Updates on the West Memphis Three (WM3)

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Damien Echols at his "Moving Forward, Looking Back" art exhibition in 2013. Photo Credit: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images Entertainment

The West Memphis Three (WM3) are three men who were accused of murdering three children in the 1990s. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley were in prison in Arkansas from 1994 until 2011. Echols was sentenced to death, and Misekelley and Baldwin each received life sentences. Several documentaries, including Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which brought the case to the attention of a number of celebrities.

Their fight for a fair trial was an ongoing issue of interest to many Pagans, because at the time of their conviction, Echols was accused of practicing "black magic" and engaging in Satanic rituals.

The murders of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore took place in May, 1993. The three second-graders were reported missing on the evening of May 5, and their bodies were found the next day. They had been stripped of their clothing, bound with shoelaces, and mutilated. Although initial police reports theorized that the boys had been sexually assaulted, later forensic expert testimony disputed this. 

At the time of their arrest, all three men were known to the local authorities. Baldwin had been arrested for vandalism, Miskelley had a reputation as a fighter at school, and Echols had been charged with shoplifting and burglary. Echols had also spent some time in a mental institution, and his family was a familiar one to social workers.

Echols was focused on as a suspect because two of the investigating officers, James Sudbury and Steve Jones, believed that the murders had "cult" overtones. Echols, who was a bit of an outsider and known for his interest in the occult, was brought in for questioning on May 7. He denied any involvement in the murders.

Seventeen-year-old Jessie Misskelley, who had a reported IQ of just 72, was interrogated for twelve hours on June 3, without the presence of his parents or an attorney. Miskelley initially confessed to the crimes, but then recanted, saying he was afraid of the police and had been coerced into his testimony.

In 1994, Echols and Baldwin were tried together, with Misskelley being tried separately, because his confession could not be admitted against any co-defendants. All three men pleaded not guilty, but were convicted, and filed appeals almost immediately. After nearly two decades of legal battles within the appeals process, including requests for admission of newly discovered forensic evidence, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a lower judge to consider this new evidence in 2010. The lower court was also advised to investigate the defense's claim of jury misconduct and errors on the part of local law enforcement.

In August, 2011, Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released from prison after filing an Alford plea. This legal maneuver, which is not used often, comes into play when a defendant acknowledges there is enough evidence to get a conviction, and thus pleads guilty while still maintaining their innocence.

Jason Baldwin now lives in the Pacific northwest, and works for a construction company. Jessie Misskelley still lives in Arkansas. Damien Echols moved with his wife to Salem, Massachusetts, and has pursued a career in writing and art.

Here are some of the headlines we've seen in the past at About Paganism & Wicca regarding the West Memphis Three.

February 11, 2012: Depp Options Film Rights on WM3 Story

January 20, 2012: New Evidence Could Implicate Hobbs

August 19, 2011: Judge Frees Echols, Baldwin & Misskelley

August 18, 2011: Could Freedom be on the Way for WM3?

March 19, 2011: New Evidentiary Hearing Ordered

Jan. 14, 2011: Echols Hoping for Freedom

Nov. 4, 2010: Hearing Granted in Arkansas

Sept. 29, 2010: New Echols Interview on AC360

Feb. 24, 2010: Depp Joins WM3 Support

Dec. 17, 2009: Dixie Chick Case Dismissed

Sept. 5, 2009: Is Arkansas Breaking its Own Rules?

Aug. 17, 2009: Witness Recants 1994 Testimony

Aug. 12, 2009: Forensic Evidence Back to Court

March 27, 2009: Echols Files for New Trial

Dec. 5, 2008: Dixie Chick Sued Over Blog Comments

Nov. 19, 2008: New Echols Interview

Sept. 26, 2008: Judge Recuses Himself from Case

Sept. 15, 2008: Judge Rejects New Evidence

Sept. 10, 2008: Echols Hearing Postponed

Aug. 12, 2008: Evidentiary Hearing Scheduled for September

April 16, 2008: WM3 Judge Wants to See Case Concluded

Dec. 31, 2007: Echols Case Could Bring About End of Death Row

Dec. 20, 2007: Echols Interview Available Online

Dec. 17, 2007: Damien Echols Talks to Larry King

Dec. 12, 2007: Dixie Chick Joins in WM3 Support

Nov. 3, 2007: Byers' Dad Supports Echols

Oct. 30, 2007: New Motion for Damien Echols

July 23, 2007: Branch's Mom Questions WM3 Convictions