Ellington added to West Memphis 3 FOI case | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ellington added to West Memphis 3 FOI case

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 4:39 PM

ADDED TO LAWSUIT: Scott Ellington.
  • ADDED TO LAWSUIT: Scott Ellington.
Mara Leveritt reports on a legal development in the ongoing West Memphis Three case.

Two parents of children murdered in West Memphis in 1993 still have not been granted access to evidence relating to those murders, despite a lawsuit against local officials and state claims that the case is closed. Now, Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers have amended their lawsuit to include as a defendant Scott Ellington, the district’s prosecuting attorney, who is also a candidate for Congress.

Hicks filed her lawsuit on June 22, after West Memphis police officials denied her request to view evidence in her son’s case. She made that request more than nine months after Ellington entered into an unusual deal by which with the men convicted of the murders—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley—pleaded guilty and were freed from prison.

Earlier this week, Ellington said he had not yet seen the lawsuit. He added: “Once I get papers served on me, we’ll forward them on to whomever and respond accordingly.”

In a press conference after their release, on Aug. 19, 2011, Ellington said: “The legal tangle that has become known as the West Memphis Three case is finished.” Supporters of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley have pressed, nevertheless, for their exoneration.

After Hicks sued the police department for violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by refusing to grant her access to the evidence, West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oakes told the Arkansas Times: "It's our position that our primary responsibility is to protect the integrity of the evidence if at some point in the future a defense team or prosecutor wanted it tested."

Oakes said at the time that he thought there was “probably some room" to accommodate Hicks in some parts of her request. But he added: "The person who should decide access should either be the judge with jurisdiction or the prosecutor, not the police department."

In an interview this week, Ellington said he would “be tickled” to let the attorney representing Hicks and Byers see “anything and everything” in his possession relating to the West Memphis case, but that he and attorney Ken Swindle, of Rogers, had not been able to agree on a time. Swindle said that Ellington has not responded to repeated requests to do that.

Ellington said that the records in his office are “fairly miniscule, compared to what’s at the West Memphis Police Department.” He said he has “basically, old trial notebooks” prepared by former prosecuting attorneys Brent Davis and John Fogleman—“anything that they would have put together in the case.”

Ellington, who is currently running for Congress from Arkansas’s First Congressional District, said it was up to the West Memphis Police Department to decide what evidence it would allow to be viewed. He also deferred to the city attorney for West Memphis to decide which items were covered by the state FOI law and which were not.

“I think that FOI is for documentary evidence,” Ellington said. “It’s for documents. I don’t think it applies to other evidence.”

Still, Ellington admitted that he had, originally, supported the request from Hicks to see her son’s bicycle and other physical evidence that the police department had denied. “I had conversations with citizens who said, ‘What’s the big deal? What’s wrong with letting her see the bicycles?”

When Ellington called Oakes, he said, the chief told him he had no problem with letting Hicks see the “big property.” But, Ellington said, he understood the chief’s position that he did not want to “open up all the stuff from Bode labs,” a reference to the laboratory that analyzed certain fibers and DNA evidence.

The lawsuit naming Ellington claims that a Freedom of Information request was send to him on July 12, that Ellington acknowledged receipt of the letter “both over the telephone and by electronic communication,” and that he “has not provided the information requested.”

Through their attorney, Hicks and Byers asked the Circuit Court judge in Crittenden County to order Ellington and the police department to allow the parents, among other things, “to view and examine all evidence gathered in the investigation of the murders;” to provide “an evidence log or list identifying the physical evidence;” and to provide “all logs or other records indicating who has been permitted access to any of the physical evidence.”

The dispute over access to the evidence pits state and local officials against supporters of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley who believe that the men are innocent and that the person or persons who killed the three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis almost 20 years ago remains on the loose.

Within the past five years, DNA identified as belonging to Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, was found inside one of the knots used to bind one of the other victims. A reward of $200,000 is still being offered for information that may prove crucial in the case.

If such information developed and someone new was charged with the murders, police and prosecutors would want to proceed to trial with evidence that had been properly preserved. That is why the public is not allowed to view evidence in cases that are still “open.”

But when prosecutors are satisfied that a case has been “closed,” either by convictions, acquittals, or for lack of evidence, files are opened and some evidence may even be returned to families.

In the West Memphis case, state and local officials seem to want to have it both ways. While claiming the case is closed, they are preserving the evidence in case, as Oakes put it, “at some point in the future a defense team or prosecutor wanted it tested."

A further twist on the discussion arose last week, during an interview with Kermit Channel, executive director of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory. Channel said he hoped to be able to address criticisms of his lab that were leveled by Baldwin’s attorneys in letters that were sent to Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and Ellington.

However, before he could respond, Channel said, he would need to check with Ellington. “I need to make sure I have authorization to talk about the case,” he said. “It’s still the prosecutor’s case. Whether there’s a conviction or an exoneration, in the eyes of the crime lab, this evidence is still protected by law, regardless of the judicial outcome.”

Tags: , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Frank Broyles at home following stroke

    Former Razorback football coach and athletic director Frank Broyles, 92, is reported recovering at his Fayetteville home following a stroke.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Scientist blows whistle on Trump war on science

    To borrow an apt cliche, a Washington Post op-ed by an Interior Department scientist with a whistleblower complaint is a just a tip of the iceberg of Trump administration destruction of important parts of government.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Former city director seeking work at city hall

    Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a piece of Little Rock City Hall business this morning about what appears to be a case of Mayor Mark Stodola creating some part-time work for former City Director Brad Cazort.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Super Bowl line

    Over to you.
    • Feb 7, 2016
  • Is Arkansas in or out on Kobach voter data effort?

    The Washington Post has published a map that counts Arkansas as among states that will "partially comply" with a sweeping request for voter data by the so-called election integrity commission set up by Donald Trump in an effort to cast doubt on Hillary Clinton's 3 million-vote popular defeat of him in 2016.
    • Jul 2, 2017
  • Judge Griffen: Why black lives matter

    Another few words from Judge Wendell Griffen growing from the controversy over the sale of Black Lives Matter T-shirts at the state black history museum — removed by the administration and restored after protests from Griffen and others stirred by a story in the Arkansas Times:
    • Mar 13, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation