However at a price. As Damien Echols himself said in a news conference a scant few hours ago, the “deal” they had to agree to was, “not perfect by any means, but at least it brings closure to some areas and some aspects.” Not perfect because Arkansas essentially made the three plead guilty to lesser degree murder charges in order to become free. So, Arkansas doesn’t want egg on their face and they sure as hell do not want to be sued for putting three teenagers in jail on weak evidence and suspicion and leaving them there for the better part of twenty years.
Okay, guilty but free? Here’s the “deal”:
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley had to plead guilty to, respectively, three counts of first degree murder, three counts of first degree murder and one count of first degree and two counts of second degree murder. They had to legally waive their right to sue the state and acknowledge that at the time of their initial sentencing in 1993 the state essentially had enough evidence to reach the verdict they did. So that sucks, but after eighteen years, there are a whole lot of folks, most especially the guys and their families, who are just happy to have their freedom (and, in Echols’ case, be removed from death row). Let it also be said that along with their own freedom this now opens the door to the real killers being found and the victims, three eight-year old boy scouts named Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, being properly honored and laid to rest.
The case is itself fairly complicated, mostly because of the state and not the actual crime. The WM Three were essentially, in 90’s nomenclature, ‘Stoners’ and as such in a backwater fuck pond such as West Memphis, Arkansas, easy targets because they wore black and listened to heavy metal. The conviction came after a “witness” reported seeing Echols covered in mud the night the boys’ were tied up and killed in what is apparently a very noteworthy and rare commodity in Arkansas – mud.
Of course! Elementary my dear Watson! Find the mud and we’ll find the killer!
From here there was the mentally-challenged Misskelley’s “confession” to police after approx. four hours of interrogation, testimony that was eventually thrown out. Funny then that despite that dismissal and the lack of any DNA evidence the three were still convicted.
But now they are free.
Wrongful imprisonment aside, it is unthinkable in a case such as this that an entire community would be more interested in accepting convenient closure than actually attempting to solve the real crime, avenge the victims and their families and bring murderous individuals to justice. But then, I guess the definition of justice varies for a lot of folks, hence the obligatory shouts of “baby killers” as the three were released this afternoon.
At least Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley finally received a modicum of justice after so long, even if it was tainted by having to publicly admit to something they didn’t do.
Now, if there’s a Circuit Court judge in Arkansas that has half a brain, maybe there’s a law man or two with one as well and someone will re-open the case and actually strive to complete the Justice in a case that has plagued the American legal system for almost two decades.
Welcome home boys.