West Memphis Three's Freedom Means Hope to Innocents in Prison Everywhere

wm3.org.jpg
wm3.org
Clockwise from bottom left: Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin, the now-free West Memphis Three

Today's news that the West Memphis Three -- Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin -- have been freed from prison in Arkansas after agreeing to an extraordinary plea deal, should give hope to all those falsely accused and imprisoned, including those in Arizona's prisons.

Since these three men were tried and found guilty of the 1993 homicides of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, the case has been notoriously known as a modern Salem Witch Trial, with accusations of Satanic rituals and appeals to the prejudices of the conservative Bible belt, where wearing black, listening to heavy metal and/or reading Aleister Crowley was (and sometimes still is) evidence of Devil-worship.

The WM3 trials have resulted in two mesmerizing documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, as well as the non-fiction account Devil's Knot, by crusading investigative journalist Mara Leveritt, and appeals by countless celebrities and activists, petitioning for the release of the WM3. These have included Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder, Margaret Cho and Winona Ryder, among others.

The WM3 were released a little before noon today, under the conditions of an agreement with prosecutors, described by Leveritt in an item for the weekly Arkansas Times:

"Circuit Judge David Laser accepted a plea agreement worked out between the state attorney general's office, the local prosecutor and attorneys representing the men, who have spent nearly 18 years in prison. Under the agreement, called an Alford plea, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley told the court they would plead guilty to reduced charges of first-degree, rather than capital murder, while continuing to maintain that they are innocent. An Alford plea allows defendants to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state has enough evidence to convict them."

She further explained that,

"With this agreement, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley leave court as convicted murderers who have served an amount of time in prison that state officials accept as sufficient. However, all three preserve the right to attempt to clear their names in the future by bringing new evidence to court."

That agreement is unusual, especially given that Echols had been sentenced to death. 

Though for many Echols has been an icon, a symbol of the price of nonconformity in small-town America, Baldwin may be the real hero, as Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times noted of a news conference the three held today following their release:

"At the news conference, Echols embraced Jason Baldwin, who refused a deal to testify against Echols in their 1994 trial and who joined the plea deal on Echols' behalf though he objected to being forced to plead guilty."

I feel honored to have visited Echols in prison for a piece I did for the LA Weekly back in 2003 on the effort to free him. I also interviewed Echols in 2000 for Salon.com, though I'm not tooting my horn. Scores of journalists have written about this case, Leveritt being the most important, bar none.

To be honest, after all these years, I doubted if the WM3 would ever walk the earth as free men.

But this result, though imperfect, is a lesson to all of us that such injustices can only be overcome through constant vigilance and advocacy. There are innocents, too, in Arizona's prison system. 

The first that comes to mind is Courtney Bisbee, currently doing 11 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections for a child molestation that did not occur. Though she is not on death row, as was Echols, her case is a shocking example of how dishonest cops, indifferent judges and incompetent attorneys can all conspire to put innocent persons behind bars and keep them there indefinitely.

For more on her case, please see the Free Courtney Bisbee Web site.

As any defense attorney will tell you, it is extraordinarily difficult to free someone from prison after they have been convicted. The trial's the thing, and what comes after it can shuffle along for years or decades without satisfactory results.

That's why activists such as Phoenix's Peggy Plews of the Prison Abolitionist blog, are so important. They fight for the humane treatment of the imprisoned, whether guilty or innocent. 

And considering that one of those innocents could one day be you or me, we should all be grateful to Plews and others who do similar work.

As Jesse Jackson was wont to say, "Keep hope alive." The freeing of the WM3 just did that, for all of us.


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
51 comments
Former Republican
Former Republican

Watch Arizona Supreme Court Disciplinary hearing for abuse of power and possible disbarment of:  ex-DA/Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas / ex-DeputyCountyAttorney Lisa Aubuchon, chief charging prosecutor /ex-DeputyCountyAttorney Rachel Alexander, Thomas personal assistant and political blogger. Watch AZ Bar attorney's opening against the three. (archived videos of the weeks long hearings at the AZ SC website).

http://supremestateaz.granicus...

LCoburn2000
LCoburn2000

Let justice be just.  Let the truth be told and free the innocent.  Make this world a better place by treating everyone humanely.  A fair, honest and truthful world we all need to live in for all our safety.  Make it happen, it starts with you.

Laura Coburn
Laura Coburn

Let justice be just.  Let the truth be told and free the innocent.  Humane treatment for imprisoned people.  Please make this a fair and just world by doing what is right.

Diane Mason Mekelburg
Diane Mason Mekelburg

Yes, it does keep hope alive BUT..one needs public support and awareness via celebrities and the media and lots and lots of money to break down those legal barriers to the truth! FREEPAULCORTEZ.ORG. Paul Cortez is an innocent man that never had a fair opportunity to prove his innocence.

Free Courtney Now
Free Courtney Now

Thank you for reminding us about the wrongful conviction of Courtney Bisbee. So much for "bench trial" justice before a corrupt judge, prosecuted by a corrupt prosecutor (who is more than likely going to be disbarred) and a detective that was barely literate.Yet, Courtney is the one in prison! Go figure.

Free Courtney Bisbee!
Free Courtney Bisbee!

PETITION TO FREE COURTNEY BISBEE - An Innocent woman falsely accused, wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned in Perryville Prison, Maricopa County, AZSupporters Fight to Get Courtney Bisbee a New Trial | Change.org Newshttp://news.change.org/sto..., Thank you for the courage to expose the broken justice system in Arizona. The tens of thousands of felony convictions under the former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas (now facing possible disbarment) need an outside independent investigation.  10% could be innocent. Thomas bragged about 40,000 felonies that would = 4,000 possible innocent people; 1% = 400. That's a lot of innocent people and destroyed families!

Pattersonr2000
Pattersonr2000

i'm glad they're out. how about the ones who got out of prison and are innocent? we have to live with this the rest of our lifes.

Anon
Anon

Must-see at Harkins, Tempe 8/19/ week: ""Crime After Crime" is a new documentary and by all accounts is incredibly powerful.  It is about a type of wrongful pretty specific to women: a battered woman striking back.  It will only be shown inselected theaters, but check it out if you get the chance: http://crimeaftercrime.com/con...Also, here is a radio story on the underlying case:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/...

nash984954
nash984954

In 1979 there was a movie called "And Justice For All," starring Al Pacino. The point was made that the system was skewed and just a game among those who ran it. The best scene was a the end where Pacino calls out the accused judge during the trial, and while his opening statement was very entertaining and struck an emotional cord for the injusticeness of the system, had it been a real trial, it would have resulted in a mistrial for the defense attorney(Pacino) was going after his own client whom he was supposed to be defending. The movie was my pick for best movie of all time, for it was indeed my favorite ever. You would have thought that prosecutors and judges might have seen it and learned something, maybe enough to reform the system, but as is usual the very ones who need the lesson are the ones who will never "get" it. The Innocence Project is very busy these days, helping folks who have been incarcerated for decades and found to be innocent. Of course, these innocent folks are exonerated because they had DNA samples to test that proves their innocence, but what about those who are innocent without the luxury of DNA testing? They are essentially screwed, unfortunately.Check out the case of 2 Pain Management folks who were given 30 years for drug charges, just because they were fooled by a couple of patients who misrepresented themselves. The point of this story is that the two had an advocate for Drs and patients in dealing with pain managemment, and because she was such a strong fighter for pain sufferers and their healers who were pursued by the DEA, mainly due to the fact that they can, Drs keep good records, drug dealers do not, so it is easier for the DEA to pick the low haning fruit, and almost impossible to do anything about the illicit drug trade. The war on drugs has done nothing but put a lot of people in jail who smoke a lttle pot. Look up the case of Siobhan Reynolds at the Pain Relief Network. She was essentially shut down because she pissed off the procecutor.Then there is the conviction of a judge for putting kids into detention facilities, and getting kickbacks for their efforts, Look up the case about incarcerated kids in PA.

Me
Me

I know for a FACT that there are plenty of dishonest COPS, PROSECUTORS and JUDGES. They ALL work together too!!

Jersey Justice
Jersey Justice

There are many people that are incarcerated or have been incarcerated and are now out serving a life sentence that society has placed on them.  Even though they are innocent and have served time dictated by the justice system in their state of by the federal government, they are the only offenders that service a life sentence without being given a life sentence by the courts. Many a person lies about sex offenses, for example:  how about the 3 men in TX where the girl lied about her age on FB and then meet the men in a park.  As they started to get frisky, the police arrested them as sex offenders.  Turned out the girl was under 18 and in Texas, as in most states, it does not matter if the girls lies about her age.  Or the girl originally from Texas that supposedly lied to approximately 11 men about her age.  They did not know each other, but they are now members of the sex offender club.  Nothing happened to the girl, to the best of my knowledge, other than moving.  Now I wouldn't want you to think that happens only in Texas, it happens all over, these are just 2 examples.  The heartening thing is there is an attorney in Texas that is challenging the law about teens lying about their age and directly impacting others being arrested as sex offenders.  There is hope!

Llittle36
Llittle36

The article states: "As any defense attorney will tell you, it is extraordinarily difficult to free someone from prison after they have been convicted." Why is that? When there is new convincing evidence of actual inocence, how is it possible for a judge to just simply say NO, he won't even look at it, or how can the Court of Appeals say NO, they will not review the case? Is it because if they actually do look at it, they will expose the errors and those people responsible for them? Is it because it is more important for the County Attorney's Office and the prosecutors to have a win, rather than the truth; and is it more important for a judge to etch another notch on his/her gavel? Is it because defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges are of the same brotherhood?

Common sense tells us to look at our own facts and situations in our daily life, and make the correct, honorable, and proper decisions. Why is there NO common sense and NO honor in the judicial system?

Coz
Coz

This is exactly what happens in a Dis-honest justice system where the conviction means more than the truth at any cost.

Happens all the time and it's time prosecutors start being held accountable by doing the jail time they unjustly inflict ion others when this does happen.

Linguaelester
Linguaelester

The WM3 may have been singled out for their style, now try being singled out for persecution on something that's not interchangeable: the hue of your skin. If this notable case can sound the alarms on the disparity existing in the the criminal justice system let it be done, let it be written. People of color have decried this for years on end to no avail. No one deserves to be unjustly persecuted regardless of their race, creed, beliefs, gender, or affiliations. Godspeed WM3 

Help-Free-Courtney
Help-Free-Courtney

www.Help-Free-Courtney.comIt is because of people like Stephen Lemons that we can have hope for Courtney's case.  He keeps this story out there when very few others will write about it.  We have almost 3000 signatures on her petition asking for an evidentiary hearing (see web site above).  When people who are supposed to protect us try so desparately to keep innocent people in prison or convict people they know are innocent, we have a real problem within our justice system.

Sheila Berry
Sheila Berry

See http://truthinjustice.org/ for HUNDREDS of equally compelling innocence cases, and HUNDREDS of exonerations.Convicting the innocent is easy as long there are tunnel-vision cops, anything-to-win prosecutors, jailhouse snitches, mistaken eyewitnesses, purveyors of snake oil forensics, tough-on-innocence judges and, most importantly, a credulous public that treats the legal system as a source of entertainment.  Yes, they got out of prison, but they did it the way Laurie "Run, Bambi, Run" Bembenek did, with a no contest plea, so the state doesn't have to suffer the embarrassment of being outed for all its self-serving corruption in prosecuting them in the first place.  The WM 3 don't get real justice, and those three dead little boys don't get justice, either.

truthseeker
truthseeker

A new empirical report, July 2011, show Prosecutors, not police are growing the prison population. The prosecutors are immune, have no accountability and do not have to do their jobs. The U.S. is #1 jailer in the world. What does this say about the justice system rigged to fail the people.http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/pa...

 

The Causes of Growth in Prison Admissions andPopulations by John F. Pfaff Fordham University - School of Law, July12, 2011

Abstract:      

The explosive growth in the US prison population is well documented,but its causes are poorly understood. In this paper I exploit previously-unuseddata to define precisely where the growth is occurring. In short, the growth inprison populations has been driven almost entirely by increases in felonyfilings per arrest. All other possible sites of growth - arrests, admissionsper filing, convictions per filings and admissions per conviction, and even(perhaps most surprisingly) time served per admission - have barely changedover the past four decades. But the growth in filings tracks that of admissionsalmost perfectly. This paper demonstrates the importance of felony filings andconsiders some of the possible explanations for their growth.

Plshelp
Plshelp

There are many corrupt prosecuters in Maricopa county, that are knowingly going after people that are clearly innocent. The secret is to charge someone with a sex crime. Once someone has been "branded" a pervert people no longer care about innocent or guilt. The WM3 and Courtney Bisbee are both perfect examples of this.One known dirty prosecutor would be the infamous Lisa Andrus. She has a case in the courts right now where she is trying to put an a boy whom has severe Asperger syndrome in prison for life for a crime she knows he didnt commit. His severe autism makes him an easy target for Lisa. She has also told the family that any motions filed by the defense to have any evidence (I hate calling it evidence because it in no way points to his guilt) suppresed will result in her yanking all pleas and going for the maximum, life in prison. Keep in mind Lisa is FULLY AWARE of this persons innocence. Its just business as usual for her and so many more just like her.

Rurubean
Rurubean

I'm sure that these types of cases will become the norm here in Arizona, as long as dirty politicians are taking bribes to keep expanding the" for profit" prison industry. What the hell else are they supposed to do with 5,000 empty beds that in order to earn a prophit must be filled?????

Ajpls
Ajpls

I was recently speaking to a friend of mine whom is an attorney and also is married to a local tv news anchor. Anyways, we got to talking about well known cases where everyone involved knew the defendant was innocent but railroaded them anyways. That was the first time I ever heard the name Courtney Bisbee. If I understand it correctly, in the world of the lawyers and judges in Maricopa County, it is no secret that most people either think she is innocent or know for a fact she is. But due to civil liability and the fact that her relatives have been hell bent on seeing that justice is served, and the people responsible for Courtney being locked up are dealt with accordingly, they will never let her out. Apparently too many jobs are on the line  if they were  to do the right thing .  

Jason
Jason

That's good that the WM3 are free men.

Hopefully they sue the hell out of the state and the county for their suffering.

Kcarson
Kcarson

While I'm sure the men are happy to be out of jail, as would any innocent person, we, the people, should be less than delighted.

By coercing the men to cop to an Alfred Plea the prosecution was basically saying: "we know you're innocent, but if we let you out you'll sue us and ruin the careers of people we love." The net result: you can either rot in jail with your honor or you can go home sans-right to sue.

These pleas are becoming more and more common, though in a slightly differant form. Too often criminal defendants who are demonstratively innocent are threatened with prosecution unless they stipulate to probable cause. This has created a lazy and rouge set of cops who simple arrest everyone, figuring the lawyers will sort it out, and if they unjustly arrest someone without probable cause, no worries, the DA will extort a concession out of the defendant.

That's an investigative story I'd like to read about.

Mistalee
Mistalee

You can add Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier to the list as well. 

Flying_Dead_Cactus
Flying_Dead_Cactus

Great news! These three were railroaded by corrupt prosecutors desperate to resolve (not solve) a tragic crime. 

Stacy
Stacy

I also think that the whole Buddhist Temple murders should be revisited.. I don't know that MCSO's botched investigations (both the first and second) yielded the right suspects.  Did the first set of guys do it, the second set?  How about a whole different set of suspects not yet arrested?

Anon
Anon

"Crime After Crime" shows the corruption in the LA DA's office. LA DA Cooley lost in his run for California's Attorney General lost in the last election. The massive public outcry in the Debbie Paeglar case helped get Cooley out of office.

DCinWV
DCinWV

There is also an alarming trend where mothers get their children to lie about being sexually molested by the woman's estranged husband or boyfriend either as a means of retaliation of a relationship gone bad or a cheating spouse or as leverage in child custody battles.  Often no physical proof is needed to make the claim and then the innocent person, mistakenly thinking that their innocence should be enough gets coerced/threatened into taking an Alford Plea and from then on their life might as well be over.  Even after they do their "time" they are still forced to sign as a sex offender, often for life.  I don't know of any other crime (except a sexual crime) where someone can accuse someone and not need any evidence, prior history, anything to back it up.  If I went to the police and said that Jack Smack came into my house and stole $5,000 cash.  I'd have to first prove that I actually had the cash to begin with or the case would not go any further.  But if I wanted to say Jack came in and made me have sex with him (even though he is my boyfriend and there isn't any physical evidence or prior history/motive that the sex wasn't consensual, he'd be locked up first and maybe, just maybe questions would be asked afterwords.Please check out my petition http://www.change.org/petition....

Wrongfullyconvicted
Wrongfullyconvicted

To Llittle36, your comment is "Right On", I couldn't of said it better myself.I have a close friend who was convicted of a murder, they did not commit, they weren't even there when this murder happened, but because of the poor lawyer(public) poor investigation by the local police, and a "DA" who wanted to "WIN" his case, no matter what or who was innocent, he lied(I counted his lies, 20 of them) he painted a better picture for his case, and "WON". The jury told one of the members of the accused family that they looked  at nothing else, not even the evidence, just the timeline of a person who testified at the prelim and they the jury went solely on that only!. The man at the prelim lied, because he had to save himself from being under the microscope, he would of been the 1st suspect in the case. Long story but he later died before the trial, so he was never brought up on the stand for the jury to see his demeanor and "HIS LIE". Our friend is serving a longgggg sentence, but without stating what is currently going on in our friends case, all I can say is "Good things are coming for those who are innocent". You all will read about it coming soon, I will write about it and let all of you know, the real killers are going to be found out, they will pay for a young life taken for no reason at all.

Thewrongfullyconvicted
Thewrongfullyconvicted

To Coz, I agree with your comment!, our justice system is deeply flawed, messed up, the antics of the prosecutors in a courtroom needs to "STOP", there lies, fabrications, the stretching of the truth(as I heard one say it in a trial)....it needs to stop! besides the prosecutors, poor police inexperienced officers, labs who taint or lose critical evidence, and poor attorney representation (want just to collect their paychecks), one of the problems with the DA's is that it seems to be allowed for them to stretch, lie, game playing in a court of law, it seems to be "OK", but people are sick of it and it needs to stop, and I will fight for the truth and I will see that day and it will change, IT WILL.

Seedy Ward
Seedy Ward

You hit the nail on the head. The prosecuting attorneys have nothing at stake in the game, with the possible exception of their future career paths. They risk nothing while the defendant risks everything. Prosecutors should be held to account in cases of misconduct, as should any police who lie or otherwise contribute to miscarriage of justice during the process. In a game with stakes as high as felony prosecution everyone involved should have chips on the table.

Anon
Anon

The MCAO is made up of prosecutors who have been there for 20 years, with a very established pattern, which kept Ray Krone, an innocent man on death row and in prison for 17 years until his private attorneys got him exonerated. That was 2006. After former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas/Lisa Aubuchon reign of terror on the justice system bragging about their 40,000 felony convictions, why wouldn't there be innocent people in prison who need to be released. It's long overdue for an independent outside investigation of these cases. Those who ran for County Attorney and Attorney General are well aware of the injustices done by the Thomas "troika". What are they doing to right the wrongs? Where are the investigations? Or have they decided to sweep these under the rug? People are watching and waiting for action...

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Ajpls, You confirmed what most people already know. Now who has the courage to right the wrongs? What has been done to Courtney Bisbee, a mother, her daughter and family is truly criminal.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Ajpls, You confirmed what most people already know. Now who has the courage to right the wrongs? What has been done this young mother, her daughter and family are truly criminal. 

DCinWV
DCinWV

Actually I'm doing research on a similar subject for a documentary If you'd like more info please email poorEGUALSprisongmail com and also check out my petition. Suggestions from an attorney would be very helpful to getting the facts correct.

truthseeker
truthseeker

Award-winning documentary, "Crime After Crime" just opened at the Harkins in Tempe, 8/19/11, LA DA Cooley in action -- corruption exposed in the mishandling of the Debbie Paegler case over many years. Cooley would lose the last election and his bid for California Attorney General.  http://crimeaftercrime.com/con...Also, here is a radio story on the underlying case:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/...

Anon
Anon

KCarson, You are well informed and have exposed the sick game played in the "justice" system every day. And we wonder who the true criminals are?

JesusHChrist
JesusHChrist

But they're not just out of jail, Kcarson. Damien is no longer on death row. That's a big deal. We can't sit in judgement of their decision unless we've spent 18 years in prison, like they have.

Also, it's Alford plea, not Alfred plea.

truthseeker
truthseeker

Georgia's Troy Davis, innocent and set for execution any day... classic good ole boy white Southern courthouse with Troy who was one of a group of teenagers at the time when an officer was shot. Troy is innocent. Witnesses recanted all day at his evidentiary hearing in 2010.

Mistalee
Mistalee

 This is good news. Great news would be that they were exonerated and the prosecutors who set them up were sent to prison.

Onceafellon
Onceafellon

You think Jonathan Doody is innocent??

Anon
Anon

correction: bragged about their over 200,000 felony cases (since 2005).

Kcarson
Kcarson

I agree it's a big deal, and I had hoped to have made it clear that I don't blame these guys when I wrote they acted as any innocent person would.

My scorn is for the prosecution and the judiciary that allows prosecutors to negotiate out of civil liability by keeping knowingly innocent people locked up.

It's cousin in misconduct, as I also discussed, it the stipulation to probable cause for arrest in exchange for charges being dropped. It encourages bad police work and destroys personal and profesisonal accountability for bad acts.

More power to the WM3, they have suffered enough, but letting the prosecution and the police off the hook only means two things: the real killer(s) is/are never caught and more cases like this will occure in the future.

As for the spelling, blame my auto check, as an attorney I admit I rely too much on it.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...