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Posted at 01:05 PM ET, 08/19/2011

‘West Memphis Three’ freed after nearly 20 years in prison [video]


Skateboard decks made in support of the West Memphis Three. (Image via Flickr user M-J Milloy )

Three men convicted as teenagers of killing three Arkansas boys will be allowed to leave prison for the first time in nearly 20 years after a judge accepted a plea to set them free.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, collectively known as the “West Memphis Three,” have always maintained their innocence. Now, they will be allowed to maintain their innocence while entering a guilty plea and acknowledging that prosecutors have the evidence to convict them, according to the Associated Press.

Echols was sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin to life in prison in the May 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts in West Memphis. The boys’ naked bodies were mutilated and left in a ditch, hog-tied with their shoelaces.


Damien Echols is interviewed at the Arkansas Department of Corrections Varner Unit prison in Varner, Ark., in 2010. (Danny Johnston - ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Prosecutors argued that the men had been driven to commit the murders by satanic ritual, and that Echols had been the ringleader.

The trial was a sensational one: An alternate suspect came to be known as “Mr. Bojangles”; errors were found at the police scene; a witness recanted testimony; and a debate ensued over whether there were tooth imprints on the boys’ heads.

But sympathizers, from legal scholars to celebrities, later came to believe that the West Memphis Three were innocent, including actor Johnny Depp and singer Eddie Vedder, who have tried to rally support for the men’s release.

DNA testing that was not available at the time now shows no links from the men to the crime.

In November, the state Supreme Court ruled that all three could present new evidence to the trial court in an effort to clear themselves.

The Arkansas Times has archival coverage of the West Memphis Three from 1994 to present.

The 1996 documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” chronicles the case. Watch the trailer:

By  |  01:05 PM ET, 08/19/2011

 
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