Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
A woman who provided crucial testimony in the trials of the "West Memphis Three" now says her testimony was a complete fabrication.
Victoria (Vicki) Hutcheson says she was told what to say by West Memphis Police Department detectives, and that if she did not testify as instructed they could take her child away from her and implicate her in the slayings.
She also says the police hid her away from defense attorneys after she testified in the first of the case's two trials, and that she knows of at least one piece of evidence destroyed by police.
Hutcheson's son Aaron, who was eight years-old and a close friend of two of the victims, is also repudiating statements he made shortly after the murders. Aaron, who's now 18, says police "tricked" him and led him to say things that were not true.
Aaron's interviews with the West Memphis police were used to help justify the police theory that the slayings were related to the occult, and to tie three teenagers to the killings.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen dismisses Hutcheson's account. "It appears that Vicky Hutcheson is trying to get her 15 minutes of fame." He noted that she'd testified under oath in the one trial (Jesse Misskelly's) in which she was called as a witness and the defense had a chance to cross-examine her. "I don't know anything about Vicky Hutcheson or her motives for over 11 years later coming out and lying about the events of 1993, but I can say that the case gets more bizarre everyday."
Hutcheson testified only in the first of two trials, that of Jesse Misskelley Jr.
Mara Leveritt, a Times contributor who wrote a book about the West Memphis slayings, puts Hutcheson's significance this way. Leveritt says Hutcheson's interviews with police tightened the noose around Misskelley, giving them a theory to build a case around. When he confessed, they had what they needed to arrest Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. The prosecutor had little else in the way of solid evidence and Misskelley soon recanted his confession. Nonetheless, the confession was leaked to a Memphis newspaper, which put it on the front page, and it was mentioned by the prosecution in the trial of Echols and Baldwin.
Dan Stidham, defense attorney for Misskelley, said that while Hutcheson testified in only one trial, that testimony was critical in all three convictions. "Vicki Hutcheson's testimony was crucial to the prosecution because it was the only real corroboration that they had for Misskelley's ridiculous statement to the police. Even though she did not testify in the next trial of Echols and Baldwin just two weeks after Misskelley's trial, everyone on the jury in Jonesboro knew about Misskelley's statement and Hutcheson's testimony.
"Hutcheson's recantation of her trial testimony was not all that shocking to me in that I have always known that she was lying. The real shocking thing to me about her recantation is the level of misconduct on the part of the West Memphis police. It obviously knew no boundaries." Stidham no longer works on the case, but follows it closely. He's a district judge in Paragould.
Misskelley and Baldwin are serving life sentences. Echols was sentenced to die. All three are appealing.
On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys — Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers — were savagely murdered in a wooded area near Interstate 40 in West Memphis. One of the boys was sexually mutilated.
After a month had passed with no promising leads, police turned to three local teenaged boys — Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley — and charged them with the murders. To establish a motive, the police and prosecutor said the three were devil worshippers and had killed the three younger boys as part of an occult ceremony. All three of the teenagers were convicted.
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