Summary? Guilty or wrongful conviction

Discussion in 'West Memphis III' started by Peanut Monkey, Nov 1, 2010.

  1. Peanut Monkey

    Peanut Monkey New Member

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    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.
     
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  3. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    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/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=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.
     
  4. laurensmom

    laurensmom New Member

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    good job reader :)

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

    Nova Active Member

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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.
     
  6. Peanut Monkey

    Peanut Monkey New Member

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    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:
    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.
     
  7. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    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.
     
  8. Nova

    Nova Active Member

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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.
     
  9. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    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:dance:
     
  10. believe09

    believe09 Active Member

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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!!!
     
  11. LunaticFringe

    LunaticFringe I know you're out there...

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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.
     
  12. Peanut Monkey

    Peanut Monkey New Member

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    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.
     
  13. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    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.
     
  14. aussiesleuth

    aussiesleuth New Member

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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.
     
  15. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    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.
     
  16. iluvmua

    iluvmua Active Member

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    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.
     
  17. Peanut Monkey

    Peanut Monkey New Member

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    I've looked at "Exhibit 500."

    Correct me if i'm wrong, but it seems that those who believe the WM3 are guilty point to:

    1. Damien was crazy. Disturbed. Nuts. In fact, he was getting SSI for psychiatric disability.


    2. Jessie Miskeley's multiple confessions. - ALL OF THEM

    3. Lack of solid alibis

    4. Fiber links

    5. Witnessed near the crime scene

    6. Two juries said they're guilty


    I won't review all the evidence going the other way, I think it's well summarized by Compassionate Reader (and by the blackboard website).

    I have something of an unfair advantage in that as an attorney I worked for the prosecutor's Major Crimes division in the early 1980's and am used to looking at cases where there's a "feeling" of guilt because of lists of proofs like those above. I might (it'd either interest or bore you) pull some old files where we had 2 or even 3 suspects about whom a lit could be written in line with the above. Those who still think the WM3 are guilty might have their heads explode because they'd be sure that all the suspects must have done it. In each case, there was only 1 guilty party and the others 100% innocent. (for example --- yeah, a guy really did lie about his alibi to try to buttress it and deflect suspicion. That made him a scared liar, not a killer .... in another, yes, a crack head DID find what turned out to be the murder weapon when he was smoking crack under an overpass and someone threw the gun down, which he then used to rub someone. Guilty of robber ... not murder.... ETC)

    But, on the evidence --

    1. Damien was crazy. Disturbed. Nuts. In fact, he was getting SSI for psychiatric disability.
    From what I've seen, this factor could apply to many of the players in this case equally. James Martin - convicted sex offender who lived near the murder scene and who "guessed" that the kids had been tied with their own laces, John Mark Byers with a brain tumor right on the section of the brain that controls personality with a history of interpersonal violence who had Stevie the night of the murder, Terry Hobbs who had sexually assaulted a neighbor and had experience in slaughterhouses killing animals (which involves stunning them with a blow similar to the one found by the coroner) and who had one of the boys' pocket knives with him that the boy's mom says the boy "always" carried with him (plus last one seen with the boys and denying he saw them), plus his DNA there, plus his friend Jacoby's DNA there when the friend said he never was in the area, plus this weird King Beasley guy who sounded crazier than even Damien.

    In other words, the psych issues doesn't narrow the pool much. Whoever gets charged, this'll come in as "why", but it doesn't move an investigation forward.


    2. Jessie Miskeley's confessions.
    These are interesting in that they are cited by both defenders and those who say they're guilty. I really read them in depth - even tried to scratch out notes and follow along what he was saying. I've read many, many statements over the years and I just have to differ with anyone who thinks they're worth anything.

    Jessie didn't see these crimes being committed. He was being lead and lacked detail and never "told a story" the way a real confessor does.

    But Jessie not seeing the crime doesn't automatically mean Damien and Jason didn't do it.

    3. Lack of solid alibis
    People suspected of a crime very often try to buttress their alibi (like - innocent guy finds out killer drove a red car, so he quickly sells his red car because he doesn't want to be accused). Damien's is weak at times as is Jason's. Jessie's own friends make mincemeat of what he claims (when he left and came back for wrestling [meet, not a match] and whether he was so drunk he was throwing up).

    Terry Hobbs' failed alibi interests me more. Could be the same phenomena - an innocent guy trying to divert suspicion - but his statements to Mark Byers claiming he was with him from 6:00 to 8:00 is suspicious, to say the least.

    4. Fiber links
    Even the state said they were weak. It doesn't go to innocence or guilt, but the obvious fact that the State is attempting to defend its favorable legal ruling (the conviction) by fighting the retesting of these fibers with modern methods speaks volumes. Here, you've got defendants not only pushing to test, they're spending time money and resources on doing so. Many defendants claiming innocent back out on having testing done; it's odd to see them pushing this hard for it. Whatever prejudicial value the fibers have is more than offset by the defendants continuing to push for better testing - that says a lot to me based on my experience.


    5. Witnessed near the crime scene

    These Hollingsworth statements are all over the place. The time of them - 9:30 according to one car occupant, 10:30 according to another; neither makes sense. The woods were being searched by 8:30 and were full of people thereafter. Hobbs, and almost Hobbs alone, was in and out of them all night. Then, that the car occupants didn't see the same people - then, one has to look at least a little at the motivation of the affiandt. She was looking at bounced check / credit card over-ring charges. No much.

    6. The juries heard it all.
    Well, no. They didn't hear about DNA, they didn't hear about Hobbs, they did't hear about animal predation, they didn't hear about lividity, they didn't hear about marks on the boys' bodies to manholes and rebar.

    More importantly, there's the Kent Arnold issues on Jason / Damien jury and the Burnett 'lunch comment" interaction with the Miskeley jury. These things say to me that (a) their verdicts are weakened, and (b) regardless of anything else, they're entitled to a new, fair trial. My crystal ball says with no question: if these guys aren't out as a result of the recent Arkansas Supreme Court ruling, the federal court isn't going to laugh off the jury issues.

    I know that there are a few other things thrown out there as "evidence" but each and every piece of it is subject to this same destruction when it's put under a microscope and viewed against a background of experience with these types of crimes.

    I wouldn't call it (as I've seen others do) an "IQ test" that one fails if they believe the WM3 are guilty, but I would call it "an experience test" -- Read a lit of easily discredited or minimal value evidence can be very persuasive .... unless you've done it many, many times in the past.

    So, yes, I say with great certainty not that they' necessarily innocent, but that there is credible, reliable evidence that justifies a death sentence or a life sentence (or any conviction).


    6. Two juries said they're guilty
     
  18. Nova

    Nova Active Member

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    I know the case mostly from the movie, but the Chamberlain's were Seventh Day Adventists, a groups which is certainly not Satanic, but one which Australians, as I understand it, treated as some sort of "weird" cult. (For the record, I don't know a lot about the denomination, but I have Adventist friends and while they are devout Christians, I've never noticed anything "weird" about their beliefs or behavior. They hold their Sabbath on Saturday (just like Jews do and have done since long before Christ), rather than Sunday, but I don't believe that makes them more likely to kill children.)

    So while definitely not the same things as Satanism, there is a connection in that LE and the jury seemed happy to find the defendants guilty "by association" in both cases. The difference, of course, is that the Chamberlain's really were Adventists; I don't think the WM3 were "Satanists" except perhaps as a bit of playacting at teen rebelliousness.
     
  19. Nova

    Nova Active Member

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    Note to Peanut Monkey:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    After a series of recent posts from some who insist that anyone who questions these verdicts is both mentally handicapped AND a compulsive liar, it's rather refreshing to read a reaction from a source who is knowledgeable about criminal cases.

    I freely admit I don't know who killed those children and I understand that the problems with the trials don't prove the WM3 are factually innocent.

    But it's nice to hear an echo of my own first reactions to the problems with these cases.
     
  20. Compassionate Reader

    Compassionate Reader New Member

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    To Peanut Monkey:

    Thank you for so eloquently and factually stating the case for a new trial. At times, my passion makes me spin a little out of control. Your succinct and insightful reflections are refreshing, especially given your background in the law.

    To Nova:

    I'm sorry if you thought that I was comparing Seventh Day Adventists to Satanists. That was never my intention. As you said, SDA are indeed Christians who are often misunderstood because of some of their unique beliefs. As a former Mormon, I can truly understand that phenomenon. Damien at the time of the murders was a practicing Wiccan, and several Wiccans often attended the trial to support him. The small-town mentally in West Memphis, similar to the prejudice against SDA that was seen in the Chamberlain trial, was where my comparison was headed. Sorry if it seemed otherwise.
     
  21. Maznblu1

    Maznblu1 Member

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    I see nobody mentioned that evidence was presented at trial that both Echols and Baldwin confessed to the crimes also. There isn't much evidence in this case, but I wouldn't expect much when the bodies were found in water. However, supporters seem awfully quick to discount some of the evidence there is - like people testifying that Echols and Baldwin said they did it.
     

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