Justice for Damien Echols | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Justice for Damien Echols

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Legal groups today filed their arguments with the Arkansas Supreme Court for a new trial for Damien Echols, sentenced to death in the West Memphis Three case. The news release follows: (Little Rock AR, September 17, 2009) – The Arkansas Supreme Court today received the completed appeal from Damien Echols requesting the court overturn the lower court’s decision and grant him a new trial based upon new DNA and forensic evidence, as well as recently uncovered evidence of shocking juror misconduct that took place during the original trial.
 
Two prominent national legal organizations jointly presented an Amicus Curiae brief to the court asking the justices to set aside Echols’ conviction, citing the original jury’s violation of the constitution and the judge’s instructions by openly discussing and considering Jessie Misskelley’s false confession during the trial.  The “confession,” which was barred from the Echols trial because Jessie had immediately recanted and refused to testify against Damien and Jason Baldwin, was nevertheless purposefully introduced to the jury by Kent Arnold, the jury foreman, who admitted that he was trying to convince other jurors to convict based upon news reports of the so-called confession.
 
“Compounding the jury foreman’s misconduct is the fact that the Misskelley confession is highly unreliable,” said Steven Drizin, Legal Director of Northwestern University School of Law’s renowned Center on Wrongful Convictions, who co-authored the amicus brief.  “Juveniles and the mentally retarded are much more likely than adults to falsely confess when pressured by police, and Misskelley’s confession bears all of the hallmark traits of a false confession.”
 
According to the amicus brief, “It is now known that Echols’ jury violated the constitution and the judge’s instructions by discussing Misskelley’s confession during deliberations, not long after one juror told his attorney that he was growing frustrated by the State’s weak collection of circumstantial evidence and that if prosecutors did not present something powerful soon, it would be up to him to secure a conviction." (see www.Freewestmemphis3.org)
 
“Echols’ conviction and death sentence have been gravely tainted by the jury’s improper consideration of the extraordinarily prejudicial - and extraordinarily unreliable -confession of Jessie Misskelley.  If any reasonable juror were confronted today with evidence of the Misskelley confession’s unreliability, along with the petitioner’s DNA evidence that excludes Echols as a source, he would surely conclude that Echols is not guilty.  Accordingly, Amici hereby request this Court to grant petitioner Damien Echols a new trial.  Failure to do so could bring about a terrible injustice: the execution of an innocent man.”
 
Crime Scene DNA Does Not Match Echols, Baldwin or Misskelley
 
In addition to the juror misconduct and Misskelley’s false confession, new evidence presented to the court includes DNA and forensic findings that link others to the crime scene.  Dozens of pieces of evidence found at the crime scene conclusively show that no DNA from the murders matches Echols or the other two men.  DNA testing, however, links Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the murdered children, to the crime scene.  A hair found in the knot used to bind the victims matches Terry Hobbs.  DNA testing linking Hobbs to the crime scene was not available at the time of the trial.
 
Scientific evidence from the nation’s leading forensic experts also demonstrates that most of the wounds on the victims were caused by animals at the crime scene, after their deaths – not by knives used by the perpetrators, as the prosecution claimed and was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case.  Moreover, evidence presented that a knife recovered from a lake near one defendant’s home caused the wounds was completely discredited by the pathologists.  As well, these forensic scientists deemed the testimony of a jailhouse informant and a faux “expert” who testified that the knife wounds were part of a satanic ritual, incredulous.
 
Unprecedented Legal Support
 
The Center on Wrongful Convictions Youth (CWCY) is part of Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic and is a joint project of two of the Clinic’s highly acclaimed Centers: the Children and Family Justice Center and the Center on Wrongful Convictions.  The CWCY’s unique mission is to uncover and remedy wrongful convictions of youth, as well as to promote public awareness and support for nationwide initiatives – such as efforts to reform juvenile interrogation techniques – aimed at reducing the frequency of wrongful convictions. 
 
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is a non-profit organization with a national membership of over 12,000 attorneys.  Its membership also includes more than 35,000 affiliate members from 50 states, including private criminal defense lawyers and public defenders, as well as former U.S. attorneys, prosecutors and judges.  One of the NACDL’s critical missions is to ensure justice and due process for the accused, and seeks to promote the proper and constitutional administration of justice, and to that end concerns itself with the protection of individual rights.  NACDL routinely files amicus curiae briefs on various issues in the United States Supreme Court as well as other federal and state appellate courts. 
 
Steven A. Drizin and Laura H. Nirider from the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, Northwestern University School of Law, and Barbara Bergman, Co-chair Amicus Committee, of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, submitted the amicus curiae brief.  Drizin, who has studied hundreds of false confessions and recently co-edited a new book, entitled “True Stories of False Confessions” filed on behalf of a new project he founded – the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY). The CWCY, the sole organization in the country dedicated to exonerating youth who were convicted of crimes they did not commit, felt compelled to submit an amicus curiae brief after learning that Misskelley’s confession was used to convict Echols.
 
The Arkansas Supreme Court is expected to hold oral arguments in Echols’ request for a new trial this fall.  Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley’s hearing for a new trial in Jonesboro, before Judge David Burnett, resumes October 1.

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