LA Time Article on the WM3 and the documantary film that saved them.


About 7 years ago, late at night, I came upon a documentary on HBO.  The film was “Paradise Lost” and it told the sad tale of the cruel murder of three eight year old boys.  The children were sexually abused and mutilated in what appeared to be in some sort of ritualistic fashion.  At least this is how it appeared to the police.

There appeared to be a hunt of young people by the police in this community, many young people told of who they were questioned by the police, in a very
threatening matter.

Three young men where accused of the murder, two were underage at the time of the murders, but one Damion Echols, was 18 and was certainly being charged as an adult.  One of the underage defendants was grilled privately by the police without the presence and support of his family, or counsel. His name was Jesse Misskelly and he  had an IQ of 72, which makes him borderline mentally retarded.  And after over 12 hours of grilling – this young man confessed – though he quickly recanted this testimony. Though he was grilled for over 12 hours only 46 minutes of this was recorded! This confession pointed the finger at Damien Echols as the ring leader and ritual killer of the little boys and another youth, Jason Baldwin as the active participants in the killers of the children – he admitted to assisting in subduing them – but not killing them

Rumors began to circulate about the three young defendants.  Rumors that they were part of a Satanic cult.  That they, practiced Wicca, and had attended Wiccan meetings.  Damien’s youth leader at church testified that the young man had confessed to him that he had made a “pact with the devil”.

This young man Damien Echols quickly became the target – he appeared sullen and scary.  He was not like like the others  – he listned to heavy metal music, especially the band “metallica”.  He dressed in black – read “wierd books” and was “different”.

This story captivated me immedaitely! Becasue I immediately saw it for what it was , a case of profound religious prejudice.  These young men were being charged – not on the basis of hard evidence but on the weight of this small town’s fear of the “other.”

Even as this horrible situation unflded, these young men were very fortunate – their story was brought to the atttention of documentary film makers who powerfully told their story and pointed out the inconsistancy and out right illegal behavior of the police in this community.  And this documentarty brought the plight of these young men to the  national stage and with the emergence of the internet allowed dediciated people with the ability to reach out and fundraiser on thier behalf.

There were two documentaries about this situation  – and more and more was revealed , police mismanagement of the case as well as the disturbing possibility of who the true killer of these children may be!

All three young men were convicted of murder – Damion receive the death sentence.

Today after 18 years of this nightmare – these young men were set free.  Damion was very close to his execution date – but these ensuing years and all of the new evidence  – and the revelation that DNA studies of the crime scene did not place any of the defendants at the scene, weighed heavily on the DA’s office  – and so this deal was offered. And after much struggle – the deal was accepted. They three had the option of pushing for a new trial – and perhaps being completely cleared. But after being through the ringer of the “justice system” – they opted finally to just get out of jail  – a breathe fresh air once again…

This scenario was brought tears to my eyes – I was overjoyed at the release of these young men who have spent their young manhood in jail. Imagine – 18 years ago Damien was 18, Jessie and Jason were both 16. How do we as a society pay them back for these lost  years.  Damien and his girlfriend were expecting and had a son while this all played out – how is that child compensated for the loss of having a father in his life?

And most importantly, what about the 3 little boys who were tormented and killed in a cold wood? Where is the justice for them?  The true killer of these innocents, has gotten away with their murder and this deal allows the police to consider the case closed   – no further effort will be made towards this case.

This story is a sad and cautionary tale. It points out how broken it is and how cruel and short sighted we as a nation can be. Religious intolerance a can and does lead to massive miscarriages of justice. Racism as well.

I am grateful for the many miracle which allow the West Menphis Three to be home with their families today. After following their for these past case  – I feel as certain as I can that they belong home – and in their lives.

And as I rejoice for them – my heart is heavy.  Heavy for other young men and women, who aren’t fortunate enough to have their case pique the interest of documentary filmmakers, and rock stars.  Or justice system should not hang on such caprice.

I was taught that the blessing of our justice system “the best in the world” – was that no matter who you are, religion, race, color, creed. whether you believe in angels or dance with devils – you are entitled to be fairly treated by police and tried  justly in a court.  And we all know that this isn’t the case and that the opposite happens everyday.

It took 18 years for these young men to be given access to their physical freedom.  I shudder at that may have been done to their souls. I pray that there is still some why that they can receive justice – a true and honest justice.

And may the souls of the murdered little boys, rest in peace. Their names were Stevie Branch, Micheal Moore, and Christopher Byers.

[tube][/tube]The West Memphis 3 are free! on YouTube

NYT article on the release of The West Menphis Three

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