten involved in where the person getting clemency has gone on to commit other crimes. If you're a prisoner, all you have to do is say you love Jesus and he'll let you off. He also likes to make these decisions secretly. In fact, an Arkansas prosecutor sued Huckabee over one of his clemency decisions.

I think Baldwin's not playing the game, which is why Huckabee's not giving him the time of day. That, and he might actually be innocent.

A great book on this is Devil's Knot by Arkansas Invesitgative journalist Mara Leveritt.
posted by lemoncello at 6:29 AM on July 17, 2006

A thread killer. That's me.
posted by lemoncello at 12:41 PM on July 17, 2006

When I was at Berkeley, I once had the opportunity to discuss the West Memphis case with Dr. Richard Ofshe, the expert on false confessions used by the defense. Ofshe basically told me that the case was even flimsier than it was presented in the documentary, and that in his view, the filmmakers were making the case more ambiguous than it had to be for dramatic effect. (Tortured ambiguity goes over big with the art-house audiences who watch most documentaries in the U.S.) He criticized the filmmakers for being more interested in making a film about "poor white trash" than in actually coming to a conclusion about who actually committed the crimes.

This is all just to say that I can understand the defensiveness of Southerners when they see the citizens of Jonesboro and West Memphis portrayed in this film. However, that doesn't make the West Memphis 3 any less the victim of an injustice perpetrated by small-town provincials, in my opinion.

BTW, I also have a mentally retarded younger brother who has been tested with an IQ similar to Miskelley's. I know from both research & personal experience that people like Miskelley or my brother would be extremely susceptible to making false confessions, because they can be easily swayed into saying untrue things.
posted by jonp72 at 12:54 PM on July 17, 2006

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