West Memphis Three

Chris Byers, 8; Michael Moore, 8; Steve Branch, 8

Chris Byers, 8; Michael Moore, 8; Steve Branch, 8

On May 3, 1993, three boys went missing in West Memphis, Arkansas.  Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore went to school that day, came home, went out to play and were never seen again.  A search party went out that night and the next morning to find the boys.  At approx 10am the next day, their bodies were found in the woods in shallow water, naked and lifeless.  Steve Branch and Michael Moore’s ultimate cause of death was drowning.  They were also beaten, had head wounds and cuts and scrapes all over their bodies. Christopher Byers did not die due to drowning.  He was dead prior to being dumped in the woods.  He also had serious damage to his body and had been castrated.  All three were hog tied.

Of course, this caused an epic scandal in the local, state and national media. Three almost nine year old boys had been brutally murdered.  The public wanted answers.  The site of the crime was totally free of blood.  There were no weapons found at the scene.  No one had seen or heard anything.  In short, they had no leads.

Damien Echols was 19 at the time of his arrest.

Damien Echols was 19 at the time of his arrest.

A young teenager named Damien Echols caught the investigators’ attention.  He frequently wore all black, listened to Metallica, had long hair, read Stephen King novels and was Wiccan.  The police officers looked at everyone in town and tried to decide who seemed most likely to commit a crime.  Damien Echols was their main suspect.

The police went to his house and questioned him and his friend Jason Baldwin.  Both teenagers knew of the crime because of talk around town.  The police involved in the initial finding of the bodies had talked.  The people of West Memphis and then, therefore the media, had more information on the deaths than is usually released to the public.  Naturally, this event was the talk of the town and rumors spread fast.  By the time that police questioned Damien Echols, he knew more than he should have and parroted it back to the police who took that to mean he must have committed the crime considering he knew more than he thought he ought to have.  BUT they could not place him at the scene of the crime and the crime scene was too clean of evidence.

So the police started offering monetary rewards for tips regarding this crime.  In a poor town like West Memphis, that was really all of the incentive any of the townspeople needed to start “coming forward” with information.  All of the information has since been debunked and several of tipsters (even those who testified against Damien Echols) have since come forward to admit that they lied.

Jessie Misskelley was 17 at the time of his arrest.

Jessie Misskelley was 17 at the time of his arrest.

One woman, desperate for money, turned to her child’s babysitter, Jessie Misskelley.  Jessie knew Echols from around town.  They were around the same age and though they did not hang out, they were acquaintences.  The mother asked Jessie to invite Damien over to his house and try to get him to talk.  Nothing came of this.

This is how Jessie Misskelley got involved in talking to the police.  Jessie Misskelley, it should be noted, has an IQ of 72 and at the time had the speech, thoughts and demeanor of that of an 8 year old child even though he was 17 at the time.  The police interrogated Jessie trying to get a statement out of Jessie that he had seen Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin commit these murders.  After twelve hours of grilling Jessie, with no lawyer or parents present, the police officers turned on the video tape and recorded the only 45 minutes of video tape that exist from this interrogation.  These 45 minutes are a taped confession of Jessie Misskelley not only admitting to seeing Damien and Jason committing the crime but to actually confessing to have a hand in it.  It turns out that he was offered $30,000 in reward money if he would “just give them what they wanted and he could go home”.

Long story short, Jessie Misskelley went on trial and was found guilty of all three murders and sentenced to Life in Prison plus 40 years.  During his trial he plead Not Guilty and recanted his earlier confession.  This didn’t make a difference.

Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols were tried together but separately from Jessie Misskelley.  Jessie Misskelley was given the option to testify against Jason and Damien for a shortened sentence but refused on the basis that the confession was coerced. 

During the trial, the prosecution focused on Damien’s hobbies, interests, appearance and clothes.  They questioned him about Wicca.  They questioned him about bands he liked, books he read, art he’d made, his penchant for wearing black clothes, etc.  In short, they questioned him about things that did not have anything to do with the murders so they could paint the crime as a “Satanic Sacrifice Killing”.  Jason Baldwin opted not to speak in his own defense and therefore was not ridiculed this way.  Damien, being a confused and cocky 19 year old came across as arrogant and weird.  The court of public opinion considered them guilty as charged.

The jurors were instructed not to consider Jessie Misskelley’s confession as part of the evidence against Jason and Damien.  It has come to light since that at least two jurors used that confession as a deciding factor in their conviction.  It has also come to light that the juror foreman, repeatedly contacted non-jurors to discuss the case, although it was expressly forbidden to do so.  He is basically quoted as saying that he was unhappy with the case against Damien and Jason that the prosecution was leveling and that if they didn’t come up with more hard evidence, it would be up to him to convince the rest of the jury to convict them of the crimes.  This is currently being argued in court.

Jason Baldwin was 16 at the time of his arrest.

Jason Baldwin was 16 at the time of his arrest.

The result was that in 1994 (16 years ago) both Jason and Damien were convicted on all three accounts.  Jason Baldwin, 16, at the time, was sentenced to Life without Parole.  Damien Echols, 19, at the time, was sentenced to Death by Lethal Injection.

Two documentary movies were made on the the case, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (released in 1996 on HBO) and “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” (released in 2003 on HBO).  The first movie attempted to look at the case from a balanced perspective, allowing the viewer to decide whether or not the three were guilty of the crime, just laying out what went down basically.  By the time the second movie had come out, more evidence had come out due to technological advances and fresh eyes looking at the case again that basically prove that the wrong three people are in prison.

It takes a good look at John Mark Byers (the castrated boy’s Step-father), his odd behavior and criminal past.  It also shows the growing movement in support of these three people.  Since that movie was released, DNA evidence has come to light that totally exhonerates Jessie, Jason AND Damien but puts Terry Hobbs (Steve Branch’s step-father) and his friend at the scene of the crime.  Terry Hobbs’ hair is tied up in one of ligatures used to hog tie Michael Moore and Terry Hobbs’ friend’s hair was also found at the scene.  Both men were walking the woods that night together “looking for the boys”.

The point of my writing this is to lay it out as it is.  I may have gotten small details wrong but this is a synopsis of what happened.  I just wanted to lay it out for you to read so that you understand my next blog and the following information that can be found here:

http://www.wm3.org/

Also, so you know, these three boys (now men) all still sit in prison doing all that they can to try to keep Damien from being wrongly executed and to prevent Jason and Jessie from being held in prison for the rest of their lives for crimes they did not commit.

Damien Echols (top L), Jason Baldwin (top R), Jessie Misskelley (bottom L)

Damien Echols now 34 (top L), Jason Baldwin, now 31 (top R), Jessie Misskelley, now 33 (bottom L)

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11 thoughts on “West Memphis Three

  1. MaggieBenjamin says:

    This is a great page. However, you need to change some minor inaccuracies. June 3, 1993 was the date of the arrest. The trial was concluded in 1994 (January I think). You mentioned that Christopher Byers was his own step-father. The man’s name is John Mark Byers. Finally, the DNA evidence doesn’t actually exonerate the defendants. What it does, as you pointed out, is show that Terry Hobbs and his friend, David Jacoby, were at the scene where the bodies were found. Please don’t think that I’m criticizing. It’s just that those who believe the WM3 are guilty just love to point out inconsistencies on WM3 sites to try and show that supporters are “dumb” or “uninformed.”

    • Millo says:

      That doesn’t mean they were at the scene where the bodies were found. In fact, the DNA evidence doesn’t implicate them at all, cause the DNA testing didn’t show that they were hairs coming from Hobbs or Jacoby, it was in the range of 7-11% accuracy.

      That could be anyone. With that said, if the hair on or between the know found on one of they boys WOULD actually match Hobbs, it’s secondary transfer. He lived in the same house as the boy and hairs fall off now and then which makes it almost certain that, that hair came from secondary transfer, if it ever was shown to be Hobbs’s hair at all.

      You all seem to jump the gun at every single thing that MAYBE points at someone else, but you don’t take in to account all the overwhelming evidence AGAINST them, just dismiss it, that aint objective.

      Also, read Damien’s statement of May 10th 1993 when talking to the police. Itäs chilling cause the things he says matches what happened to the kids exactly.

      • buberella says:

        Millo, the point is that these guys are sitting in jail for how long over a case that has no physical evidence to tie them to the crime (less than 7-11%). You can say that me or anyone who thinks they’re innocent is jumping to conclusions, but these are real people sitting in jail for a crime they likely didn’t commit. And the state won’t retry the case. Why? If they’re so positive they did it, retry it and throw’m back in the slammer and we’ll all shut up. It’s unfair that three guys have to spend the rest of their lives in prison (and one on Death Row) if they didn’t do it. We have DNA evidence now and we didn’t then. Open it back up, reconsider the facts without the hysteria and emotion getting in the way. But they’re not willing to do that. Pride is an ugly thing.

      • Millo says:

        Hi again

        Thing is, you don’t have DNA evidence now. Read what i wrote. the hair found can easily be explained.

        The 7-11% range is not a measurer of how much evidence there is pointing at Hobbs, it’s 7-11% sure it’s his hair in the first place, cause the DNA was no perfect match. That means it could be anyones hair really.

        When you say there were no physical evidence back then, you have to read all the facts. You have to read the trial transcripts, the police reports, all, to be able to make a point like that.

        There were DNA evidence back then too, on Damien’s necklace for example. It was tested, and the blood came from Jason, Damien and from one of the boys. The court can use it whenever it wants to do more thorough testing, but they don’t have to cause the case is shut. Damien’s appeals are not dismissed just like that,the court went thru the case thouroughly. You can’t just grant a new trial based on no new facts.

        As of the “no physical evidence”, is a cause of letting them have a new trial you have to know, that if there were no physical evidence, which you say, there weren’t, how come then that the “real” perpetrators didn’t leave any physical evidence behind either? The lack of physical evidence has to do with the crime scene. The boys were submerged in the water, almost everything was washed away. The “no physical evidence”-thing don’t clear them one bit, they were just lucky the crime scene was the way it was.

        Also, there were so much more evidence that could be used against them that it didn’t matter in the end. People who don’t understand, say that Jessie’s confessions are false, and that the police had something to do with his confessions has to understand that he confessed 8 times. He also confessed after being convicted. He confessed with his defense lawyers present, who told him, several times that they thought he should not make the confession. This is AFTER the trial where he was convicted, and he gave a more detailed confession. Why would he do that?

        I challenge you to read all the facts, and make up your mind. It’s tideous but worth it.

        Start with http://callahan.8k.com/

        You can also read here why Damien’s first appeal was dismissed by the court. It’s not just a dismissal in five seconds done by the judge, it’s thorough:
        http://courts.state.ar.us/opinions/1996a/961223sc/cr94-928.txt

        Regards

      • buberella says:

        Hi again Millo,

        I’m not going to argue with you. We will have to agree to disagree. Thanks for your points, any and all opinions are welcome.

        If anyone is reading this blog for the first time, you can also go to http://www.wm3.org for more information as well as to the links that Millo had posted above.

        Thanks!
        Buberella

  2. buberella says:

    I made the changes! I wrote that blog off the top of my head to kind of sum all the details up for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the case. It’s so funny (awesome) how many hits this blog post gets. Thanks guys for reading!

  3. MaggieBenjamin says:

    This is still a hot topic even almost 20 years after the crime. The 20/20 show helped bring the case to awareness again. I just hope that justice is done soon and the real killer or killers are incarcerated and the innocent young men are freed. Thanks for making the changes.

  4. MaggieBenjamin says:

    Millo,

    The Hobbs hair was not found on his stepson, but on the Moore boy. The Moore boy and Stevie Branch (Hobbs’ stepson) were not as close as Christopher Byers and Stevie. That puts a big hole in the transfer theory. As to physical evidence, the only real evidence is fibers that are not conclusive and a knife, found well after the fact. The connection to the men in prison and the knife is spurious at best. Damien’s statements were the words of an alienated teenager, foolish, true (which even he admits now), but everything that he said he could have found out from public knowledge at the time (The Commercial Appeal and other sources). Jessie’s confessions are laughable. He has an IQ of 72. If you know anything about people with low IQs, you know that in a similar situation they would confess to whatever they believed their tormentors (yes, tormentors) wanted to hear. If Jessie was telling the truth, why did he refuse to testify at Damien’s and Jason’s trial? This case is a sad example of small-town injustice. There is no way that three ill-educated teenagers could have perpetrated this crime without leaving any evidence. What about Mr. Bojangles? I believe that the real evidence was at the scene of the murder, not at the dump site. Find the scene of the crime and you’ll find the evidence, if it hasn’t disappeared like the Mr. Bojangles evidence. In most cases of child murder, a family member is involved. My guess is that this is the case here, too. This is simply a case of the powers that be using a sensational case to further their careers. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that something similar to the recent North Carolina debacle were true of this case, too.

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