West Memphis 3 Freed! Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Joe Berlinger Are There

The West Memphis 3– Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr.– were released from prison yesterday in Arkansas after serving 18 years in prison for the stabbing murders of three elementary-aged boys. Supporters Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, and actor Johnny Depp traveled to Jonesboro, AR along with filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Crude) who has shot two documentaries about the trial and is completing a third for the Toronto Film Fest, and a group of activists who had worked raising funds and awarenes for the convicted trio’s defense. Other supporters include members of the band X, Henry Rollins, Ozzy Osbourne, and writer/director John Roecker who emailed La Figa saying:

I was in tears all day yesterday-It reminded me of the the last election, was so happy that Obama got elected and sad that Prop 8 didn’t go though. A bittersweet victory. But I am just staying focused that those men are out and can live their lives the way it was meant to be. Free.

X’s Exene Cervenka who–with Chuck D, Ice-T, Iggy Pop, Lemmy from Motorhead, Ryan Adams and others–appeared on Rise Above, 24 Songs to Benefit the West Memphis 3, which featured vocalists from all genres covering Black Flag songs and backed by the Rollins Band, tweeted:

Finally some great news wm3 released!!!!So many people worked so hard to help them, thank you all.

while Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins’ Band) emailed the LA Times:

I am happy for the guys but so much has been lost. Three boys were killed. In my opinion, the wrong people were incarcerated and the person or persons who did it are still out there, alive or dead, still not brought to justice.

At the time of WM3′s trial in 1993, the height of the Satanic Panic, the prosecution in the primarily fundamentalist Christian area argued that the trio–who listened to bands like Metallica and wore black–had hogtied, raped, mutilated and killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual. Misskelley–who is mentally disabled–had confessed to police, but the defense contended that he was coerced into making a false confession and, as a minor, had not been properly Mirandized. Misskelly eventually recanted the confession, and other witnesses admitted they lied to police. Damien Echols, who read books on the occult and was medicated for bipolar disorder was named the ringleader by the prosecution and sentenced to death, while the two other defendants received life in prison.

Supporters believe the trio was prosecuted on weak evidence because they looked different–an aspect of the case that resonates with many in the artistic community–and that there was juror misconduct.

On Friday the trio pleaded guilty under the little-used Alford plea, which allows them to also claim they are innocent. An Aford plea, sometimes agreed upon when both the defense and the prosecution have reasons to avoid a jury trial. Since the Arkansas Supreme Court recently determined that DNA evidence found at the scene conclusively excluded the prisoners, the three attorneys for WM3 had asked for a new hearing to consider new evidence, a request that was granted by the court.

DNA evidence testing was not available at the time of their first trials, but since then DNA testing of the evidence revealed that a hair found in the ligature knots belonged to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, while a hair found on a tree stump

was consistent with the DNA of a friend of Hobbs, according to the documents.

Hobbs has denied seeing the three victims–Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Hobbs’ stepson Michael Moore–on the day of their disappearance. A speech by Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on the steps of the Arkansas State Supreme Courthouse in which she mentioned Hobbs resulted in a civil suit.

According to the LA Times:

Echols’ attorneys said they had found three eyewitnesses who said Hobbs was “the last adult seen with the victims” on the night they disappeared.

Hobbs declares he’s innocent.

John Mark Byers, whose stepson Christopher Byers was murdered and mutilated, told CNN that he believes the WM3 to be innocent:

They’re innocent. They did not kill my son.

But Steven Branch’s father, also named Steven Branch, spoke angrily to CNN affiliate WMC-TV before the hearing.:

I don’t know what kind of deal they worked up. Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you, and you can walk free for killing somebody.

Johnny Depp told CBS News in a 2010 interview of the WM3:

People need to stand up and say, yeah, it’s time to find the killers. Let’s find justice.

The prosecutor said:

I have no reason to believe there was anyone else involved in the homicide of these three children but the three defendants who plead guilty today.

But he added that the state could file charges against others if new evidence emerges implicating someone else in the case.

Rise Above, directed by Modi and Kevin Kerslake; Kerslake is our guest on tomorrow’s FDL Movie Night.

31 Responses to "West Memphis 3 Freed! Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Joe Berlinger Are There"
Suzanne | Saturday August 20, 2011 06:18 pm 1

it really sucks that they had to make that aford plea — what a travesty of justice perverted by a travesty of justice so the local da doesn’t get hurt feelings. tis good they are out but nothing can be done to return the years that were stolen from them

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 06:57 pm 2
In response to Suzanne @ 1

Worse than a travesty, Suzanne, what has been required of these men to “secure” their release is a major affront to and further evidence of the deliberate and intentional erosion of the Rule of Law.

As Nelson Mandela has said “Prisoners cannot enter into contracts, only free human beings may do that.”

Lady Justice has been assaulted by officers of the court, from the Judge to the Prosecutor.

I am glad of their freedom, for these three men, although it has come at a very great cost not merely to them, to all of us, but especially to truth and to justice.

I bow my head to the lost years and to the further destruction of our legal system, that a pathetic and useless pridefulness may PRETEND to be unsullied and successful … the empty vanities of very small men demand a sacrifice of heart and of conscience …

Let us never forget.


Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:03 pm 3

They look like three a**holes.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:20 pm 4
In response to Jim @ 3

Jim, by your words shall you be known.

Consider that truth …

Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:22 pm 5
In response to DWBartoo @ 4

Good. I’d keep my eye on those three if I were law enforcement.

pineywoodsfats | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:29 pm 6
In response to Jim @ 5


Care to articulate any particular reason why you think these innocent men need a watchful eye from law enforcement?

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:33 pm 7
In response to Jim @ 5

Thankfully, you are not.

Have you really sought the truth of this unjustified and unjustifiable imprisonment?

Do you not know that such DNA material as exist exonerates these men?

Do you care, Jim?

Or are you certain, of the legal requirements attendant to “beyond a reasonable doubt?

No doubt you believe that you are certain and firmly “convinced”?

True justice, for youself or others, demands quite a bit more.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:37 pm 8
In response to pineywoodsfats @ 6

Ah, pineywoodsfats, always a pleasure to encounter you on the threads.


Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:41 pm 9
In response to pineywoodsfats @ 6

Re-read my comment.

Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 07:44 pm 10
In response to DWBartoo @ 7

I didn’t say they were guilty. I said they look like 3 a**holes who law enforcement should keep an eye on. I wouldn’t let those three within 100 miles of my kid.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:00 pm 11
In response to Jim @ 10

You do not see a problem with looking at photos, not the most flattering for sure, and concluding that those depicted might be a danger to you and yours?

I admit that a photograph of Goebbels sent shivers up my spine, but then there was clear evidence of his inhumanity and pathology.

What of the pretty-looking ones who turn out to be sociopaths and worse, Jim?

Looks, I am certain you will agree, may be deceiving?

Let us see if more recent photos may change perceptions of these men.

I wonder what the prosecutor in this case might look like and whether either you or I might find antipathy in his photo-frozen “demeanor”.

There are those who claim to be able to read faces, such a power is not mine, but I do look to the eyes, which some call the “windows to the soul.”

I consider that I have seen your comments before, and if memory serves, I found your thoughts reasoned and considered, so I was taken aback at your initial assertion.

I appreciate the fact that you have shared further thoughts and considerations with me, and agree that there are those whom I should never wish to have in close contact with any of my children.


forest | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:03 pm 12

Jim, can you please send us your picture so we can compare and warn our kids too?

forest | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:07 pm 13

I reckon a good many people are convicted on the basis of their appearance and suspicion alone. Incredibly sad to see the thoughts propagated here. It might be a beneficial exercise for Jim to talk this out despite my initial reaction of disgust and wanting to condemn those thoughts immediately.

Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:26 pm 14
In response to DWBartoo @ 11

A person’s expression says a lot. I don’t trust those three at all. By the responses, I do believe I struck a nerve.

Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:28 pm 15
In response to forest @ 13

I reckon a lot of people die because they ignore their gut feelings about someone. Nicole Brown Simpson, for example.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:45 pm 16
In response to Jim @ 14

Well, you “struck” something … Jim.


DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 08:55 pm 17
In response to Jim @ 15

I suspect that OJ simply forced his way into her life rather like he forced his way into her apartment, if his “confession” is to be believed?

That long ago trial was an absolute circus and Judge Ito a celebrrity-struck pipsqueak. In fact, your first comment reminded me of OJ and all those who hide behind looks and the popularity of “fame”.

When do you imagine that Nicole had that first gut feeling?

I know little about such “details” in that case.

Though intuition ought often be heeded, as my own experience confirms.

AS I say, Jim, I appreciate your willingness to engage in further discussion and the sharing of insight and perspective.


Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 09:00 pm 18
In response to DWBartoo @ 17

I’m just a little revolted by Hollywood’s / Rollins’ love affair with these three obvious creeps. If justice was served, fine with me.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 09:06 pm 19
In response to Jim @ 18

Then you do consider that these men should have been released, Jim?

Jim | Saturday August 20, 2011 09:19 pm 20
In response to DWBartoo @ 19

Based on the evidence yes.

DWBartoo | Saturday August 20, 2011 09:28 pm 21
In response to Jim @ 20

How might that opportunity have arisen had not Hollywood types provided the means?

This is my concern, that many do not have the financial resources to obtain their rightful justice and thereby, their freedom.

How do you think our society might improve on this glaring difficulty, built in, apparently, to our legal system?

The role of money and the issue of “standing” are the two major flaws that we seem, as a society, unwilling to address.


forest | Saturday August 20, 2011 10:54 pm 22
In response to Jim @ 14

You wouldn’t like my expression then.

I see that you accept that their release is justified, that’s just swell.

Rule of law is what I understood to be in question, but if we are going to acquit or condemn people based upon their expression, we really ought to write more honest laws.

What you may have struck is a personal problem I have with the thought you shared. Ever noticed how villains are portrayed to children? They are nearly at all times shown as ugly if not outright monsters. An adult would be doing their children an injustice if they were not taught that the most destructive villains are often quite charming and those in positions of public or private authority.

Even though the DNA evidence may say that the stepfather and his close personal friend were to blame, I feel much better knowing that these three that give Jim a tingle were kept safely imprisoned. They may even have harmed themselves, don’tcha know.

I am also a little angry how I picked up the story of their release without even a mention that they had been exonerated by DNA evidence. That really pissed me off, so yes, you touched a nerve all right.

I hope you can see your error for what it was, but I would feel a lot better if I got a look at ya.

Bro Tom | Sunday August 21, 2011 04:48 am 23
In response to Jim @ 10

OMG, you have a “kid”? You better move to Texas. They don’t take chances, they execute Satanists whether guilty or not. Especially if they are obviously a**holes.
Besides, Texas may succeed to secede, ensuring the health and safety of all.

joediss7071 | Sunday August 21, 2011 06:07 am 24

The last man I heard talking about gut felling was George W Bush…..

Ehrenstein47 | Sunday August 21, 2011 06:16 am 25

How they “looked” got them 18 years in prison. Not what they did — how they “looked.”

stewartm | Sunday August 21, 2011 06:42 am 26
In response to Jim @ 14

A person’s expression says a lot.

Yes, it indeed does. It says a lot about the beholder and his or her mindset. It says very little about the behelden.


stewartm | Sunday August 21, 2011 06:47 am 27

the height of the Satanic Panic

I remember that panic. I couldn’t fathom it then, and I can’t fathom it now.

It’s just another panic akin to the “white slavery” one in the early 20th century, or the McMartin preschool-type panic in the 1980s. You could write a number of PhD dissertations about how something that maybe contained a tiny seed of truth got blown up into a pervasive nation-wide conspiracy. I’m sure that some have.


Kassandra | Sunday August 21, 2011 08:03 am 28

I think I might have a “strange look” about me too if I spent 18 years in prison for something that I didn’t do…..or even did do.

It sounds like the whole “investigation” was based on the detective’s personal dislike of
A friend of mine who in Memphis a t the time says that and also said that the judge slept thru half the trial. the jury foreman said they were going to convict them regardless of lack of evidence. Most of the testimony was hearsay, they’re attorney’s were public defenders who;d never tried a capital case. Etc, ad nauseum.
they were targets of opportunity for a corrupt and lazy small town police force with a bunch of bubbas on it and an ambitious prosecutor. We may never know what happened, but the police interrogation of the retarded guy has become a study in what NOT to do.
They kept feeding him hi story and all he wanted to do was go home. No transcript or recording of the interrogation.
It was a railroad job by a bunch of Christain extremists.
I guess we need to get ready for more, now that we’ve lost habeus corpus and Miranda

My friend has donated to the cause of these young men for years.
I think ol’ Jim ought to educate himself before opining about this awful travesty of justice.

Kassandra | Sunday August 21, 2011 08:08 am 29

Oh, by the way, the judge is now a state senator

Mary | Sunday August 21, 2011 11:12 am 30

The article linked with the “… hair found on a tree stump” link says that Hobbs was Branch’s stepfather, not Moore’s. Is that article wrong?

DonWilliams | Tuesday August 23, 2011 09:00 pm 31

I’ve got two words for you:

Jack Abbott

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