Friday, August 19, 2011

The West Memphis Three are free, and you might have helped

Posted By on August 19, 2011, 12:15 PM

In 2003, Henry Rollins brought members of his Rollins Band and Black Flag's original singer Keith Morris to SLC to play a West Memphis Three fundraiser, with proceeds going to help fund DNA testing in the Arkansas murder case. Today, that DNA testing helped three innocent men go free after 18 years in jail.---

In case you're not familiar with the case, the West Memphis Three is the label given to three then-teenage boys who were accused and eventually convicted of murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, back in 1993. Damion Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were convicted despite a complete lack of physical evidence linking them to the crime. Many felt they were accused because of their "rocker" attire, their reading habits (like Stephen King books) and their musical tastes (heavy on the Metallica). Prosecutors accused them of being Satan worshippers and worse, and the jury in the Southern, overwhelmingly Christian, town convicted them. Echols was even sent to death row.

The case inspired two feature films questioning the convictions: Paradise Lose and Paradise Lost II. And you can get more details on the case and Rollins' show in SLC in this story I wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune back in the summer of 2003. 

Almost immediately after their conviction, and particularly after Paradise Lost hit HBO, people like Rollins, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti and Johnny Depp saw the boys' conviction as an injustice, and many normal citizens did, as well, forming a group to help the boys appeal their convictions. The Free The West Memphis Three organization was completely citizen-driven, and today, their efforts have helped get the boys—now men in their late 30s— freed via a plea agreement.

The DNA testing that Rollins was raising money for was a vital part of the case turning in the boys' favor; the state always refused to fund DNA testing, but when the WM3 supporters raised money and paid for it themselves—and more importantly, when the DNA evidence showed they boys were not at the crime scene—the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing that was slated to happen in a few months.

Instead, Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were allowed to walk free today in a strange agreement that had them plead guilty to the crime, but maintain their innocence at the same time. Not sure how that works, but the important thing is justice appears to have finally been served.

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