West Memphis Three Case

Undisputed Facts:

1. On May 5, 1993, three eight year old boys, Steven (Stevie) Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, were reported missing by their parents in West Memphis, Arkansas.

2. The following day the bodies of the three boys were found in a creek in a forest area near their home.

3. The cause of death of the boys was simply listed as multiple injuries.

4. Investigators proclaimed the crime to be of satanic means. 

5. Two days after the bodies were found, local teenager, Damian Echols, was interviewed and given a polygraph test.  (The results of which have been questioned)


6. On June 3, 1993, while Damian is still under the radar of the police, another teenager, Jessie Misskelley was interviewed by the police.  He was ultimately interviewed for over 12 hours and given a lie detector test.  Only 46 minutes of the interrogation was recorded.  


7. Jessie, who had an IQ of 72, meaning he was borderline of mental ability, confessed to the police that he, Damian and Jason Baldwin were involved in the murders of the three boys.  This confession was announced to the public without details. Jessie recanted this confession yet at some point attempted to make yet another.


8.  Shortly after Jessie's confession the three boys were arrested for the murders.


9. On February 5, 1994 Jessie was convicted on one count of 1st degree murder and two counts of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to life plus 40 years.


10.  Jessie's confession could not be used against Damian and Jason, of which they had a joint trial.


11. On March 19, 1994 both Damian and Jason were found guilty.  Jason was sentenced to life in prison while Damian was sentenced to death.


12. Both Damian and Jason continually maintained their innocence.  Aside from the two times spoken of above Jessie did the same.


13. In May 1994 all convictions were upheld.


14. In 2007 DNA testing was done from the crime scene.  None of the defendants DNA was found.  A hair was found to be consistent with Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Steven Branch, in the shoe lace of one of Michael Moore.

15. After the DNA results were found, Damian's lawyers filed for a retrial based on this evidence as well as evidence that what had been claimed at the time of trial as being knife nicks to the victims (especially to the genital area of Christopher Byers) was in fact animal marks and activity. This was denied by the courts.

16. In July 2008 a local attorney prepared an affidavit to the court stating that at the time of the Damian and Jason's trials he was representing the brother of the jury foreman of the case, Kent Arnold.  The affidavit stated that Arnold had made comments to him throughout the time stating he knew the defendants were guilty, he lied to get on the jury (his brother was facing unrelated charges but he made sure to hide this), and repeatedly brought up Jessie's confession which was not to be discussed in this trial.

17. In November 2010 the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered that the lower court MUST hear arguments of the DNA results, as well as allegations of jury misconduct in the trial of Damian and Jason.

18. On August 19, 2011 a deal was met between the state and the defendants.  The defendants agreed to an Alford Plea (stating they are innocent but that the state had enough evidence to convict them), a very controversial decision.  Upon taking the Alford Plea, all three defendants were released from prison.  The deal stated that all three defendants must take it, meaning that only one or two of them could not take it.  Jason Baldwin stated that he did not want to do this but did so because Damian was on death row and it would release him.  Before this deal was given there was a scheduled hearing for December 2011 to address if the DNA and the jury misconduct issues would have resulted in new trials.  Prosecutors stated at the release that they believed that the courts would order a new trial, and they also believed that the defendants would likely be found not-guilty.  He also stated that he continued to believe they were guilty but also pointed out that if they were found not-guilty the state would have to pay restitution to the defendants and that the Alford Plea prevented that.  The Alford Plea also prevented the defendants from ever gaining profits, whether it be through interviews or book deals.

19.  At the start of the investigations into the defendants, throughout their trials and for many years after, all the parents (and step-parents) believed the three to be guilty.  By 2011 John Byers (father of Christopher) and Pamela Hobbs (mother to Steven Branch) believed the defendants to be not-guilty.  Michael Moore's parents and Terry Hobbs (stepfather of Steven) maintain their belief in their guilt.  Christopher's mother has passed away since the time of the murders.

20.  HBO movies have made three documentaries about this case entitled Paradise Lost.

Disputed Facts:

1.  As I have said before in other blogs, the biggest dispute is in the guilt or innocence of the defendants.  Upon their release in 2011 the Alford plea was not a welcome one to anyone, regardless if you believed in guilt or innocence.  If you believed them to be guilty the state allowed murderers to get out of prison without serving their sentence; if you believed them to be innocent, three men were all but forced to admit there was evidence (that many argued was not there), were robbed of their lives and continued to be robbed as they could receive no compensation.

2. The issue of Terry Hobbs has been discussed at length.  Terry Hobbs maintains his innocence against the report of his DNA being present.  There have also been reports that a friend of Terry's, David Jacoby, DNA was also found near the scene.  Reports are that the investigation focused so quickly on the satanic issue that the parents, as well as neighbors of the children were not properly interviewed.  Several years into the case a neighbor states she read a report that Terry Hobbs stated he never saw the boys that evening prior to their disappearance.  She went to the police and reported that she had been outside her home around this time and had seen Terry Hobbs holler for the boys to come to him.  Terry Hobbs disputes this still.  It has been argued that the hair found to be consistent with Terry Hobbs found in the shoe lace of Michael Moore could have been transferred DNA as Michael had been in the Hobbs home several times, including possibly that day.  In early 2012 it was reported that three new witnesses emerged (including Hobbs' nephew), who have supposedly passed polygraph tests, stating Hobbs was involved in the murders.


3. Vicki Hutcheson testified at the trial of Damian and Jason and her statements have always been set in controversy.  At the time the bodies were found Vicki was being investigated for stealing money from her employer.  Vicki's son was a friend to the three murdered boys.  Vicki supposedly helped investigators in tying in satanic cults with Damian and reported things that not only could be disputed (she stated Damian picked her up in a red car; he never had a license (and was never seen or caught driving); and no red car that he could have access to was ever found).  Every time Vicki's son Aaron was interviewed he suddenly "remembered" more and more things and gave lots of evidence against the defendants.  It was reported early that Aaron's testimony could not be reliable due to the changing stories, often day by day.  Years later both Aaron and Vicki recanted all testimony and blamed police coercion.  Vicki has stated that her surrounded facing charges in the theft and was promised all but the case would go away.  Aaron has stated he was "tricked" by the police to say things that were not true.


4.  Jessie's confession...... This is what ultimately led investigators to Damian and Jason.  As stated above only 46 minutes of 12 hours of interrogation was taped.  Jessie's father has claimed that he allowed them to question him, but not interrogate him (not sure I know the difference) and it was all done without a lawyer.  The biggest contention with his is Jessie's IQ level in which has been argued he was coerced into confessing.  The fact of the matter is however, that during this "confession" he kept changing stories.  In one case the murder happened during the day (the boys were in school so this cannot be true).  It has been argued that when Jessie had the "facts" wrong the police would "remind" him of what really happened.  It has also been argued, as has been in many false confessions, that investigators convinced Jessie if he just confessed he could go home.  

5. At one point fingers were pointed to John Byers, the father of Christopher, as the one responsible.  His actions and attitude had been reported as questionable.  There were issues when John had his teeth removed (reports differ on if they needed to be) soon after the murder and argued that it was so that they could not be compared to "teeth" marks found on the victims.  John Byers has also had run ins with the law and there were questions when his wife Melissa died or a possible drug overdose.  Byers has acknowledged that he understands why his actions at that time were suspect but that those allegations against him helped him understand he needed to actually look at the evidence against the defendants rather than go on feelings, and ultimately it changed his mind on their guilt.

6. It has been alleged that the crime scene was "trampled" on and that the bodies were moved in properly destroying, altering and contaminating the crime scene to a point in which.  Other things concerning the crime scene and the handling of have been alleged.

7.  On the night of the boys' disappearance a local restaurant owner called the police stating that someone had come into the restaurant covered in blood and had gone into the restroom and cleaned up.  Police first delayed in their reaction and then when they took a report they never entered the restaurant and investigated the restroom.  The following morning the restroom was cleaned.


My Opinion:

This case has been full of twists and turns and I am sure I could have provided much more in the areas above.  As much as I stated my difficulty in keeping my opinion out of the facts while writing the Betty Broderick case, if you multiply that by tenfold, you may be close in understanding how difficult it was for this case.  I have followed this case for years and I never believed there was enough evidence (especially against Damian and Jason) to prove their guilt.  Do not take this to mean that I found Jessie guilty by any means.  I am simply stating from a legal point of view at the time of the trials.  Yes, Jessie had recanted his confession (but allegedly had confessed again at some point) and his lawyers did argue his mental abilities and the false confession but that to me is a legal issue.  Yes, I do believe it was coerced, and that the confession was false, so yes, I do believe Jessie too, to be innocent.  However, as I said from a legal point of view, they did have more on him based on that issue and considering that the confession could not be used against Damian and Jason.



One has to remember that in this area of Arkansas it is considered to be the "Bible Belt."  Everything was for or against God.  Just as people of the 1950's were banning Elvis from television stations and calling his music "devil music," the same was being done in the 1990's when it came to music, hairstyles and the like.  A local juvenile probation officer, Steve Jones, who was at the scene when the bodies were recovered, who knew Damian well, and who was seemingly obsessed with satanic cults immediately put Damian's name on the suspect list by mentioning him to other officers.  


During Damian and Jason's trials a man by the name of Dale W. Griffis was qualified by the judge as an expert witness on the occult and allowed to testify for the prosecution.  It was later know that this man obtained his "degree" through a mail order program and never took one class to qualify him in any way.  Yet, Judge Burnett (this judge did both trials and subsequently denied every single one of the filing filed by the defendants) still allowed his testimony as an expert.  Again, one has to remember "Bible Belt" and the fears that ran through this area.  Reality is that these boys were singled out because of their taste in heavy metal music, their hair styles and their clothing (which was often black or referred to one of the heavy metal bands they listened to).  The defendants were surely glad when Judge Burnett was elected to the State Senate, although based on his conduct in this case I find that extremely disturbing.  However, by being elected to State Senate, Burnett was no longer the judge overseeing this case and the defendants knew they had a better chance at their next hearing without him.  Judge David Laser was now going to be in charge.  It is likely that the prosecutors (and who knows, maybe defense attorneys too) had meetings with Laser and it is my feeling the prosecutors did not like what they were hearing, hence came up with the idea of the Alford Plea, that allowed three people, the state was still claiming were guilty, one on death row, to walk out of prison after over 18 years.


It is my belief that if they would have not taken the plea deal, and remained in prison going through first the hearing to determine if they were entitled to new trials, and then the new trials that I believe would have been granted, they all would have been set free.  However, that first hearing was not for another four months and then if prosecutors were dead set they could have dragged out the time until the new trials and even then absolutely no one can know with 100% the outcome of a trial.  Jason was actually willing to do this because while the Alford Plea technically states they are stating their innocence, in the same breathe it states they are guilty.  Jason was the last of the three defendants to agree to the plea. He has stated that he ultimately agreed because "as bad as" he had it, he knew that Damian had it worse being on death row.  On top of that, these defendants have already seen so much corruption within their case they never knew what would be tried next.


Obviously, I fully believe in their innocence.  That feeling is not completely shared by everyone.  Just as surely as I believe these boys were railroaded and made scapegoats, there are others who just as adamantly believe in their guilt.  The Alford Plea angered people on both sides.  I believe these three boys, who were 16, 17, and 18 when they entered prison, had their lives destroyed and taken from them.  In the same respect I do not think they will ever get the real killer.  Just as in so many other cases, this crime scene was not properly handled, and witnesses have changed stories I simply do not see enough evidence against anyone, including Terry Hobbs, who seems to be the latest in a string of people accused of these murders.  I should also add that when the boys were released the prosecutor stated as far as their office is concerned they were all guilty and that the case was considered closed. The defendants and their lawyers however, are making it their goal to find the true killer, have justice served and have their names cleared.


While I do absolutely believe there is more evidence against Terry Hobbs than against the defendants, I have to remind myself that at one point there was so much speculation that John Byers was just as guilty.  I have to remember that feeling someone is guilty is not proof.  I also do not feel that one strand of hair, even if the shoe belonged to Michael Moore, when there is evidence he had been in the Hobbs home, is not enough to convince me.  One could argue "But what about all the witnesses?"  Well, where were all these witnesses when the murders occurred?  And what about all the "witnesses" against the three defendants?  That right there should be proof positive that you cannot believe all witnesses.  This includes the "new" witnesses that include Hobbs nephew who state Hobbs confessed.  I truly do not think a) these witnesses would have waited this long to at the very least throw a bone to the police to look into him nor b) do I believe even if he did do it he is dumb enough to confess.  In Hobbs' mind they had the guys who did it.  And, Hobbs knew that there was so much going on that without Judge Burnett denying every motion made there would be a chance that they could be overturn.  This case has never seemed settled and has remained in the spotlight for over 18 years.  He is not going to confess when there were still so many questions out there.......  Sadly, Christopher Byers, Steven Branch, and Michael Moore may never rest easily as there will likely never be justice in their murders.

Comments

  1. I am still not a million percent sure that Byers didnt have something to do with it. I dont think the real killer will ever be brought to justice.

    I hope that the WM3 keep their financial backing, and are able to continue testing until they get a court to through out their convictions. I think it is terrible that these kids were kept in prison for 18 years, and then given the option to either 1)Sit there indefinitely or 2)"Just say" they did it, and go home. Now they cant write their stories, because that would be profiting form their "crime".... convenient for the corrupt state and its judges. They also cannot sue the state for false imprisonment, because they are convicts. They are convicted murderers, so job pickins will be slim. And, they have no skills, job history, credit... nothing. These were kids stolen from their potential lives. And in return, Arkansas let them go "home"....

    For me, this case epitomizes what is REALLY wrong in this country, and its mot political parties, terrorism, health care, or race relations...and yet, it is all of that. The cause of ALL those things is what we cant seem to get over: a blatant disregard for the poor of our nation. We value those that are worth money, and throw away those who are not. The OJs, Caseys, and Amandas of the world are "worth" saving... while the Damiens, Jasons and Jessies are not.

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  2. Very good. I agree wholeheartedly ... well aside from Byers. I really don't think he was involved and I just really feel without clear evidence we are doing to other people exactly what was done to these boys. It's complete and total BS this was done. I absolutely believe the prosecutor stated EXACTLY why this was done when they were released... he fully believed that they would get a new trial... they would be found guilty... AND the state would be ordered to pay over 18 yrs of restitution TIMES 3! What kind of prosecutors says we let them go so we didn't have to pay them if they TRULY believed in their guilt????????

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