Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The West Memphis Three

I remember hearing about this within hours of it happening. My mom had called to tell me that three young boys, out riding their bikes, were found dead, hog-tied and one being castrated.  WHAT? I thought/asked when she told me this. And yet it was true and unbelievable that something of this magnitude would happen in my mom and dad's little bitty town of West Memphis, Arkansas.

I don't remember the stories that I heard afterward: who they thought did it (one of the dads), why it was done, all the made-up accounts that occur after something like this happens. The "talk of the town" where someone always knows exactly how it happened, even if they don't.  There's not much to do in West Memphis except gossip...and if you're a kid, you're screwed.  No, I didn't grow up there but I did go to high school (one of my three high schools in three locations) for my senior year, one hour west of the town.

Once Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, Jr, and Jason Baldwin were targeted, however, the story across the town was these boys *definitely* did it. Why? I remember asking my mom, doubting this account. Why would three friends decide to do what they did to these three young boys, who they didn't even know? They're sick. Into the devil.

That's it? Where's the proof?

You see: I have always doubted *the* story. Not just this story, but any story about someone's guilt. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who instilled the "innocent until proven guilty" right we all have that most people seem to forget. My dad studied criminal justice while in the Air Force, plus, he's just very anal-retentive about details as I am.

So back to this event, I wanted proof. It was 1993 and even though it had been four years since I left the area, I still felt like I understood those teenaged boys. They were boys I went to high school with. Loved to rebel, smoke pot, listen to heavy metal and some of my pals, liked 'worshiping the devil'. I only did a few of these things (listen to heavy metal...and my rebellion was against the preppies vs. any authority figures :))...and I wasn't fearful of my devil-worshiping friends...though they creeped me out from time-to-time.

But they were harmless. Just being kids. And that's what I saw in Damien, Jessie and Jason. I tried to find out what made them so guilty: where was the evidence. There was nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. And yet, the town, the families, and the media convinced everyone, especially the juries, believed it to be true and these young men went to prison.

And they stayed in prison until August 19th, 2011. Damien Echols was actually on death row for all of those years and supposedly, stayed in 23 hour lockdown and solitary confinement for most of those years. The men were released using an "Alford Plea" which is "a plea of guilty containing a protestation of innocence". This, unfortunately, is a fucked up way of releasing them but IMHO, a way for the stupid fuckers of the Arkansas legal system to save face. Jason ultimately decided to go with the plea, even though he didn't want to admit any guilt and NOT go free, because it would get Damien Echols off death row.

I am happy for them. Finally, freedom. But I am sad too. Seventeen years in prison. They were 16, 17, and 18 when they were arrested. And the entire town, and others, had nothing but hate, spit and fire for these boys. And to be innocent and have no one hear you, or save you? This is why I despise the rush to judgement. Why would you risk sending an innocent person to prison over heresy? PROOF...physical PROOF. If only I had some power because it burns in me, so much, the belief that everyone should think about someone's innocence first and foremost. We are so easily swayed.

Read these two books: Picking Cotton and Bloodsworth. True stories of convictions: one (the first) with an eyewitness accusation by the victim and the second, a crime that fit perfectly against the accused.

And as for this case, one of the most chilling, sad documentaries I've ever seen, that I probably wouldn't ever watch again: Paradise Lost.

3 comments:

  1. It is also sickening to think that whoever DID do that crime got away simply because the search for the guilty party ended once those three were pegged.

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  2. If you are familiar with the case, one of the dad's (stepdad) was suspected of doing this. There is "talk" that DNA evidence suggesting this dad is what they had to set these guys free eventually. But yes, 17 years, the sicko who did this has been free...

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  3. Fear, hatred and stupidity unfortunately mix together very well. I'm glad they're finally free, but really sad to hear that they basically had to plea no contest in order to gain their freedom. Such a fucked up case.

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