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  1. #1

    Summary? Guilty or wrongful conviction

    Hi -

    I'm new here. I'm a retired attorney and interested in the issue of wrongful convictions (and "wrongful convictions" that turn out to be correct).

    Can someone summarize the issues? Or point me to a link that does so?

    Thank you.
    Last edited by Peanut Monkey; 11-01-2010 at 10:48 AM.

  2. #2
    Check out the WM3 Blackboard. We have several attorneys that post over there. I believe that there's a summation of sorts in the Newbieville section. I can give you the supporters' side:

    1) The original convictions were based on "Satanic panic" and were supported only by flimsy evidence and a diploma-mill "occult expert."

    2) The only real "evidence" was a "confession" by a mentally-challenged 15-year old (at the time, 1993) who, when you read the transcript of the confession, appears to have been coerced.

    3) Since the original conviction in 1994, mitochondrial DNA has been found at the discovery site (not the real crime scene, IMO, due to lack of blood) that is a 98.5% match to one of the stepfathers. This was a hair found in the ligature of one of the victims (not the step son of the man whose mtDNA is a match). The man who matches this mtDNA was never questioned by the police department until 2007 when he tried to bring a civil suit against Natalie Maines Pasdar of the Dixie Chicks, a suit which was thrown out of court. Another hair found at the discovery site was matched, to a 93% degree of accuracy, to a friend of the previously-mentioned step father. This friend stated, in a deposition for the Pasdar case, that he was with the step father shortly before the boys were reported missing. They were playing guitars.

    4) An attorney has come forward and issued a sealed affidavit that indicates, if proven, that the jury foreman for the Echols/Baldwin trial basically lied during voir dire by not mentioning that his brother was currently involved in a criminal proceding involving sexual assault. At the time, the injuries to the penis of one of the victims were considered a sexual assault. If the statements in this affidavit can be authenticated, the attorney says that the jury foreman introduced the "confession" into deliberations in the Echols/Baldwin trial although the judge had expressly forbidden its use. Misskelley (the defendant who "confessed") has since recanted and refused to testify in court against Echols and Baldwin. He (Misskelley) confessed twice more, but none of his confessions actually match the evidence at the discovery site.

    5) At the original trial, wounds, especially to the groin region of one of the victims were attributed to a knife. A knife was found in the pond behind the trailer park where one of the defendants lived. It was never actually linked to the crime but was nonetheless introduced as evidence. Although one expert said that the wounds could have been human bite marks at the time of the original trial in 1994, renowned animal predation experts have since attributed most if not all of the wounds to post mortem animal predation. None of the injuries not attributed to animal predation are considered by these experts to have been inflicted by a knife.

    6) The State has denied the defense the permission to retest fibers that were found at the homes of the defendents in 1994 by using newer methods. At the original trial, these fibers were said to be "microscopically similar" to some found at the discovery site, but on cross, the witness admitted that they were very common fibers.

    In the original trials, Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin was sentence to life without the possibility of parole and Misskelly was sentenced to life plus 40.

    The final State appeal for Echols is now before the Arkansas State Supreme Court. Oral arguments were made on September 30, 2010, but the decision has not yet come down. The video of those arguments can be viewed here:

    http://arkansas-sc.granicus.com/Medi...d=2&clip_id=71

    Baldwin and Misskelley have lost all previous appeals and Rule 37 Hearing procedures. They are awaiting the results of the Echols oral argument before they procede to the next step.

    The reason that many supporters believe the appeals continued to be denied is simple politics. Many of the figures in this case have advanced their careers on the back of this case, and they would not look good if the convictions were overturned. Judge David Burnett is running unopposed for the State Senate. He is the judge that has heard all appeals at the Circuit Court level until now. John Fogleman, one of the prosecutors, is now a judge. Gary Gitchell, one of the police detectives involved, retired on his "laurels" after Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley (dubbed "The West Memphis Three") were convicted.

    I am not an attorney, and some of my legal terms may be slightly off. Please visit the WM3 Blackboard for more information.

    http://www.wm3blackboard.com/forum/index.php#1

    At that site, you will find a link to all pertinent court documents.

    I hope this information is helpful. If I can be of further assistance, please ask.

  3. #3
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    good job reader

    a little ot...but I'm anxious for thursday....hope the assc makes a decision this week!!

  4. #4
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    GREAT summary, if you ask me! I don't know who killed those children, but CR's summary is exactly why I think the convictions were wrong.

  5. #5
    Wow - I suppose my bigger question might be this: Why are people so crazy passionate about this case? I can understand that families of hte victims and the families of the defendants, but it looks like everyone is over-the-top over this thing, people on other boards being outright obscene and even threatening each ohter. Wow. Why?

    You raised:
    Quote Originally Posted by Compassionate Reader View Post
    1) The original convictions were based on "Satanic panic" and were supported only by flimsy evidence and a diploma-mill "occult expert."

    2) The only real "evidence" was a "confession" by a mentally-challenged 15-year old (at the time, 1993) who, when you read the transcript of the confession, appears to have been coerced.

    3) Since the original conviction in 1994, mitochondrial DNA has been found at the discovery site (not the real crime scene, IMO, due to lack of blood) that is a 98.5% match to one of the stepfathers. This was a hair found in the ligature of one of the victims (not the step son of the man whose mtDNA is a match). The man who matches this mtDNA was never questioned by the police department until 2007 when he tried to bring a civil suit against Natalie Maines Pasdar of the Dixie Chicks, a suit which was thrown out of court. Another hair found at the discovery site was matched, to a 93% degree of accuracy, to a friend of the previously-mentioned step father. This friend stated, in a deposition for the Pasdar case, that he was with the step father shortly before the boys were reported missing. They were playing guitars.

    4) An attorney has come forward and issued a sealed affidavit that indicates, if proven, that the jury foreman for the Echols/Baldwin trial basically lied during voir dire by not mentioning that his brother was currently involved in a criminal proceding involving sexual assault. At the time, the injuries to the penis of one of the victims were considered a sexual assault. If the statements in this affidavit can be authenticated, the attorney says that the jury foreman introduced the "confession" into deliberations in the Echols/Baldwin trial although the judge had expressly forbidden its use. Misskelley (the defendant who "confessed") has since recanted and refused to testify in court against Echols and Baldwin. He (Misskelley) confessed twice more, but none of his confessions actually match the evidence at the discovery site.

    5) At the original trial, wounds, especially to the groin region of one of the victims were attributed to a knife. A knife was found in the pond behind the trailer park where one of the defendants lived. It was never actually linked to the crime but was nonetheless introduced as evidence. Although one expert said that the wounds could have been human bite marks at the time of the original trial in 1994, renowned animal predation experts have since attributed most if not all of the wounds to post mortem animal predation. None of the injuries not attributed to animal predation are considered by these experts to have been inflicted by a knife.

    6) The State has denied the defense the permission to retest fibers that were found at the homes of the defendents in 1994 by using newer methods. At the original trial, these fibers were said to be "microscopically similar" to some found at the discovery site, but on cross, the witness admitted that they were very common fibers.

    In the original trials, Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin was sentence to life without the possibility of parole and Misskelly was sentenced to life plus 40.

    The final State appeal for Echols is now before the Arkansas State Supreme Court. Oral arguments were made on September 30, 2010, but the decision has not yet come down. The video of those arguments can be viewed here:

    http://arkansas-sc.granicus.com/Medi...d=2&clip_id=71

    Baldwin and Misskelley have lost all previous appeals and Rule 37 Hearing procedures. They are awaiting the results of the Echols oral argument before they procede to the next step.

    The reason that many supporters believe the appeals continued to be denied is simple politics. Many of the figures in this case have advanced their careers on the back of this case, and they would not look good if the convictions were overturned. Judge David Burnett is running unopposed for the State Senate. He is the judge that has heard all appeals at the Circuit Court level until now. John Fogleman, one of the prosecutors, is now a judge. Gary Gitchell, one of the police detectives involved, retired on his "laurels" after Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley (dubbed "The West Memphis Three") were convicted.

    I am not an attorney, and some of my legal terms may be slightly off. Please visit the WM3 Blackboard for more information.

    http://www.wm3blackboard.com/forum/index.php#1

    At that site, you will find a link to all pertinent court documents.

    I hope this information is helpful. If I can be of further assistance, please ask.
    1) What was the "flimsy evidence"?

    2) Is the transcript online on one of these sites? Is there by any chance an MP3 file or .WAV file of it:?

    3) The second hair sounds more important than the first (first could be an innocent transfer) - has this been brought to the court's attention?

    4) Have the jury issues been brought to the court's attention?


    Didn't Misskelley confess more than once?


    5) Did the state have any "counter-experts"?

    6) I thought the state agreed to test everything the defense wanted tested, and more?

    When is the Suprme Court supposed to decide these issues? Is everything above "in the pot" on what they're going to decide?

    Those found guilty always blame politics (Mumia Jamal, whose guilty, Rubin Hurricane Carter, who I also think 90% was guilty, The Lindbergh kidnapper - politics is always to blame.

    I'll look at this WM3 blackboard. It's, I supposed, a supporter site? Is there a calm and rational non-supporter site? I saw one (I won't give the name) where it was just streams of obscenities and person attacks; I got tired of trying to wade through it to see if there was rational case discussion. Is there a calm one - or (aside from here) a neutral one where the case is discussed / debated by both sides?


    As I said, I'm reading as time allows - not yet convinced in either direction yet, but thanks for your information.

  6. #6
    I'll try to answer your questions. As I said, I'm no attorney, just a retired math teacher. There are attorneys at the Blackboard site.

    1) The "flimsy evidence" was three fibers found to be microscopicallly similar to fibers found in Jason's and Damien's homes. A red fiber found at the scene is microscopically similar to a red fiber in Jason's mother's bathrobe. A green fiber found at the scene is microscopically similar to a green fiber in Damien's brother's (I think) shorts. There was also a blue fiber found at the scene. I don't remember it matching anything. Stevie was wearing red shorts when last seen alive. Michael was wearing a Cub Scout shirt, which is blue. One of the boys (Stevie I think) was seen carrying a green backpack. Even the prosecution witness who testified about the fibers admitted on cross that they were really common fibers.

    2) All court documents are available at http://callahan.8k.com/ You will see this site cited frequently when researching/discussing this case. I'm sorry, but I don't know of any place where the documents are available in any other format. Maybe someone else does.

    3) The second hair (the Jacoby hair) would seem to be more important, however the stepfather's hair was found embedded in one of the knots in the shoelace used to tie a victim other than his step son. As to the court being notified about the DNA findings, yes they have been brought up on appeal. Part of what is before the ASSC right now is the importance of these hairs and if they meet the criteria for the new DNA law. Judge Burnett, the original judge in the case, has ruled that these hairs do not meet the new DNA statute which he interpreted to have to be proof of "actual innocence." Hence, the appeal to the supreme court now being considered. Actually, there are rumors that the ruling may come this Thursday.

    4) The juror misconduct issue is very troubling to me because, if I recall correctly, Judge Burnett did not rule that there was no jury misconduct, rather that the issue should have been brought up sooner. Earlier in the appeals process, the defense did try to bring up juror notes and a "breakdown board" that indicated that the Misskelley confession was used during deliberations. Burnett ruled them insufficient evidence. Now, actually in 2009, an attorney has sworn out an affidavit (sealed at the time because he was afraid of violating attorney-client privilege, but now posted on the Internet) in which he alleges that the jury foreman for the Echols/Baldwin trial admits to tainting the jury and introducing the confession that was excluded because the State's case was "so flimsy they won't convict them without this confession." If I may insert a personal observation here, since there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should be no statute of limitations on evidence to exhonerate a falsely convicted prisoner.

    Yes, Jessie Misskelley did "confess" three times. The first time was in the police station at the time of his arrest. The confession was obviously full of holes and inaccuracies, and, when you read the transcript, you can see how the interrogator is leading him into saying what the police want to hear. The second confession was in the car on the way to prison. Again, his statements are not supported by the evidence. He keeps insisting that a knife was used to deglove one of the victims, however most of the wounds are now considered to be from predating animals. No knife wounds are present. The third confession is the most troubling because, after his attorneys had insisted that he not be questioned without them present, law enforcement talked to him and got him to agree a third time to confess. His attorneys advised him not to confess, but he did so anyway, again talking about a knife and making other statements that are not supported by what was found at the discovery site. Remember, he has an IQ of 72, and people with IQs that low are more prone to false confessions and more prone to confess falsely repeatedly in an effort to get out of a situation or just to comply with what they perceive are the desires of authority figures. Before the last confession, it is believed that someone convinced Jessie that his attorneys were not looking out for him.

    5) I'm not sure exactly what you mean by counter-experts. At the time of the original trial, the defense didn't really have any experts. Defense experts have only come into the picture in recent years as the funds to pay for their services have been collected by supporters of the innocence of the West Memphis Three. If you're asking if the State has produced any experts to counter what the new defense experts are saying, I don't think so. At least not yet.

    6) As to testing, the State claims that they have allowed testing, but they have restricted the testing and kept the defense from testing the fibers referred to above and the animal hairs found under the bodies of the victims. The State claims to be cooperating with the defense in the matter of testing, but the defendants' attorneys say differently. In fact, the most recent ruling was the ruling that disallowed the testing of the fibers, etc. in the Baldwin and Misskelley appeals. Judge Burnett ruled, I believe, that the new methods weren't new enough. The next level of appeal for that is now on hold awaiting the Echols ruling, if I recall correctly.

    Unfortunately, I know of no "non" site where rational discussions are carried on. This site is a neutral site in that people on both sides of the issue post. The site at www.wm3.org also has postings from both sides. However, usually those who feel the West Memphis Three are guilty, even on those sites, can get nasty and abusive.

    As to why people are so passionate about this case, I can only speak for myself. My son is just a month younger than Damien Echols. When he was in high school, he wore black T-shirts and listened to heavy-metal music. When I first saw Paradise Lost, all I could think about was, "That could be my son." As a retired teacher, I have worked with teenagers for many years. I know that they often say and do things that rational adults would not say or do. Damien's actions during the trial, in my opinion, helped to convict him, much like Lindy Chamberlain ("The dingo took my baby") in Australia. Reading what I could find on the case, I became more conviced that the young men in prison were not guilty for the reasons I stated in my previous posts. Talking to other supporters, I believe that some of them, like me, feel a personal connection to the case while others just see it as a miscarriage of justice. Either way, yes, we are passionate about it.

  7. #7
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    Just to add to CR's thoughts on why this case has attracted such strong feelings pro and con.

    1. The victims are children, but so were the defendants at the time of the crime.

    2. Originally, the violence committed against the children, particularly young Byers (the "degloving"), seemed extraordinarily sadistic.

    3. The allegations of Satanism played to a lot of people's fears, but also to a lot of people's skepticism.

    4. Depending on one's view, the case seems to reinforce stereotypes about "Southern justice" that we all know from films and TV shows.

    5. The first documentary on the case, Paradise Lost, is very powerful (even if not totally convincing to every viewer) and, IIRC, it appeared on HBO before we became somewhat desensitized by the abundance of true crime shows on broadcast, cable and pay TV.

    6. The crimes occurred and the case was publicized during a flurry of alleged Satanic ritual and/or mass child abuse cases in the early 1990s. Many if not most of the other well-known cases (e.g., McMartin Preschool) either resulted in acquittals or were later overturned due to lack evidence (including faulty questioning of child witnesses).

    7. The phenomenon of coerced confessions has become better understood and publicized over the ensuing years.

    8. Because pop culture was made an issue by the prosecution, pop groups (notably Metallica) got involved shortly after the convictions and that brought more attention to the case.

    9. One way to view the cases is that the defendants were convicted for being "odd." Anyone who ever felt like an outsider can identify, particularly if he or she ever felt unfairly judged for being different.

    10. There are "small state" oddities in abundance, such as the part-time state coroner and the appellate judge also being the trial judge.

    11. Most importantly, perhaps, for a lot of us, this was the first case we encountered where it seemed like bad trials might really be upheld by appellate courts. That sort of thing doesn't happen in the movies and it was quite a shock.

    It really is a sort of "perfect storm" in terms of a criminal case attracting public attention. (All it lacks is a celebrity defendant, and to some, the WM3 have become celebrities in their own rights.) If I were an Arkansas jurist, this would be all the more reason to bend over backwards to make sure the trial process were as fair as possible. Arkansas, however, has seemed to do the opposite.

  8. #8
    Nova,

    I agree with you, especially points 6 and 7. To me, the two things that convicted Damien were "Satanic panic" and his attitude and actions in court. Like I said before, the Lindy Chamberlain case in Australia came to mind. If you're unfamiliar with that case, it's the one that was chronicled in the move A Cry in the Dark with Meryl Streep. She spent several years (I think five) in prison at hard labor before the evidence exhonerating her came to light. The main reason she was convicted was because she "didn't act like a grieving mother" in court. The other two young men were convicted because of the "Satanic panic" issue along with the need of the WMPD to find the killers. We have spoken at length about false confessions, so I won't say any more about that again. My posts are always too long anyway

  9. #9
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    I am not as adept providing you with the details of the case because I am following it from afar-I have seen the documentaries and what struck me immediately and certainly now is that step-dad as the perp makes way more sense. The three boys as perps never made any sense at all to me. Even if they were Satanists, whacked out whatever. I do not believe that there was ever any other focus than the boys as perps for all of the reasons listed out by Nova and Compassionate Reader.

    I can see, however, why LE and the prosecutors are taking such an incredibly defensive position regarding any new trials-it takes bal*s of steel to own up to this kind of persecution.

    As to the kind of passion this invokes-for me it plays to my fear that outsiders can be thrown away like this. That they can be given a trial, which should have been their saving grace from a wrongful arrest, and be convicted because it suited the machine in place at the time that they be scapegoated.

    I am thrilled at the bright light shining on these convictions-they might have been quietly executed and no one would have ever known.

    Welcome to WS Peanut!!!
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  10. #10
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    Hi Peanut Monkey.

    I'd start with www.callahan.8k.com first and then branch out into the other links provided.


  11. #11
    Wow. Okay, I've now spent what would equate to a couple straight days reading up on this case, lurked over at The Hoax West Memphis Three board and the West Memphis Three blackboard. Read all I could get my hands on.

    This is nuts. Count me as a supporter. Outrageous.

  12. #12
    Welcome to the fight, Peanut Monkey. I'm sure you know, but in case you don't, evidentiary hearings have been granted to all three. The best estimate as to when these hearings (or possibly one hearing) will occur is May, 2011 at the earliest. Hopefully, a new trial will be granted at the hearings.

  13. #13
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    Welcome, peanut monkey.
    Be sure to read all documents before making up your mind, these guys were not convicted for wearing black tshirts and listening to heavy metal. Exhibit 500 may be an interesting read for you, along with various other docs on the callahan site. I, for one would be truly terrified if these men were released so arm yourself with as much unbiased information as you can.

  14. #14
    Also be sure to read the depositions in the Hobbs vs. Pasdar case, especially that of Mildred French. There is some interesting background information on the plaintiff in that case found in those documents. Also, the deposition of David Jacoby contradicts statements made about the WM3 case by Hobbs. I for one would be horrified if an innocent man were executed for the crimes of another.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peanut Monkey View Post
    Wow. Okay, I've now spent what would equate to a couple straight days reading up on this case, lurked over at The Hoax West Memphis Three board and the West Memphis Three blackboard. Read all I could get my hands on.

    This is nuts. Count me as a supporter. Outrageous.
    Your Best bet to get ALL the information about this case is to go the Callahan site.

    Please start there, on that site there is NO Guilty Not Guilty tug of war going on.

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