On May 5, 1993, eight-year-old boys Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Based on a pre-DNA theory of the crime–for which the West Memphis Police Department produced no physical evidence against their suspects—three local teenagers, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley were charged with, and soon convicted for, the murders, which the State presented as a Satanic sacrifice.
Further investigation—by the teenagers’ attorneys and private detectives; tireless documentarian filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy; Pulitzer-Prize winning Arkansas journalist and author Mara Leveritt; and grass-roots supporters that began with a handful and became tens of thousands—determined that the West Memphis Police Department and State prosecutor John Fogleman had fatally botched—if not intentionally subverted—the investigation from its first moments, and that Judge David Burnett and the State of Arkansas had, beyond any reasonable doubt, convicted the wrong persons for the crimes.
After DNA technology became available, evidence recovered from the crime scene was re-examined and revealed the presence of genetic material other than that of the victims. Although it did not match Damien, Jason, or Jessie, some of the DNA did match Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, while other DNA matched the Hobb’s friend, who was with Hobbs on the night of the murders.
On August 19, 2011, following numerous appeals, documentaries, books, and a host of celebrity support, Damien, Jason, and Jesse were allowed to enter what is called an Alford Plea, by which the accused may assert their innocence while acknowledging that the State believes it has a case against them.
Alford pleas are filed as guilty pleas, however, to satisfy the necessary paperwork for the State. As a result of this plea agreement, the three teenagers, who were now men in their mid- to late- thirties, were re-sentenced to “time served” (19 years, which Damien had spent on Death Row) and were released from prison with the remainder of their sentences suspended.
For its part, the State of Arkansas retained the legal (if not moral) ability to point to these convictions and assert that the 1993 triple child-homicide remains a closed case.
As a result, West Memphis and Arkansas authorities have, to date, done precisely nothing to find the actual killer(s) of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore.
19 Aug 2011
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