The West Memphis 3

August 19, 2011 Criminal Defense

The three men, known collectively as the West Memphis 3, were convicted of killing three 8-year-old cub scouts. These were not ordinary killings, but were labeled satanic because the naked bodies of the three boys had been bound and mutilated. This was a horrible crime that deeply shook a community.

An award-winning documentary, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” was released after their convictions, bringing them national attention, and a lot of celebrities adopted their cause. Over many years, the case was re-investigated and post -onviction litigation ensued.

Finally, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing on the case after DNA evidence failed to connect them to the crime scene. It did connect the father of one of the boys. The new evidentiary hearing was set for December of this year.  But it was not to be.

Instead of proceeding ahead in court, the men agreed to what’s known as an Alford plea. Normally, when defendants plead guilty in criminal cases, they must admit that they’ve done the crime. An Alford plea allows them to maintain their innocence and say they are pleading guilty just to get it over with. After pleading guilty in court this morning, they were immediately released from prison and placed on 10 years’ probation. The defendants, after court, said they reluctantly accepted the deal because one of them was still on death row and potentially could be executed.

The prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington, said that the state still considered the men guilty. But he acknowledged they would probably be acquitted if a new trial were held, and he expressed concern that if the men were exonerated at the trial, they could sue the state, possibly for millions of dollars.

This entire proceeding is a fraud. A fraud on the community, a fraud on the defendants and worse, a fraud on justice. This was a horrible crime. One that cried out for justice. Not plea bargain justice, but real justice. How could any prosecutor, who says he was convinced that the men were guilty of these gruesome murders, agree to a deal to release them from prison? I don’t care how many films or celebrities supported them. Or how many millions the state faced in potential lawsuits. This case had to be tried to a jury. Nothing less.

It is hard to criticize the defendants. They had a lot more at stake. No matter how innocent one might be, it is quite possible to get them to admit guilt by threatening to kill them. But the prosecutor was not in the same position. So what if the state of Arkansas faced a possible lawsuit?. Any good lawyer could defeat that if there were any evidence to support the indictment. So don’t give me that lame excuse.

The real reason he offered the plea was to avoid embarrassment. The embarrassment of being required to present whatever little evidence he had in court to back up his charge. Just like doctors bury their mistakes, he was hoping to bury his. And so what if he lost? Losing doesn’t mean the defendants were innocent. And if there were a trial, everyone could see what the evidence was and make their own determination. We are now denied that.

How can we, in a so-called free society, allow someone to plead guilty to grisly murders like this while proclaiming their innocence? It is horrible for the parents if they are indeed guilty, and nothing short of extortion if they are innocent. Either way this is a fraud. This sickens me.

addendum: I just bought a book authored By Damien Echols and Lorri Davis — Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row. Through 16 years of highly personal and intimate letters it tells a wonderful story of love and survival under the most trying of circumstances. I wish Damien all the luck in the rest of his life. He deserves it. Unfortunately the guards who physically abused him for all those years have seemed to escape judgment. I heard Damian describe the beatings he endured on an NPR interview. It disgusts and horrifies me. I have been to many state penitentiaries and can testify to the brutality that is an every day occurrence. All this is done in our names.