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The West Memphis 3 Case

The West Memphis Three: from left, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. (CBS)

A Most Heinous Crime

On the afternoon of 6 May 1993, West Memphis was rocked by the news of the discovery of the mutilated bodies of three eight-year-old boys. Rumors regarding the nature of the murders spread like wildfire through the town. It was soon well known that the boys had been cut with a knife, raped and at least one of the boy’s genitals had been cut, many of these rumors were based on inaccurate police assumptions. By 12.00 p.m. the next day, police were questioning their first suspect, Damien Echols. Several weeks later Jessie Misskelley, an associate of Echols, confessed to the murders, implicating Damien Echols and another friend, Jason Baldwin. Soon after, following a confession by Misskelley, the three teenagers were arrested and charged with the murders of James M. Moore, Steven E. Branch and Christopher M. Byers.

The citizens of West Memphis were relieved that the monsters that had committed these heinous crimes had been apprehended and justice would be served. There was a great deal of anger in the community directed towards these three adolescents, supposedly involved in Satanic cults, who were accused of killing three innocent boys as part of a Satanic ritual. Rumors of Satanic groups had abounded in this dominantly Baptist community for decades. Details of their exploits were well known although there was never any proof of any murders actually having been performed in the past. From the time the arrests were made until they were tried, local papers fed the community’s blood-lust, with stories of Satanic abominations appearing on a regular basis.

On Wednesday 19 January 1994, Jessie Misskelley was sent to trial after an attempt to have his confession suppressed was denied. Two weeks later, he was found guilty on one count of first degree capital murder and two counts of second degree capital murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole. He was seventeen years old.

The trial of Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols began on Tuesday 4 February 1994. On Monday 18 April 1994, they were both found guilty on three counts of capital murder. The next day Jason, just sixteen, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of forty years. Eighteen-year-old Damien Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

More than five years after these sentences were handed down the three young men continue to proclaim their innocence and are persevering in their attempts to have new trials granted. This in itself is not unusual. There are many guilty men who have succeeded in tying up the legal system in the process of appeals for as many as fifteen years. What is unusual in this case is that they are not alone in proclaiming their innocence. Thousands of American citizens are convinced that Jessie, Jason and Damien were wrongly tried and convicted and are now lending their support to the fight for justice. Everyday this support is growing and now includes many criminal and legal experts who are throwing the weight of their knowledge and experience behind the three boys.

Damien Echols claims that he was found guilty long before the trial began because he was considered weird by many in the community, having practiced the Wicca religion and listened to the music of supposedly Satanic groups such as "Metallica." Jason believes he was found guilty by association. Jessie claims that his confession was coerced, claiming he had told police whatever they had wanted him to so that they would let him go.

Under question in this case is not merely whether Jessie, Jason and Damien are guilty or innocent, but whether the correct legal processes were upheld to secure their convictions. Was the basic tenet of the American legal system, the presumption of innocence, discarded in order to satisfy a community’s call for the revenge of the dreadful murders of three innocent children?

The Victims

According to the families of the three boys, they were last seen together between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on the evening of 5 May 1993. The three boys had finished school for the day at Weaver Elementary School at 3:00 p.m. Steven Branch went home but left shortly afterwards, according to his mother Pam Hobbs. Christopher Byers’s step-father, John Mark Byers, arrived home at 3:10 p.m. but Christopher was not there, his brother Ryan arrived home at 3:30 p.m. Chris did not have a key to the house and was expected to wait outside until Ryan arrived to let him in.

John Mark Byers drove Ryan to the courthouse for a 4:00 p.m. appointment. After dropping Ryan he drove to pick up his wife, Melissa Byers from work. They both arrived back at their home at 5:20 p.m. to find that Chris was not at home, although there was evidence that he had been there. Soon after, John Mark Byers left home to pick up Ryan, but on the way he found Christopher riding a skateboard. He took Christopher home where Byers gave him "2 or 3 licks" with a belt, in the presence of Melissa, as punishment for not staying at home as instructed. Before returning to the courthouse to pick up Ryan, Byers instructed Christopher to clean up the carport area. He was last seen doing this at 5:30 p.m. by Byers.

At 6:00 p.m., Diana Moore saw her son (James) Michael riding bicycles with Steven Branch and Christopher Byers but had been unable to stop them before they rode off. Chris had been sitting on the back of Steven’s bike.

At 6:30 p.m. John Mark Byers claims that he arrived home from the courthouse with Ryan to find that Chris was again not at home. Melissa was inside on the phone with her boss and had not been aware that Chris was gone again. John, Melissa and Ryan Byers left their home at 6.30 p.m. to drive around the neighborhood in order to find Chris. During the course of this search Byers informed a police officer of his son’s disappearance. According to Byers, he was told to wait until 8:00 p.m. before making an official report with the police. Byers explained to the officer that the reason he was so concerned was that Chris had never disappeared like this before. This statement was later contradicted by Melissa Byers, during an interview on 25 May 1993, when she told police that Christopher had disappeared on several other occasions for hours at a time.

John Mark Byers called the West Memphis Police Department at 8:00 p.m. to report that his step-son Christopher was missing. In response to this report Officer Regina Meek went to the Byers' home. Fifteen minutes later, Diana Moore spoke with John Mark Byers, informing him that she had seen the three boys at 6:00 p.m. Byers stated that this was the first time he had been aware that Chris was not alone. Together with Diana Moore, Melissa Byers and Ryan Byers, John Mark Byers began to search the Robin Hood Hills area, the last known location of the boys. It was already dark by then, according to Byers. At some time between, 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Byers went home alone to change out of the shorts and thongs that he had been wearing, into a pair of overalls and boots. At the time that he left, the search party consisted of Ryan Byers, Ritchie Masters, Brett Smith and his sister, along with many others. They were soon joined by Officer Moore from the West Memphis Police Department, who continued to search with them from 10:20 until 11:00 p.m.

When John Mark Byers arrived home at 11:00 p.m., he called the Sheriff to request a search and rescue team. He was told to call Denver Reed, the leader of the Crittenden County team the following morning. He and Ryan left the house again and drove to the Blue Beacon Truck Wash. Here he told the people inside that he was looking for Chris and two other boys. He then drove his vehicle around the back. For some time Byers and Ryan shouted for the boys and honked their horn. Still unable to find the boys, Byers and Ryan drove back home. They were met there by Melissa, Terry Hobbs, Steven Branch’s grandfather, and Diana Moore. After a short discussion, the group decided to make another attempt to search for the boys in the woods.

At 1:30 a.m., Thursday 6 May 1993, Sergeant Ball of WMPD, drove to the Byers’s home to inform John Mark Byers and Melissa Byers that a search for the boys was being conducted in the area. After he left at about 2:00 a.m., Tony Hudson, a friend of Byers, came to the house. Byers and Hudson left soon after to search the Mid-Continent building which was being rebuilt after having been blown over. They thought that the boys may have been hiding there. When they arrived, they saw a black van nearby. It was locked and they assumed that it belonged to one of the workers at the site. They continued their search for an hour before they returned home with the intention of resuming their search in the morning.

A Grisly Discovery

The next day began early for John Mark Byers. At 6:30 a.m. he called Denver Reed and arranged to meet him at 8:00 a.m. In the meantime, the search resumed in the Robin Hood Hills area, with Terry Hobbs, Diana Moore, Byers and a number of others. After meeting with Reed, another search was conducted until 1:45 p.m. when Sergeant Mike Allen found the first body of the missing boys. Although his unsigned report doesn’t state the exact location of the discovery, it implies that the body was found in a creek. An hour later, the body was removed from the creek by police officers. Shortly after, the second body was found, 25 feet away to the south, by Detective Bryn Ridge, then the third a further 5 feet away.

Twenty minutes after the third body was located. WMPD contacted Crittenden County Coroner, Ken Hale. He was informed that the bodies were found near the Blue Beacon Truck Wash. By the time he arrived, all three bodies had been removed from the creek (or drainage ditch) by police officers at the scene. By 4:00 p.m. Hale had pronounced all three of the boys to be dead.

The official autopsy reports submitted by Dr. Frank J Peretti, of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, and Kent Hale described the condition of the boys as they were found on the afternoon of 6 May 1993. The initial conclusion, drawn by police at the scene, was that the boys had been raped but this was not verified by the autopsy. The dilation of the anus was wrongly believed to have been evidence of anal rape, but it is, in fact, a natural occurrence at death. Although there was no evidence to suggest that all three of the boys had been sexually assaulted, Hale stated in his report that this may have been a possibility.

James M. Moore, born on 27 July 1984, had died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, torso, and extremities with drowning. He had been found in a drainage ditch and had drowned in 2 feet of water near the bodies of the two other 8-year-old male victims. He had been found completely nude, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. There was little evidence that James had defended himself against his attacker(s) and the lack of injuries caused by the ligatures suggests that he had not struggled after he was tied up. This would suggest that he was unconscious at an early stage in the attack. There was no evidence of sexual assault.

Steven Branch, born 26 November 1984, died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, torso, and extremities with drowning. He had been found in the drainage ditch near the bodies of James Moore and Christopher Byers, in two feet of water. As with the other two victims, he was found naked, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. There were many violent, traumatic injuries to Steven’s face and head, along with a number of superficial scratches, abrasions, and contusions over the rest of his body. While the wounds were similar to those found on James, they were much more intense. There was also a 3-inch fracture at the base of the skull. Peretti did not note the presence of extensive defensive wounds. Although there was no evidence to support this, Hale, in his report, stated that Steven may have been sexually assaulted.

Christopher Byers, born 23 June 1984, received the most extensive, violent and most overtly sexual injuries of the three victims. He died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, as well as the violent removal of his penis, the scrotal sac, and the testes, along with associated cuts and stab wounds to the genital area. He was found in the same drainage ditch as James and Steven, in 2 inches of water. He was completely naked, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. The toxicology report also revealed non-therapeutic levels of the drug Carbamazepine in the blood. There were also a variety of healed injuries. Peretti noted that there were defensive wounds. There were also three sets of wounds on the buttocks. While this attack was sexual in nature, there is no evidence of rape, although, Hale did state that this was a possibility. Christopher Byers did not drown as he was already dead before being placed in the water.

Hale’s report stated that lividity (the red discoloration in the skin caused by the pooling and settling of blood within the blood vessels after death) was present in all three victims and blanched with pressure. Lividity begins about thirty minutes after death and then fixes, after four or five hours blanching no longer occurs, depending on environmental conditions. According to this, the time of death could be placed at sometime after daybreak on 6 May 1993, although this is difficult to ascertain as the victim’s body temperatures were not taken.

It was found that rigor mortis, the stiffening of the muscle tissue, which begins after death, was present in all three victims. Rigor mortis begins about two to four hours after death, and full rigor mortis is complete eight to twelve hours after death, depending on environmental conditions. According to Hale, it was difficult to determine whether rigor mortis was complete due to the manner in which the boys were tied, but Peretti stated in his report that rigor was evenly present throughout the extremities.

At the scene where the boys were found there was no evidence of blood or a weapon. The boy’s bicycles and clothing were dumped in the drainage ditch with the boys, effectively removing any trace evidence which may have been present. The clothing had been held down with sticks but these were not collected by police at the time. Six months later they would find two sticks in the woods, claiming that they were the sticks found at the scene. Two pairs of the boys’ underwear were missing. The only signs of blood at the crime scene were where the bodies had rested on the bank after their removal from the water. An area on the bank had been deliberately cleared and one imprint of a tennis shoe was found.

Prime Suspect

The day after the boys’ bodies were discovered, Lieutenant James Sudbury, of the West Memphis Police Department, contacted Steve Jones, a Juvenile Officer for Crittenden County, Arkansas. During their conversation, Sudbury and Jones expressed their shared belief that the murders had strong overtones of a cultic sacrifice. Jones then informed Sudbury that there was one person he knew of that was involved in cult activities that could be capable of committing such a crime. He named Damien Echols. They agreed to meet at Damien Echols’s residence to interview Damien.

At 12:00 p.m. on Friday 7 May 1993, Sudbury and Jones arrived at 2706 South Grove in Broadway Trailer Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, where Echols lived. They talked briefly with Damien’s mother, Pamela Hutcheson, and father, Eddie Hutcheson and gained their permission to interview Damien. They conducted this initial interview in Damien’s bedroom. At that time, Lieutenant Sudbury took a Polaroid photograph of Damien Echols and noted that he had a tattoo on his chest of a five-pointed star or pentagram and another unidentified tattoo on his shoulder or arm. Two days, later an official interview with Damien was conducted. During this interview Damien was asked whether one of the boys was more savagely attacked than the other two, to which Damien told them that he believed one of the boys had been mutilated more than the others and had his genitals cut. Police considered that this was information that would only have been known by the killer(s), but it was, in fact, common knowledge in the community. The prosecution later used this statement to support their case that Damien had prior knowledge of the crimes that was not generally available. When the interview was completed no charges were pressed and Damien was released.

Damien Echols was born Michael Wayne Hutcheson on 11 December 1974. Until their divorce, Damien’s parents were constantly on the move because of his father’s work. They would only stay in an area for a short time before they would have to relocate again, usually without any notice. Damien learned to enjoy his own company, making few friends due to his transient lifestyle. When his mother re-married, Damien was adopted by her second husband Jack Echols and they moved to Echols’s home in West Memphis. When he was thirteen, and five years had passed since he had last seen his father, Damien dropped his father’s name and assumed that of his adoptive father. His new name was only the beginning of the many changes that Damien would experience over the next few years. In junior high, Damien’s once good grades began to plummet, a situation that did not improve during high school. At fifteen his relationship with his mother, which had been very close in the past, began to deteriorate with arguments becoming a daily occurrence.

Damien was seen as different by his peers, a view he shared and deliberately cultivated. By this time the black clothing he wore had become his trademark and included a long black overcoat which he wore no matter what the weather. His clothing reflected his emotional state of isolation and depression which increased dramatically over the next couple of years. His search for spiritual truth and meaning, although present at an early age, became a focus of his life at this time. He had attempted for many years to find meaning in Jack Echols’s Pentecostal-style church but with no success. He explored a number of other religions including Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam before he discovered Catholicism. For a time he felt that he had found what he was looking for and was baptized and received Communion, but no matter how devoutly he studied, the emptiness continued. It was during this time that he changed his name to Damien, after Father Damien a 19th-century Catholic priest who cared for lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. The rumor mill in West Memphis would report that he had named himself after Damien in the series of "Omen" movies.

With his depression deepening, Damien still found no comfort in religion or girlfriends. Catholicism was soon discarded and replaced with Paganism, which he had discovered after studying Stonehenge and the Druids. Here Damien finally found something which made sense to him. The worship of nature and the belief in karma seemed logical and real to Damien, although it would not help his depressed emotional state. Between 1991 and 1993 he attempted to commit suicide a number of times by a variety of methods including hanging, an overdose and even drowning.

His first contact with police came about when he was seventeen. He and his girlfriend at the time decided to run away from home together. On their first night they broke into an abandoned house for shelter. Within an hour police were there. Damien was arrested and was subjected to a number of psychological tests. From there he was sent to Charter Hospital in Maumelle. During his stay there he was diagnosed as manic-depressive and was prescribed the anti-depressant drug Trofanil, which he continued to take until he arrived on death row. It was after this arrest that Damien first met Jerry Driver, chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Crittenden County and partner of Steve Jones. According to Damien, in a later interview, Driver had been convinced that Satanic cults were behind many criminal activities in the area and was determined to prove his theories. Damien and Driver’s paths would cross many more times in the future as Driver would investigate Damien in regard to a variety of unsolved crimes in the area, none of which he was able to pin on Damien.

The first few months after his release from Charter brought with it many traumatic changes. His mother and Jack Echols divorced and she remarried Damien’s biological father, moving with him to Portland Oregon. As Damien was still on probation, his parents informed the authorities in West Memphis of the move. These changes did nothing to help Damien’s condition and he began to drink heavily. His condition deteriorated so seriously that his parents called the police when Damien locked himself in his room after he had threatened to kill himself with a knife. Again he was treated for depression and alcohol rehabilitation but was soon released when he informed doctors that there was nothing they could do to make him feel better.

After his release he immediately left Portland and returned to Arkansas. Records in Portland show that the authorities were properly informed of this change and that Driver’s office was notified, however, there is no record that this information was entered in the Arkansas office. Damien was staying with an old school friend on the conditional terms that he return to school. On the day he applied to the school for re-admittance he was told to return with a letter from his parents. Driver arrested Damien as he left the school grounds. The complaint filed by Driver at the time was that Damien had violated his parole when he left his parental care in Portland and because he had threatened the lives of his parents.

Damien was immediately returned to Charter Hospital where he spent two weeks. When he left, he found that his depression had greatly improved because the doctor who treated him did not allow him to dwell on his problems and insisted that he mix with other patients at the hospital. In December 1992, Damien sat for and passed his G.E.D test, fulfilling the terms of his probation. As soon as he was released from hospital, Damien moved in with his girlfriend Domini Teer in West Memphis. Some time after this, Damien’s parents returned to West Memphis. At the time of the murders Damien claims that he was dividing his time between his parent’s home and his now pregnant girlfriend, Domini’s home.


Certain that they had their prime suspect, police would focus their investigation toward looking for evidence which would enable them to arrest Damien Echols. Any known associates of Damien were questioned. Both Damien and close friend Jason Baldwin received many visits from police who would often park nearby at night in the hope that such intimidation would break them.

On 6 May 1993, the day the bodies were discovered, WMPD received a call from Don Bray at the Marion County Police Department to inform them that a young boy was there who claimed to know something about the murders. Aaron Hutcheson had been at the police department with his mother Vicky Hutcheson when he had told Bray that the boys had been "at the playhouse." WMPD officers told Bray that the location was near where the boys were found. However, no playhouse was found when the police took Aaron to the crime scene. Later Aaron claimed that he had actually witnessed the murders, claiming first that he had seen men in the woods dressed up and talking Spanish, then later related that he had seen John Mark Byers kill the boys.

Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the boy’s many stories, police attempted to get him to identify Jason and Damien in a photo line-up but he was unable to do so. He did not actually identify any of the three adolescents until after Jessie’s confession to police in May. Jessie often babysat for Aaron and knew him well. Eventually the prosecution decided not to use Aaron’s testimony because his story changed so much and because other witnesses placed him well away from the crime scene at the time of the murders. Despite this, the media quickly learned that the police had a witness to the crimes, severely prejudicing the case.

Disappointed that she would no longer be receiving any reward for Aaron’s assistance to the police, his mother Vicki Hutcheson, agreed to let the police wire her house in an attempt to tape Damien talking about the murders. She did not know Damien personally so asked Jessie to arrange for Damien to come to her home. Although Jessie claims he did not know Damien, he was able to arrange for Damien to meet with Vicki just prior to his arrest. The entire conversation was taped but no information helpful to the police was recorded. Police claim that there was nothing audible on the tape at all, although Vicki Hutcheson claims she had heard the tape at WMPD and everything could be heard clearly.

The next day, Vicki Hutcheson made a statement to police that two weeks after the murders she had gone with Jessie and Damien to an Esbat (a ritual observance of the full moon within Wicca and other Wiccan-influenced forms of Neopaganism) in Turrell, AR. She claimed that Damien had driven his red Ford Fiesta to the empty field where the Esbat supposedly occurred. Although Damien Echols did not have a driver’s license and did not own or have access to a Ford Fiesta, and Vicki was not able to identify anyone else attending the Esbat or even find its location, Vicki Hutcheson was still used during the trial as a corroborative witness to Damien and Jessie’s Satanic involvements. After the trial Vicki admitted that she had made up the story.

The police became even more convinced of Jessie’s involvement when William Winfred Jones told them that Damien, while drunk, had bragged to him about murdering the boys. Before he could testify in Jessie’s trial, however, Jones recanted his statement, telling police that he had in fact lied about these events, he had only heard rumors of Damien’s involvement. Both of these witnesses’ statements led police to Jessie Misskelley for questioning. It seems that the offer of a reward for assisting police in arresting the killers was too much for some people to resist.


Jessie Misskelley was brought in to WMPD for questioning on 3 June 1993. During the course of his interrogation, which lasted for several hours, Jessie was given a lie detector test and the police succeeded in securing a confession from Jessie of his own part in the murders of the three boys. He named Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols as his accomplices.

According to Jessie’s defense attorney, Daniel Stidham, Jessie claims that he and his friends were first approached by the police and offered a reward for information about the murders. Jessie was later taken into WMPD for questioning despite the fact that they did not have a written waiver of his Miranda Rights signed by Jessie’s father, a legal requirement when police interview minors. Normally this breach of a minor’s constitutional rights would be sufficient to have the subsequent confession quashed. For some reason in this case Judge Burnett chose to allow it.

In his confession, Jessie claimed that Jason Baldwin telephoned him very early on the morning of 5 May. During the course of this conversation, Jason had asked Jessie to accompany himself and Damien Echols to the Robin Hood Hills area. Initially, Jessie stated that he had gone to the Robin Hood area at about 9:00 a.m. that day to an area near a creek where he met up with Damien and Jason. They were actually in the creek when the three boys rode up on their bicycles. Baldwin and Echols had called to the boys who then came to the creek. At this time, Baldwin and Echols began to severely beat the boys. Jessie, claiming to be merely an observer, stated that at least two of the boys were raped and forced to perform oral sex on Baldwin and Echols. While these events were occurring, (James) Michael Moore had attempted to escape, but Jessie had caught him and returned him to Baldwin and Echols.

Jessie stated that Baldwin had used a knife to cut the boys’ faces and the penis area of Christopher Byers. Echols had used a large stick to hit one of the boys and to strangle one of them. After this attack the boys’ clothes were removed and they were tied up, Jessie then left the scene. He was sure that Christopher Byers was already dead. After he arrived home, he claimed that he was telephoned by Baldwin who apparently said "We done it!" And "What are we going to do if somebody saw us?" Jessie said that he could hear Echols in the background.

When asked whether he had ever been involved in a cult, Jessie said that he had been for about three months. He told police that they usually met in the woods where they engaged in orgies and initiation rites which included killing and eating dogs. He stated that at one of these meetings, he saw a photograph that Echols had taken of the three boys and claimed that Echols had been watching the boys.

Jessie, when asked to describe what Baldwin and Echols were wearing at the time of the murders, told police that Jason had been wearing blue jeans, black lace-up boots and a T-shirt with a skull and the name of the band "Metallica" on it. Damien was wearing black pants, boots and a black T-shirt.

During the course of this first statement, Jessie changed the time that the murders occurred from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and explained that the three boys had skipped school. These times were again changed in another recorded statement taken two hours after the first one had concluded. In this statement Jessie said that he, Baldwin and Echols had arrived at the Robin Hood area between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., but after prompting from one of the interviewing officers, he again changed this time to between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The final time Jessie gave was that the teenagers had arrived at 6:00 p.m and the victims had arrived when it was nearly dark.

In this second statement, Jessie gave further details about the sexual molestation of the boys. He stated that the boys had been held by the head and ears and forced to perform oral sex on Jason and Damien. He named Steven Branch and Christopher Byers as the two victims who were raped. He stated that the boys had been tied with brown rope. A further contradiction in this story was added later when one of the interrogating officers testified that according to his notes Jessie had claimed that Baldwin had called him the night before the murders had occurred and said that they planned to go and get some boys and hurt them.

Dan Stidham was able to secure the expert testimonies of Dr Richard Ofshe and Warren Homes. Dr Ofshe, a Pulitzer Prize winning social psychologist and an expert on false and coerced confessions, believed after reading the confession, listening to the tape and interviewing Jessie Misskelley, that Jessie’s confession was a coerced compliant and false confession. The reasons given for this conclusion were:

  1. Many instances of coaching from the interrogating officers, especially in regard to the timing of events and Jessie’s identification of Christopher Byers as the boy who had been emasculated.
  2. That nearly three hours of the interview were not recorded.
  3. That the interrogating officers had used intimidating methods during the interrogation.
  4. That many areas of Jessie’s confession were not supported by the facts.

Examples of incorrect information in Jason's "confession:"

  1. Jessie stated that the victims and Jason Baldwin were not at school when in fact they were proven to have been in attendance
  2. Jessie stated that the victims were bound with rope when in fact they were bound with their own shoelaces
  3. Jessie stated that one boy was choked with a stick when the medical examiners report stated that there was no evidence of strangulation
  4. Jessie stated that the boys were anally raped when in fact the medical examiner had found no evidence of this occurring
  5. Jessie described the murders as having been conducted at the scene where the bodies were found when in fact the medical examiner had stated that there was no blood found at the scene.

Dr Ofshe was not permitted to state all of his opinion during the trial as Judge Burnett had previously ruled that Jessie’s confession had been voluntary and Ofshe’s testimony in this regard would directly contradict the court’s previous ruling. Burnett also stated that such a testimony would give an expert witness the power to determine whether the accused was guilty or innocent which was solely the jury’s domain. Finally, the jury only heard that Ofshe had a lot of experience with coerced confessions and it was possible for police to obtain a confession from someone who was in fact innocent, anything more specific was not allowed.

Warren Holmes, an expert in lie detection testing and interrogation who has studied and worked in this field for over thirty years, agreed to testify for the defense after he was approached by Daniel Stidham, despite the knowledge that he would not be paid for his services and only his expenses would be reimbursed.

At a hearing prior to the trial, Judge Burnett ruled that Warren Holmes could not testify regarding the polygraph examination itself. As polygraph test results are not admissible evidence he would only allow Holmes to testify to his experience and qualifications and to give an analyses of the interview techniques used during Jessie Misskelley’s interrogation.

When Holmes analysed the polygraph test conducted by the WMPD on Jessie Misskelley he found that Jessie’s responses to the questions relating to the murders indicated that Jessie was truthful in his answers and in fact did not have any knowledge of them. The WMPD interrogating officers’ statement to Jessie that he had in fact lied, indicated that they had not conducted or interpreted the results of the tests properly. The result of being informed that he was lying would have greatly contributed to Jessie’s sense of helplessness in the situation making him more likely to comply with the demand for a confession by the police.

According to Holmes there are a number of indicators which will validate to the investigators that a suspect’s confession is true.

  1. In a true confession the suspect will often give the police information about the crime that the police do not already know.
  2. If a confession is true the suspect gives information that fits with the real evidence of the crime.
  3. A true confession is usually given in a narrative form including many incidental details about the situation surrounding the crime which can be corroborated by police later
  4. In a true confession, if the investigators make an incorrect supposition about the crime, the suspect will correct them.
  5. In a true confession, there is no need to correct the suspect for contradictions in their story.
  6. In a true confession there is no need for coaching or leading questions in order to elicit information.

Homes believed that there were many instances in Jessie’s confession where these criteria were not met. He was especially concerned that Jessie was wrong about the times and the type of ligatures used. Both of these factors should have meant a great deal to him. Nor does Jessie mention anything about his feelings at the time of the crimes or afterwards, or talk about the things that were said by himself, the other perpetrators or the victims. Jessie’s confession was elicited by a series of highly suggestive questions by the interrogating officers and was not given in a narrative form.

The testimony of these two witnesses was the strongest evidence that the defense had to refute the prosecution’s case which was built solely upon the weight of Jessie’s confession. Without this expert opinion, Jessie’s case was severely hampered.


When WMPD officers arrested Damien and Jason they took with them warrants to search their homes. From Jason Baldwin’s home police seized a red robe which belonged to his mother, fifteen black t-shirts and a white t-shirt. From Damien’s they seized two notebooks which appeared to have Satanic or cult writings in them, a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of boots. After divers searched an area of a lake behind Baldwin’s house, a knife was recovered.

A witness from the State Crime Laboratory testified that she found fibers on the victims’ clothing which were microscopically similar to four fibers found in Jason and Damien’s homes. None were found in Jessie’s. A red fiber found on Jason’s mother’s robe was microscopically similar to fibers from James Moore’s shirt. A green polyester fiber on James’s cap was of a similar structure to those found on a blue cotton-polyester shirt, belonging to a child relative, found in Damien’s home.

Fibers from this same shirt also matched with one cotton and one polyester fiber found on James’s blue pants. The defense counsel had presented their own fiber witness who disputed the similarity of the red fiber. It was shown that these fibers could have been matched to any number of items available for purchase at a local department store. Despite the fact that these fibers showed inconclusive results, they were still presented as evidence to tie Jason and Damien to the crime.

Jason’s clothing was used in Jessie’s trial to show that Jason owned clothing which was described by Jessie during his confession. None of these articles of clothing could be definitely linked to the crime with fiber or blood samples. Their sole purpose seemed to be to confirm Jessie’s claims and to highlight the boys’ preference for wearing black clothes, supposedly an indication of Satanic tendencies in teenagers. Damien’s books and writings were used as evidence of his delving into the occult, an important aspect of the prosecution’s case in Jason and Damien’s trial as the only motive they could put forward was that the murders were Satanic ritual killings.

The knife found in the lake behind Jason Baldwin’s parent’s home in November 1993 had a serrated edge. Dr Frank Peretti testified that some of the wound patterns on the three victims were consistent with, and may have been caused by, a serrated edge knife. This testimony becomes questionable when new evidence available after the trials is considered. Apart from testimony of Damien’s ex-girlfriend, Deeana Holcomb, that Damien had once owned a knife similar to the one found in the lake except it had a compass on the handle, there was no substantive evidence that proved either Damien or Jason had owned the knife. Damien admitted that he had once owned a knife similar to the one submitted as evidence but his had a compass attached to the handle and was of a different color. He claimed that he had sold this knife while living in Oregon in 1992, which agreed with the time frame given by Holcomb.

On the night of Damien’s arrest, a necklace he was wearing was taken in as evidence and sent away for testing as there appeared to be blood spots on it. The results of these tests were not available when other evidence had been presented at the trial so the prosecution asked for a continuance in order to obtain these results. The continuance was granted and the court reconvened two days later. The minute quantities of genetic material present for testing meant that only the blood types present could be determined. It was found that one spot was consistent with the blood type of Damien and the second spot was consistent with the blood type shared by both Jason Baldwin and Steven Branch, and 11% of the world’s population.

Because there was evidence to show that both Jason and Damien were known to wear this necklace on occasions, Judge Burnett offered the State the opportunity to re-open the case presenting the new evidence, if they would agree to a severance for Jason Baldwin from the State’s case against Damien Echols as it was no longer legally acceptable for the defendants to be tried together. The reason for this was that the evidence could now be used by either party to implicate the other in what is called an "antagonistic defense." The State chose not to present the evidence and proceeded to its closing arguments. This was probably because this new evidence was very weak and a case against Jason standing on its own merits would be very risky for the State.


With almost no evidence to link Jason, Damien and Jessie to the murder scene or the victims, apart from Jessie’s questionable confession, police continued to interrogate any acquaintances of the three teenagers they could find. Of all the people interviewed none could testify to having seen Damien, Jason and Jessie together at any time in the past. This hole was soon filled by Jerry Driver who testified under oath that he had once seen Damien, Jason and Jessie walking together wearing long black robes and carrying staffs. During the trial this may have been convincing testimony for the jury but in light of Driver’s own admission that he had often interrogated Damien for unsolved crimes in the area over the previous twelve months, its credibility is highly questionable. The fact that Driver faced embezzlement charges in 1997 and resigned from the probation office further diminishes his credibility.

To place Damien and Jason at the scene of the crime, police were able to find three witnesses. Narlene Hollingsworth and her son Anthony, a convicted sex offender, testified during Damien and Jason’s trial that Narlene had been driving them to a friend’s house on the night of 5 May 1993 and had seen Damien and his girlfriend Domini Teers walking near the Blue Beacon Truck Stop at around 9:30 p.m. Damien had been wearing a dark colored shirt and his clothes were dirty. Domini had been wearing a pair of black pants with white floral appliquéd patches. Narlene’s daughter, Tabatha repeated her mother’s story during Jessie’s trial.

There had been seven people in the Hollingsworth car that night but only four had been able to testify to having seen Damien or Domini. Ricky Hollingsworth, Narlene’s husband, stated that he had been unable to determine who the figures were. It was dark at the time of the sighting, which was very brief, yet the witnesses claim that they were able, not only to identify the people but determine that an already dark colored shirt was dirty. The prosecution itself questioned how accurate this sighting was when they attempted to imply that the witnesses had been mistaken in their identification of Domini. The prosecution attempted to suggest that the second person they saw was really Jason Baldwin wearing a pair of gray jeans with holes in the knees which Jason owned. Anthony, during his testimony, contradicted his mother’s story by placing the sighting an hour later than the 9:30 p.m. time stated by Narlene.

Further strengthening their case, at least in the minds' of the jurors, the prosecution presented the court with three more witnesses who claimed to have heard Damien and Jason verbally admit to their guilt of the murders. The first two witnesses claimed to have overheard Damien say "I killed the three little boys and before I turn myself in, I’m going to kill two more, and I already have one of them picked out." These remarks were apparently overheard at a softball game. They claim that they had overheard Damien make these comments to a group of friends. During cross-examination by defense counsel the credibility of this testimony was questioned. It was revealed that the girls had been unable to hear anything else that was said at the time, nor were they able to identify any of the people who had been with Damien at the time. It was also shown that one of the dates they had given that they had seen Damien at the games was after he had been arrested. The particular game at which the girls claim to have overheard Damien’s confession was held in early May, yet they did not come forward to police until after they had seen a report of Damien’s arrest on the television.

The third witness, Michael Carson, testified that Jason Baldwin had admitted to him that he had murdered the boys. Carson told the court that he had talked to Jason during a short period of time that he had attended the detention center at which Jason was being held. Carson testified that he said "Just between me and you, did you do it? I won’t say a word. He said yes and he went into detail about it. It was just me and Jason [Baldwin]. He told me he dismembered the kids, or I don’t know exactly how many kids. He just said he dismembered them. He sucked the blood from the penis and scrotum and put the balls in his mouth."

Judge Burnett ruled that the defense could not tell the jury that Michael Carson was a medically-diagnosed LSD addict because substance abuse was not sufficient grounds to argue the probativeness of a witness’s truthfulness. He also ruled as inadmissible a communication from Danny Williams, sent to both the prosecuting and defense attorneys. Williams was a counselor at the same detention center as Jason and Michael. He admitted that he had discussed the case with Michael Carson. The reason Williams had contacted the attorneys was that he believed Carson would be perjuring himself if he testified in court that he had heard the details of the crimes from Jason Baldwin when in fact he had heard them from Williams. Burnett ruled that to allow the jury to hear this information would be a violation of Carson’s right to patient-counselor confidentiality. It had never been proven that Carson and Jason had ever come into contact with each other while in the detention center.

'Cult Cop'

In order to prove pre-meditation and motive for Jason and Damien’s trial, the State called on the testimony of Dr. Dale Griffis. Griffis had received his doctorate from Columbia Pacific University in 1984 after studying by correspondence for four years. Since that time he had proclaimed himself as a "Cult-Cop" and gave lectures and seminars on the dangers of adolescent involvement in Satanic activities. It is difficult to determine his qualification for the term "expert," as according to the F.B.I there is very little evidence to substantiate stories about Satanic ritual murders in the United States. It seems that Judge Burnett, while questioning the validity of the discipline of social psychology as studied by Dr. Ofshe, did not have any problems with the rather dubious credentials of Dr. Griffis and allowed his testimony to be admitted.

The basis of Dr. Griffis’s testimony was that the crime scene "Bore the trappings of occultism." In his opinion, the most salient points in this crime which suggested to him that the murders were Satanic in nature were: -

  1. That they were carried out on a date close to a pagan holiday and on a full moon.
  2. That young children were often sought for sacrifice because they provided a "better ... life force."
  3. The number of victims reflected the significance of the number three in occultism.
  4. The age of the victims reflected the significance of the number eight as a witch’s number
  5. Sacrifices were often performed near water for a baptism-type ritual or just to wash the blood away
  6. The manner in which the victims were tied was significant as being tied ankle to wrist exposed the genitalia
  7. The removal of Christopher Byers’s testicles was significant as they are removed in Satanic rituals for the semen
  8. The absence of blood at the scene was significant because cult members often store blood for future services at which time they would drink or bathe in the blood
  9. The "overkill" or multiple cuts could reflect occult overtones
  10. The significance of most of the injuries being on the left side of the victim’s bodies was that people who practice occultism use the midline theory, the right side is related to those things synonymous with Christianity while the left side is that of Satanism
  11. The cleared area on the bank could be consistent with a ceremony

During cross-examination, Dr. Griffis admitted that if he had been asked by the State to testify to conditions opposite to the conditions described it could still be related to Satanic activity. He also conceded that his original testimony had not included the blood traits. He had included them only after learning that morning, that Michael Carson would be testifying that Jason Baldwin had confessed to sucking blood from Christopher Byers’s penis.

It would be interesting to know what scientific and empirical data Dr. Griffis based his opinions on as much of his information is incorrect, according to the Ontario Conference on Religious Tolerance. Apparently there is a Neo-Pagan festival held on the first of May, but it is only celebrated on that day, not four days later and Satanists do not hold rituals on a full or new moon. No evidence has been found that any children have been ritually murdered in the past century in the United States by the followers of any religion. The number three has no particular significance in any pagan religions, Christianity places more significance on this number because of its belief in a Triune God. The number eight has no significance in the Wiccan or any other pagan religions. Baptism is a Christian ritual which is not shared by any pagan religions and certainly not Satanists. The statement regarding the collection of semen from the testicles reveals a lack of biological knowledge as semen is not stored in the testes and is not produced at all until adolescence. The idea that Satanists drink blood has been claimed since the 16th Century although not verified. It would be expected that in the case of a Satanic ritual there would be evidence of other ritual tools, such as an altar, a circle on the ground and candle wax.

Dr. Griffis’s testimony, although highly questionable, was a repetition of the many myths and fears surrounding witchcraft and Satanism which were widely known by the West Memphis community already. Dr. Griffis’s words would have spoken deeply to the superstitions and fears of the jury and any attempt to refute them would probably have fallen on deaf ears.

In Jessie Misskelley’s trial there was very little emphasis placed on the supposedly Satanic nature of the murders. To show pre-meditation the testimony of Melissa Byers, Christopher’s mother, that Christopher had told her six weeks before his death that a man wearing black clothing had taken his photograph. This testimony had been given after it had been widely known that Damien was a suspect and was not substantiated by any other evidence, nor was there any proof that Damien was in fact the man in black.

Other Suspects

Despite the WMPD’s focus on Damien as their prime suspect there were other possibilities which were not thoroughly investigated, a situation which could easily lead to the assumption that police chose to ignore any evidence which directed the investigation away from Damien Echols.

On the night of the murders, at 8:42 p.m., the police received a call from Marty King, the manager of the Mr. Bojangles Restaurant near Robin Hood Hills. He reported that a black man "dazed and covered with blood and mud" had been in the women’s restroom for about an hour. Officer Regan Meek followed up the call by driving up to the drive-through window. She testified later that she had not gone inside as the restaurant was out of her ward. She also agreed that it had been near to the area where the boys were last seen. After the boys were found, police followed up on this report and took blood samples from the toilets. These samples however were mysteriously lost and no results are known. This incident became much more significant when laboratory reports showed that two human hairs were found on the victims' clothing, one of which was Negroid in origin.

In November 1993, John Mark Byers was interrogated by WMPD officers after he had given a knife to a member of a film crew who were making a documentary about the case. During questioning by the police, John Mark Byers admitted that he had given the knife away. He also stated that his wife Melissa had given it to him for Christmas, two or three years previously and he had never used it. He kept it in the top drawer of a dresser in his bedroom where he was sure that neither of the boys could have gained access to it. When asked whether anyone might have cut themselves with the knife, Byers stated that he was certain that no one had. This story changed when the interviewing officer told him that blood had been found on the knife. Byers then recalled that he had used the knife to cut up some deer meat at home. When he was told that the blood found on the knife had matched Christopher’s blood type, Byers continued to assert that he had no idea how Christopher’s blood had come to be there.

Later after test results on Melissa, Ryan and John Mark Byers were concluded, it was found that the blood stains matched in blood type with both John and Christopher Byers. No further testing was carried out which could have determined more conclusively whether it was Christopher or John Mark Byers’s blood.

Another item of evidence which could have linked John Mark Byers to the murders, at least as much as any evidence brought against Damien, Jason and Jessie, was the presence of another human hair on the victim’s clothing. It was a black Caucasian hair which was shown to be microscopically similar to both John Mark Byers and Damien Echols. Unfortunately, nothing more specific was determined.

During this interrogation the interviewing officer asked Byers what medication he was on to which he answered Xanax and Zorinal which he stated were anti-depressants. When he was asked whether he had any other medication he told police no, yet he had stated at other times that he was taking Tegretol which is the brand name of the drug Carbamazepine. This is the same substance which was found in non-therapeutic amounts in Christopher’s blood after his death. Christopher had also been taking Tegretol according to his medical records, but Byers had stated that Chris had not taken his medication on the day that he went missing.

Although there were many items of evidence that could have pointed to John Mark Byers as the murderer of the three boys, he was never considered by police as a suspect nor was he ever thoroughly investigated. It is interesting to note that John Mark Byers was on very friendly terms with the investigating officers and was a drug informant for the WMPD at the time of the murders. Could bias in favor of Byers and against Echols on the part of the investigating police have blinded them to any evidence which might have led the investigation away from Damien and toward Byers?

Finally, the tennis shoe imprint which was found on the creek bank near the bodies, did not match with any footwear owned by Damien, Jessie or Jason. This fact would again suggest that police should have been concentrating their investigations in another direction.

New Evidence

Prior to Jessie’s trial, Daniel Stidham had asked WMPD officers whether a criminal profile had been made on this case. He was told that none had been done. After the trial, he learned that the officers had lied to him. The FBI had presented the WMPD with a cursory profile in the form of a survey to be conducted to trace any Vietnam veterans in the area at the time of the murders. This determination was made solely on the nature of the injuries to Christopher Byers’s genitals as the FBI had not received all of the crime scene reports normally required for an in-depth criminal profile.

All efforts by Stidham to procure the services of a reputable and qualified Criminal Profiler before the trials were fruitless due to the lack of resources available. It was not until after the three young men had been convicted and sentenced that he was able to secure the services of Brent Turvey, who agreed to take the case pro-bono. Brent Turvey has a Master of Science degree and is a highly qualified and experienced Forensic Scientist and Criminal Profiler. At the time he was first approached by Stidham, Turvey was based in California and had not heard about the case.

Turvey’s Criminal Profile revealed many areas of physical evidence which were missed or misinterpreted by the Medical Examiner and Coroner on this case and overrules many of the assumptions made by police as to the nature of these murders. If all of this information had been available when the police initiated their investigation its outcome may have been very different.

In this case, Turvey based his report on a forensic examination of all of the available crime scene and autopsy photos, a crime scene video, investigator’s reports, witness statements, family statements, and autopsy reports. The purpose of the report was to "assess the nature of the interactions between the victims and their environments as it contributed to their deaths as indicated by available forensic evidence, and the documentation regarding that evidence."

After examining the evidence available, Turvey revealed a number of evidentiary points which had not been noticed during earlier examinations. The most important of these was his opinion that the patterned injuries all over Steven Branch’s face were not the result of an attack with a serrated edge knife, as was originally believed, but were, in fact, bite marks. This opinion was confirmed by Dr Thomas David, a board certified forensic odontologist, who identified the marks as being human adult bite marks. After comparing these marks with bite impressions obtained from Jessie, Jason and Damien, Dr. David gave his expert opinion that they did not match. Bite marks are extremely useful in identifying the perpetrator of a crime as they can be as unique as a fingerprint. Further suction type bite marks were also found all over Christopher Byers’s inner thigh.

Also, on Christopher Byers, was the impression of the knife handle on the right side of the wound in the genital area. It is not known at the time of writing whether this impression has been compared to the two knives presented at the trial as possible murder weapons. Turvey describes these injuries as having been brought about by forceful, violent thrusts which were neither skilled nor precise, but were rageful, careless and purposeful.

Another unidentified pattern compression abrasion was found on the back of Steven Branch’s head which Turvey believes is consistent with a footwear impression. He recommended that a footwear impression expert analyze the impression to make a more precise determination. At the time of writing, it is not known whether this has been done or what the results were.

The final piece of physical evidence which had not been thoroughly analysed at the time of the trials was a piece of torn cloth found in the clutched hand of James Moore. Turvey believes that this piece of cloth may be a potential link between the victims and their assailant, and for this reason needs to be fully examined by a qualified person.

The conclusions which Turvey draws from the evidence available were that:

1. The site where the bodies were found was a dump-site only and not the primary crime scene, it is more likely that there were actually four scenes involved in this crime: the abduction site, the attack site, a vehicle used to transport the boys and their bikes, then finally the dump-site in the woods.

  1. The extent of the injuries to the victims, especially the emasculation of Christopher Byers, would have meant a great deal of blood would have been at the scene. In this situation there was virtually no blood.
  2. There were search parties moving through the area which would not have given the assailant(s) the time needed to carry out the attack without being disturbed.
  3. The nature of the injuries to Christopher Byers would have caused him to scream. No screaming was heard by searchers or local residents near the site.
  4. There were no mosquito bites on any of the bodies which would be expected if they had been in the woods for the period of time that would have been required to carry out the attack.
  5. James Moore had an unexplained directional pattern abrasion just below the right anterior shoulder area. This abrasion was created by forceful directional contact with something that was not found at the scene.
  6. The nature of the attack required light, time and uninterrupted privacy. It was dark in the woods. The crime scene would more likely be a secluded structure or residence away from the immediate area of attention.

1. The assailant was someone known and trusted by the victims. The physical evidence, crime scene and victimology in this case are most consistent with the classification of a Battered Child or Child-Custodial Homicide.

  1. The fact that there were three children together suggests that it would have been difficult for the offender to take all three children unless he was able to gain their trust.
  2. The children would have been taken to another location before the attack began which implies a level of trust, also that intimidation and fear would have been factors in gaining control, suggesting that the assailant was much larger and stronger than the victims.
  3. The violence and level of force in this attack was punitive in nature, indicating that the offender was punishing the boys for some real or perceived wrong.
  4. The difference in the nature of injuries in the three boys indicates that the assailant had a different relationship with each of the boys. James Moore is described by Turvey as a "collateral victim" who was probably only attacked because he was with the other two. The severity of the blows to his head and the lack of damage from the ligatures on his ankles and wrists suggest that he was unconscious throughout the attack. The anger of the assailant , manifested in victim damage and sexual mutilation, is directed primarily at Steven and Christopher, indicating a strong personal association with them.
  5. That all of the related physical evidence was disposed of at the dump site suggests that the assailant believed he may be investigated because of his relationship to the victims and so had to dispose of any evidence.
  6. The dump site being so close to the point of abduction suggests that the assailant knew the area well and lived close by, to enable a quick return to an area of safety. He would also have to have been to the site recently to know that there would be water there at the time.
  7. The type of bite marks are most often seen in Battered Child Homicide.
  8. The presence of healed injuries on Christopher Byers’s body, Melissa Byers’s concern that Christopher was being sexually abused which she expressed to a school counselor before his death, medical records, reported behavioral problems and Chris’s diagnosis with ADD and other behavioral disorders, are all strong indicators that Christopher Byers had been physically, if not sexually, abused prior to this attack.
  9. Steven Branch had lacerations on his penis which were probably self-inflicted indicating a sexualized child, usually associated with sexual abuse.

1. There were probably two assailants. The primary assailant would have been a man whose focus was directed toward Christopher Byers. His accomplice may have been male or female.

  1. Three victims would have been easier to control if there were two attackers.
  2. The nature and range of injuries to Steven and Christopher indicate two separate assailants with very different ways of expressing their rage.
  3. The Battered Child nature of the bite marks on Steven Branch is more often associated with a female offender.
  4. The attack on Steven Branch was more punitive in nature than sexual.
  5. The "suck mark" type bite marks on Christopher Byers are more sexually oriented. The attack on his genitals suggests an offender who is ashamed of his own sexuality, possibly confused and angered by his own sexual impulses towards males. The offender was punishing Christopher for his sexuality and to establish, or re-establish, sexual ownership of him.

1. The primary offender in these murders is described by Brent Turvey as possibly having the following characteristics:

  1. Showing violent and selfish sexual behaviors.
  2. A very selfish and explosive individual with a potentially violent temper.
  3. Wants to be perceived as not caring how others view him.
  4. Would be described as hostile, angry and as someone who carries grudges.
  5. Would project a macho, heterosexual, in-control image.
  6. An egocentric individual who cannot tolerate the criticism or shortcomings of others.
  7. Requires instant gratification for his impulses and can react violently when those impulses are not satisfied.
  8. He may be glib and superficial and extremely manipulative.
  9. Dominant in all relationships with women.
  10. Very possessive and irrationally jealous in his sexual relationships, possibly manifesting in violent behavior acted out towards the females in his life.
  11. Would have a level of knowledge and sophistication in criminal activity through repeated offences, exposure to law enforcement training and techniques or previous arrests for similar crimes. May have spent some time in prison or commits petty crimes to support himself. Probably will have past arrests for drugs, violent behavior and assault.
  12. Very likely to have been married more than once. A misogynistic attitude toward women, and past relationships would have involved a great deal of physical and/or emotional abuse.
  13. If married at the time of the offence, the marriage would have been in crisis. His wife may have been the compliant partner in this crime.
  14. It is very likely that the offender would have been involved in the search for the boys, possibly dumping the bodies with the intent of being the one to find them in order to shift blame.
  15. Offender will probably have a collection of knives, and will possibly have a similar interest in firearms and guns.
  16. Will probably have a drinking problem or a drug habit supported by criminal activity.
  17. He is probably unemployed, unable to hold down a full-time job for a number of behavioral reasons.
  18. He most probably used his own vehicle in this attack which would most likely be masculine, like a truck.

This profile gives no support to the WMPD’s interpretation of the crime and, even if all of Turvey’s interpretations of the facts were to be discarded, the physical evidence he has revealed would make it virtually impossible for any jury to find Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The details of Jessie’s confession do not correlate with the facts of the case. The evidence that the children were not murdered in the area they were found in is overwhelming and his description of James Moore’s face being cut with a knife is overruled by the odontologist’s identification of the injuries as bite marks.

As Jessie’s confession was the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case against the three teenagers, its refutation effectively destroys the significance of any corroborative evidence which was put forward.


The situation today in the West Memphis Three case is that three young men have been in prison for six years. One of the them faces death. The evidence in the case is not strong enough to support a guilty verdict, yet all of their attempts to have their case re-tried have failed. It begs the question how can this happen? Isn’t the legal system designed to protect the innocent? How can it all go so terribly wrong? The problem is much easier to identify than the solution.

The problems with this case began from the moment the bodies were first discovered. Lack of experience and professionalism on the part of police at the crime scene meant that it was not properly protected and vital evidence was either destroyed or not collected at all. The failure to keep the sticks which held the boys clothing down in the creek is a prime example of this. The removal of the bodies from the creek before the medical examiner had arrived meant that more vital information was lost.

The same lack of experience was witnessed in the medical examiner's failure to take the temperature of the bodies at the scene. The failure to note vital aspects of the victims’ injuries further confused the investigators perception of the crime which was already clouded by assumptions they had drawn about the situation, based not on the scientific facts before them but on cultural bias, prejudice and limited experience.

Once the investigators had formed their limited view of the events surrounding the murders, they doggedly pursued any avenues which supported that view. Any information which contradicted it was quickly discarded as irrelevant.

Vital information regarding the case was openly discussed by the investigators with witnesses, suspects and the media. Information which should have been known by only the offender and the police was public knowledge, severely effecting the validity of any information procured from witnesses and suspects alike. Failure to consider that the information they were receiving from potential witnesses may have been nothing more than their own information coming back to them, transformed by the processes of rumor mongering, gave them the false impression that their own interpretations were being confirmed.

In their zeal to "get their man" and satisfy the community’s demand for "justice" the investigating police, knowing that their case was weak, used many questionable tactics to obtain the corroborative evidence they needed. Many witnesses were enticed to testify with the promise of reward money or leniency in other criminal matters, while others were bullied and intimidated into providing the information the police needed to support their own theories.

Once the arrests were made the adversarial legal system, which sets two opposing sides against each other in a quest to win rather than reveal the truth, worked to reinforce the view of the crime as perceived by the police in the first instance. It was the defense team’s job to refute their case and cast doubt in the minds of the jury. Whichever side could tell the best story would win.

In this case, the prosecution’s job was made easier by the amount of media coverage, supporting the police view of the crime, which the jury had been subjected to before the trials. The information that the jurors read in their newspapers and saw on their television, originating from police sources, reinforced the belief that three young boys had been brutally murdered as a part of some Satanic ritual. The media assumed no responsibility to investigate the truth of the information they received, it was presumed that the police information was based on real evidence and made good copy. The media "reports" confirmed an already widely held belief in the community that Satanic cults were a real threat to its safety and few would have questioned the conclusions drawn by the police.

A guilty verdict was the only course that could be taken to allow this community to feel safe again, to feel that they had the power to overcome an evil and, until Jessie, Jason and Damien were arrested, nameless enemy.

The fight to have the guilty verdict reversed would require that the judicial system, intrinsically bureaucratic in nature, look within itself and acknowledge its own weaknesses and shortcomings. Any admission of its own failure will only occur under extreme public pressure and outrage at the injustice which has occurred. It takes time for such a process to occur, statistically at least ten years. Jessie and Jason have a lifetime, but whether Damien’s time will run out before this slow process is complete is yet to be seen.


As the controversy continues over the case of these three young men, Jason, Jessie and Damien, another book was published at the end of 2002, seemingly launched from the questions raised in HBO documentaries and offering what author Mara Leveritt claims is "the true story." In Devil's Knot, Leveritt again lays out the case of the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. However, her clear bias detracts from the book's larger impact. It would have been better to tell the story in the way it unfolded, without commentary, and let the reader decide. She chooses instead to interpret for the reader those things that seem significant for her own ideas about the case. In addition, she makes the defendants into innocents, their defenders into tireless heroes, and everyone on the other side into backwoods ignoramuses who performed inept investigations, exaggerated evidence and covered up the crimes of another suspect.

There's no doubt that we have a judge in this case who acted like a referee deciding in favor of only one team, that we have a state legal system that was equally blind to serious legal problems, and that we have serious flaws in both the investigation and prosecution. However, not all of those who speak out for the defendants are without flaws. We have a criminal profiler, for example, who interprets the pathology evidence of crime scene photos well outside his expertise and who has been as much criticized for his self-promotion as has the prosecution's "self-styled" expert in satanic crimes. Leveritt goes after one but does not question the other. Her seeming reluctance to examine both sides equally hurts her case and gives the impression that she's writing this book as an activist rather than as a journalist.

To review, the three victims were battered and murdered on May 5, 1993 (one sexually mutilated), and three other boys were arrested and convicted, based principally on the confession of one. Everything hinged on Jessie Miskelley Jr.'s trial, in which his confession was clearly shown to be inconsistent and flawed, although the jury was still persuaded it was authentic and not coerced. While Leveritt says that they did not get to hear the full testimony of the defense's key witness on coerced confessions, Dr. Richard Ofshe, the trial records that she reports indicate that the jury certainly did hear his ideas about the techniques used to get the confession. He quoted from a study in the Stanford Law Review in which juries had convicted an innocent person in 350 cases, and 19 percent of those convictions were based on false confession. He also described the techniques of coercion used to obtain false confessions.

That Miskelley did not have a lawyer present was a violation of his rights as a juvenile, yet this got through the system anyway, even on appeal, and kept the machine rolling into the trial of Jason and Damien. The case was weakest against Jason, who had no criminal record and only a superficial association with Damien, but who Miskelley claimed had been the most brutal of the three. No one quite knows why Miskelley felt so compelled to provide such graphic detail of the brutality inflicted on the victims, and his conclusion after years in prison that "if you didn't do it, don't ever admit that you did," is incomprehensibly idiotic under the circumstances, but Leveritt makes no comment.

Yet the prosecution and jury seemed most bent on locking up Damien, who had a professed interest in witchcraft, who had admitted to drinking blood, and who preferred to read horror novels. He was also bipolar and took medication to alleviate depression. The second trial focused on the alleged participation of the "killers" in the dark arts, or the occult, rather than on any telling physical evidence. It's true that a suspect knife was found buried in a lake near Damien's house (Leveritt hints that it was planted by investigators) and that some fibers seemed consistent enough to link the defendants to the victims, but the case against them was made primarily on the fabricated testimonies of people who later changed their stories, who were seeking reward money or who were shown to have been lying. All three young men were convicted and Damien was sentenced to die by lethal injection.

Since these convictions, many voices have been raised in protest over the investigation and trial proceedings, and in support of the convicted boys, claiming a travesty of justice. An activist Web site was set up on their behalf by three Californians, who continue to pursue the case. Yet despite all efforts, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the convictions.

HBO produced two documentaries, airing them respectively in 1996 and 2000. The officials reacted, claiming that the program was biased and incomplete. The residents of West Memphis were duly insulted. They claimed that outsiders just did not understand, yet many of these so-called outsiders, appalled at the outright ignorance displayed in the films, flung further insults back at this seemingly self-righteous community where people still believed in a literal devil.

Leveritt, an Arkansas reporter familiar with local attitudes, decided to look into both sides of the issue. She interviewed many participants, read court transcripts, and looked at the evidence that she was allowed to examine. The question she explored was one of perception: could people in modern times still be so afraid of devil worship that they would react out of fear and convict three people of murder based on no evidence? In other words, "if presumably rational processes had given way to satanic allusions, it was fair to ask both how and why such a thing had happened."

Throughout the early part of the book, the spotlight is on John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the victims, Chris Byers. Given his checkered background, his brutality to family members, and his long list of crimes, he became a key suspect for the defense lawyers, the HBO filmmakers, and Leveritt herself. There is a strong implication in this book that he was close with the lead investigator, who was willing to overlook certain things, as well as with a judge who played an important role in the case. When Leveritt interprets his behaviors in a suspicious manner time and again, it's as if she is doing the same thing she accuses the investigators of doing: presuming guilt before he has been tried. That hurts her claim to objectivity, and by association, diminishes the impact of her thesis about the defendants.

Nevertheless, the shocking problems with the investigation are persuasively laid out, along with the social hysteria during the 1980s and early 1990s about widespread organized networks of Satanists. The way the media immediately assumed that "monstrous evil" was behind the gruesome murders indicts prominent news networks and magazines as much as it does the inept justice system in Arkansas. Other potential suspects—including one who confessed—were ignored, and several officials involved appeared not only to have been unqualified for their positions, but to some extent were outright voyeurs. They seemed, as Leveritt portrays them, to take great pleasure in the salacious details that they imagined about the murders. Apparently, a psychologist who assessed the so-called "ringleader" was not nearly as alarmed. Even Damien's supposed drinking of blood from friends seemed merely an adolescent fad.

Much like the hundreds of children in the McMartin Preschool case that occupied the 1980s in California, where seven people's lives were ruined because untrained social workers coached children to create false scenarios of abuse, the story told by Miskelley, who claimed that he and his two cohorts killed the three victims, was both inconsistent with the evidence and patently absurd. Yet adults wanted to believe them. Investigators also seemed to think that this confession was their best shot at closing the case. Even though Miskelley recanted at one point, the momentum was too great to let go. This book, while undermining itself in places, is a good study of the social psychology of a bad investigation, where so little means so much.

Damien Echols had a perfectly good alibi, but the tug to pin this on Satan was strong in a conservative religious community like West Memphis. Damien did say some things that were taken to mean he had knowledge about the crime, so to some extent, he hurt his own case. Not only that, he adopted the air of an alienated adolescent who views himself as socially disaffected, even bad. Few jury members were charmed. However, Leveritt accepts the superficial media grouping of Damien Echols' favorite authors, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. They are all labeled horror writers yet only King can truly be called that. Most of Koontz's novels emphasize the way ordinary people rise up to meet a larger-than-life bad guy and defeat him. They end on a high note. Anne Rice created universes for vampire characters, but they are more clearly in the genre of vampire romance than horror. She also has a family of witches who figured at that time in three novels, and Echols had said many times that he was interested in witchcraft in the religious sense, not in Satanism. Koontz has only one book in which a character builds an altar to Satan, and that character is destroyed. Rice has no such books.

Until one understands the distinctions among these authors, and then takes the time to learn what Damien Echols liked so much about these books, there's no way to know whether and how they might have influenced him. In fact, they could have exerted a positive influence, but assumptions got made by investigators, and Leveritt does nothing to clear them up. Each time she mentions any book that Damien read, she fails to provide much background. In a trial in which so much was riding on how Damien formed his character, this lack of analysis is disappointing.

In many ways, the meatiest part of this book is the section containing more than 400 references and notes. The real problems with the investigation, as well as with piecing together a coherent account, are shown in the many instances of confusion and inconsistent reporting.

It's also interesting to read about the incidents that occurred during the making of the documentaries, since these happened during the legal proceedings and afterward. For example, John Mark Byers gave the filmmakers a hunting knife with blood on it that turned out to be consistent with his stepson's, who had been castrated. They turned this over to the police. However, nothing much was made of it.

Similarly, the bite mark issue raised in one of the films was dealt with badly, both in the film and in this book. If there truly was an issue in which a bite mark could have exonerated the defendants, an exhumation could have been ordered to bring up the body and provide both sides with means for careful examination. As it stands, it appears to have been merely a side issue raised by a man with no training in forensic pathology and it was quickly dispensed with in the courtroom.

While there is much to appreciate about how this book offers behind-the-scenes investigative details and prosecutorial strategies, the author's apparent bias gives the impression that some aspects of the story may be missing. Certainly, everyone hopes that genuinely innocent people sitting in prison will be exonerated and freed, but this book will probably fall short in having much impact toward that end.

Request for a New Trial

Support continues to grow for the West Memphis Three, leading attorneys and celebrities alike to publicize the case and promote the innocence of Echols, Ballard and Misskelley. As a result, Damien Echols' defense team will appear before the Arkansas Supreme Court on September 20, 2010, to present a motion for a new trial.

His lawyers plan on presenting the testimony of Jamie Clark Ballard, who was 13 at the time, and whose testimony names Terry Hobbs, Steven Branch's stepfather, as the last person to see the boys alive. Ballard didn't realize until 2007 that Hobbs had claimed not to have seen the boys that afternoon. Ballard's testimony is backed up by that of her mother and sister.

Attorneys will also present new DNA evidence from two hairs found at the crime scene, one from the bindings on Michael's wrists that is consistent with the DNA of Terry Hobbs, and the other, found near one of the bodies, that is consistent with the DNA of David Jacoby, a friend of Hobbs whom Hobbs had visited about an hour before the boys' disappearance. Though police interviewed Hobbs in 2007 when the new DNA evidence first came to light, he was never considered a suspect.

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