‘West Memphis Three’ Jail Release Garners Mixed Reactions From Fathers Of Victims

Written by Rob Soto on Aug. 21, 2011

After entering guilty pleads in the 1993 deaths of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts, the three men known as the “West Memphis Three” were released from a Arkansas jail on Friday.

Two of the three men — Damien Echols, 36, and Jason Baldwin, 34 — entered their guilty pleas in a Jonesboro, Arkansas courtroom on Friday to three counts of first-degree murder. Jessie Misskelley, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder as well as two counts of second-degree murder.

The three men were released due to a rare arrangement that allows defendants to maintain their innocence while at the same time entering guilty pleas, called the Alford plea. Echols was on death row for his role in the murders and was the alleged ringleader, while Misskelley and Baldwin each had life sentences. The three had served more than 18 years behind bars.

The men were allegedly behind the slayings of Christopher Byers, Steven Branch, and Michael Moore in West Memphis, Arkansas in May of 1993. A court filing described the three boys as being found “naked, bound and in horrific condition, submerged in a creek in the woods.”

In court, Echols said that he was imprisoned for a “crime that I did not commit.” Rather, he says that he and the other two men were convicted based on rumors and innuendo.

In 2007, DNA evidence linked Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of victim Steven Branch, to the crimes. Hobbs denied seeing the three victims at the time, but the attorney of Echols say that at least three eyewitnesses said that Hobbs was last seen with the 8-year-old victims.

Prosecutor Scott Ellington said that the case is closed that that despite the DNA evidence, Hobbs was not a suspect.

In addition, none of the DNA of the the three men were found at the scene of the crime. It was also found that Misskelley’s confession, who confessed to the crime first and implicated the two others, had several inconsistencies in it. The father of victim Steven Branch felt that the three men murdered his son.

At one point in the high-drama courtroom, Branch yelled out loud, “If you go through with this, you’re going to open Pandora’s Box. … You’re wrong, your honor. You can stop it right now before you do it.” Seconds later, law enforcement escorted him out of the room.

“They said a deal had been made or is about to be made for … the animals that killed my son [to] probably be released. I don’t know what kind of deal they made … now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you and you can walk free for killing somebody,” Branch said before the hearing.

He later told CBS affiliate WREG that he was against the release of the men.

“I’m thinking about what kind of sad day this is for the justice system that’s going to allow some convicted child murderers to be set free simply by admitting they killed the child,” said Steve Branch, father of Steven Branch, said. “If the justice system allows this, it’s going to open the door for every convicted murderer on death row to have a chance to say ‘yes, I killed him’ and be set free.”

However, another father, John Mark Byers, felt that the defendants were innocent. “It’s a total injustice,” Byers said. “These three men are being made to plead guilty to something they didn’t do.”

  • Behoove1

    ““If the justice system allows this, it’s going to open the door for every convicted murderer on death row to have a chance to say ‘yes, I killed him’ and be set free.” I know the guy has been through hell, but this is just stupid.

  • Moe

    Steven Branch cannot examine the new evidence rationally because he is understandably emotionally invested. But shouldn’t a parent of a murdered child want to know the truth of who killed their child if evidence points in a direction other than that of those convicted? Particulary when evidence points in the direction of your child’s stepfather.

  • kolione@kolione.net

    Has either 1 of you ever had a son die? murdered?
    or is your heart and mind set on as long as its race related..its different than any other heinous crime?
    New evidence? ? but the case was closed!right??
    Develop a design to think beyond a system created
    by the u.s constitution,that even then those who wrote it had black slaves on their land..hmmm!!!
    but its racism in this case and since our justice system can’t figure out anymore who commits murder based on that.. which was easy, then how do u explain Casey Anthony and the justice system failure there. its funny how logical people are when it … nvm

  • criminologist graduate

    I wouldn’t consider wearing black and listening to heavy metal music a race, but it is a case of small town fear of ‘the unknown’. When looking at the case facts since 1993, it is clearly a case that was built on this fear, not evidence. The sad fact remains that after 18 years, the real murderer is unknown, and the West Memphis Three have lost half of their life to the judicial system. There is no justice to be found in this case

    • Tanyaisa

      CJ Forensics student:   I totally agree with you, and I wear what I buy from Hot Topics among other clothing stores that might be considered strange.