Free the WM3 

Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines help sound the rallying cry on Saturday at Robinson.

It's inching close to two decades. For more than 17 years, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley have been imprisoned for a crime a growing number believe they didn't commit. Soon, the so-called West Memphis 3 will face their best opportunity yet to prove they were wrongly convicted. To raise awareness, the WM3 advocacy nonprofit Arkansas Take Action has organized "Voices for Justice," a star-studded rally to be held beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at Robinson Center Music Hall.

On Sept. 30, the Arkansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Damien Echols' appeal for a new trial. According to the arguments filed with the court by national legal organizations, new DNA testing and forensic evidence — along with evidence that the original jury foreman engaged in blatant misconduct — prove that Echols, who currently sits on Arkansas's death row, was wrongly convicted of murder.

"In late April, we learned oral arguments were going to be Sept. 30," Echols' wife, Lorri Davis, said earlier this week. "And of course that was real hard to take because that's five months away. So I started thinking, 'Why not use the time in a really positive way that would bring people together?' For longtime supporters. To try to educate people. But most importantly, to send a message to the state of Arkansas: We've done our work, we've proved our case and [the Arkansas Supreme Court] needs to do the right thing and end this injustice."

Davis, who's also a co-founder of Arkansas Take Action, made the event national news when she got two of the cause's fiercest — and most famous — champions on board: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and The Dixie Chick's Natalie Maines.

One of the WM3's longest supporters, Vedder appeared on the 2000 "Free the West Memphis Three" compilation and co-wrote the song "Army Reserve" on Pearl Jam's 2006 self-titled album with Echols. Last year in Memphis, Vedder told the crowd that he'd decided to include the city on his small tour because of the WM3 and implored it to learn about the case. "You owe it to your country," he said according to the Memphis Flyer. "It could happen to any of us. Three men are in prison, and they shouldn't be."

Maines appeared, with Davis and other members of Arkansas Take Action, at a rally at the state Capitol in 2007. She delivered letters of concern about the case to the governor's office.

Originally, Davis said, she and other ATA organizers wanted to hold the event somewhere more quiet and respectful, like a church. As the Times reported, the rally was initially slated for the Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church.

"I don't know anything about coordinating a big event like this, and it turned out that, logistically, the church didn't make sense," Davis said.

But then Robinson Center stepped in and, with prodding from Vedder, ATA decided to steer the event away from a high-ticket-priced benefit and into a rally with an affordable $25 ticket. As a consequence, Davis said, Vedder and Pearl Jam are likely to go into the red for the event.

In addition to the musicians, who will play acoustically and almost certainly sing some songs together, Quapaw Quarter United Methodist preacher Rev. Thompson Murray, Davis and other members of Arkansas Take Action will speak. Local actress Lisa Blount will sing, and new video messages from the WM3 and from long-time supporter Henry Rollins will screen.

The event bills Vedder and Maines along with "special guests." Davis was tight-lipped about who those special guests are, but promised that they were well known and had been confirmed. I've heard from other sources close to the event that the rumors are true: Johnny Depp and Patti Smith are the special guests.

Voices of Freedom: A Rally in Support of the West Memphis 3

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28

Robinson Center Music Hall, $25

Tickets via Ticketmaster or the Celebrity attractions ticket office (300 S. Spring, Suite 100)



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