Friday, August 19, 2011

West Memphis 3 return to court and, perhaps, freedom

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 5:51 AM

wm3.jpg

UPDATE AT 11 A.M.: A closed hearing began in circuit court in Jonesboro about 10 a.m. The public hearing was scheduled to begain about 11 a.m. No live TV was allowed or texting from the courtroom. We'll update with outcome as quickly as possible.


Much more to come later this morning from Jonesboro, where Circuit Judge David Laser will consider a plea bargain between the state and the West Memphis 3 that could bring their immediate release from prison after more than 17 years.

If the judge approves — and this is an all-important if — the defendants will leave still convicted of first-degree murder for slaying three eight-year-old West Memphis boys in 1993. This will leave their staunchest defenders unhappy and offend even many less interested who will take offense at convictions for crimes that Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin (L to R in photo above) will still say they did not commit.

The alternative to freedom for time served is to risk losing their appeal for a new trial and to remain in prison for life, or, in Echols' case, execution.

I mentioned yesterday that a no-contest plea is one way to produce a conviction without an admission of guilt by defendants. Another is an obscure legal maneuver, a functional equivalent of a nolo contendere plea known as an "Alford plea," which is to be made in court today, our sources say. Here's a full discussion. It is, in short, a guilty plea where the defendant does not admit the crime. Check the link for further details. It requires a case in which likelihood of conviction is high (it certainly was here, having already occurred), though this would be a novel, perhaps unique use of it after the fact.

Meanwhile: Lindsey Millar has compiled an exhaustive summary of the Arkansas Times' coverage of this case over the years. It consists primarily of Mara Leveritt's dogged and important reporting. Her reporting and her book, "Devil's Knot," were key elements in the chain of events that could lead to freedom today. Celebrity interest, HBO movies and the recent rump organizing by dozens of Arkansas lawyers in behalf of freedom were also factors that helped move events.

Mara Leveritt is Twittering this morning and also writing for her blog. She'll be filing reports to the Arkansas Blog as well, so you can get her coverage right here.

Gerard Matthews is on the scene with David Koon, too. Gerard is Twittering here. He'll be live-streaming the post-hearing news conference from his JTV account.

I encourage all to look back to Bob Lancaster's brilliant summary of the trials in 1994. He walked away then unconvinced of the guilty verdicts returned by juries.

A sample from his cover story:

The prosecutors in the West Memphis murders didn't establish a motive, and didn't try to very hard or very long. They looked foolish, and actually jeopardized their case (risked letting it slip over into absurdity) when they did try. Sporadically they portrayed Damien Echols as a novice dabbler in the occult, suggesting he choreographed the murders of those little boys as a kind of ritual blood sacrifice. Satanism would endow the case with a motive. But the prosecutors never produced any evidence to show that Echols had anything beyond a jerkoff Metallica-level interest in witchery and hobgoblins, and they could only conjecture (or hint around about it, in slightly embarrassed fashion) that his "beliefs" in regard to these matters might have inspired or driven him to contemplate murder, much less actually commit it. The one "cult expert" they put on the stand was a sad old retired cop from up North somewhere who got his expertise via correspondence courses from some California academy that's undoubtedly a post-office box, and he couldn't rightly say—though he was willing to guess—whether the murders might have been "cult-related" since there was no evidence pointing in that direction, or in any direction. The prosecutors convicted Echols of checking certain suspicious books out of the public library, and copying off dark passages ("full of sound and fury, signifying nothing") from the likes of William Shakespeare. God help him if he'd ever discovered Poe. And yet this vague proposition of the murders as an expression of an ignorant boy's conception of the demands of demonology was the state's entire case. That's all we had. And an obliging jury—and a judge as dedicated to bringing forth convictions as he was to looking good—called it enough.

Spectators began assembling before 7 a.m. this morning.

Pamela Metcalf, Damien Echols’ mother, was in the crowd. She told David Koon: “The very first thing I will say to him is I love him. He knows I’m here for him. I've always been and I always will be and it’s time to go home” She said she didn’t think justice would ever be served in the case, but she’s been very excited the last few days and she’s never given up hope. “I always believed he’d be coming home.”

THE VICTIMS: From left, Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch.
  • THE VICTIMS: From left, Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch.

On the other hand, this was posted on an Internet chat group of people opposed to the WM3's release and was said to come from Todd Moore, father of one of the victims, Michael Moore:

Yes, I met with the Pros. yesterday in Sheriff Allen's office for over an hour and we discussed in great detail the events of tomorrow and why some of his team agreed to this and also this was presented by the defense which tells me they feared a new trial and was looking for a deal. ... While I told him I did not like this one damn bit and the more I think about it the more I think this is not the best choice "right now"... It was not a given that Judge Laser would be so easy to convince of a new trial actually quite the opposite.

Remember this come tomorrow they will all stand before the judge and admit they are child murderers.

I am hurting and will most likely not attend tomorrow, it will be a circus and my presence wont matter anyway. Dana and I talked about it along with our daughter and we decided that it is just not worth it we cherish our privacy.

MARK BYERS
Mark Byers, father of one of the victims, told reporters in Jonesboro it’s “ludicrous” to require the three to plead to lesser charges to gain their freedom.

“Did the citizens of Arkansas realize how crazy that is?” Byers asked. “I want justice and I want the three of them to be free and I have no animosity whatsoever toward the three. I know they’re innocent and I’ve been on their side fighting hard for them since 2007 when I realized I was wrong. They did not kill my son. And this is wrong what the state of Arkansas is doing to cover their ass.”

He said, “I’m sick of it. The real killer is walking around free.” He said the DNA evidence points to a stepfather of one of the children and perhaps one of that man’s friends. “This is wrong to make three men under duress say they are guilty.”

Joe Berlinger, producer of past HBO films on the case, was on hand to capture more of the story today. He said, “If I was on Death Row and I had spent 18 years under the condition Damien had spent, I would take a deal, too. It’s amazing how quickly when there are political interests —perhaps Dustin McDaniels’ gubernatorial run at the end of the year and an embarrassing evidentiary hearing — it’s amazing how quickly things can change. The prosecutor put someone in prison for something they did not do and lo and behold, boom, they can come out.” Berlinger talked in extensive live interview with CBS about how his group down originally for a movie about evil deeds by satanic teens and it turned out much differently.

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, critical celebrity supporters who helped finance the Free the WM3 movement, are in Jonesboro today.

The defendants were hustled into the courthouse out of sight of most assembled press by a classic feint of sending a detention van to a front door as a decoy. The judge has been spotted wearing a body brace, a result of recent back surgery.

READY FOR COURT: People lined up early in Jonesboro this morning.
  • READY FOR COURT: People lined up early in Jonesboro this morning. Brian Chilson photo

Tags: , , ,

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments (49)

Showing 1-49 of 49

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-49 of 49

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Ethics Commission begins investigation of Rep. Mike Holcomb

    The state Ethics Commission last week informed a complainant she'd raised sufficient questions about campaign finance filings by Republican Rep. Mike Holcomb to initiate an investigation.
    • Sep 25, 2016
  • Drug companies fight medical marijuana

    Disclosure about financing of the anti-medical marijuana campaign in Arkansas is so far lacking, but it's no secret what's happened in other states — pharmaceutical companies have worked to defeat medical marijuana laws because they create (safer) competition.
    • Sep 25, 2016
  • Ken Starr on the real victim of Baylor rapes

    Kenneth Starr, whose persecutorial past need not be repeated here, gave an extensive interview yesterday with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune and, boy, was it a corker. The football coach was the true victim, said Starr.
    • Sep 25, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Tom Cotton's 'bizarre speech' on Guantanamo

    Lots of attention on the web today about remarks by n by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton. Vox called his remarks on preserving a detention center in Guantanamo Bay " bizarre."
    • Feb 5, 2015
  • Baker Kurrus named to work on Little Rock School District finances

    One front-page headline in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning was good news to me. It was on Cynthia Howell's article that former Little Rock School Board member Baker Kurrus had been named by state Education Commissioner Tony Wood to lead a committee on district finances.
    • Feb 18, 2015
  • Gov. Hutchinson calls for "significant" new criminal justice reforms, plus 790 more beds

    In today’s unveiling of his $64 million plan for corrections system reform, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state must do three things to address Arkansas prison overcrowding: provide more jail space, address recidivism and reform its approach to sentencing. It’s a major proposal, and although the additional money for reentry and sentencing reforms is less than the amount proposed for more prison beds, it sounds like a decisive step in the right direction.
    • Feb 18, 2015

Most Shared

  • George H.W. Bush will vote for Hillary. Or will he?

    Politico reports that Kathleen Harrington Kennedy Townsend says former Republican President George H.W. Bush is voting for Hillary Clinton for president. The article quotes a Bush spokesman as declining to confirm or deny.
  • Who's harming women?

    Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is an Arkansas Republican. Thus, like the governor and the Republican-majority legislature, she intends to do everything she can to deny women comprehensive medical care, particularly abortion.
  • New normal

    No two presidential candidates since polling began have run up negatives as massive as those of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who yet won their parties' nominations easily. "What gives?" may be the biggest political mystery in history.
  • Additional rape charges filed against Conway doctor

    Special Prosecutor Jason Barrett has added 11 more victims to two others alleging rape by Dr. Robert Rook of Conway.
  • Big Dam Bridge 100 brings big damn complaint about celebrity rider Hincapie

    The Big Dam Bridge 100 is this weekend and one dedicated biker isn't happy about a celebrity rider, admitted doper George Hincapie.

Most Viewed

  • Drug companies fight medical marijuana

    Disclosure about financing of the anti-medical marijuana campaign in Arkansas is so far lacking, but it's no secret what's happened in other states — pharmaceutical companies have worked to defeat medical marijuana laws because they create (safer) competition.
  • NWA voice: Opposition to stadium expansion

    A letter to the editor this morning in Northwest Arkansas voices objections to the Razorback Stadium expansion and outlines some alternative uses for the TV millions that are helping to finance the project.
  • Ken Starr on the real victim of Baylor rapes

    Kenneth Starr, whose persecutorial past need not be repeated here, gave an extensive interview yesterday with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune and, boy, was it a corker. The football coach was the true victim, said Starr.
  • Ethics Commission begins investigation of Rep. Mike Holcomb

    The state Ethics Commission last week informed a complainant she'd raised sufficient questions about campaign finance filings by Republican Rep. Mike Holcomb to initiate an investigation.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation