Breaking: West Memphis 3 May Go Free Today

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 19, 2011 — 14 Comments

The newswires are exploding with hints that the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.) may be released from prison today, the results of a behind the scenes deal.

The West Memphis 3

“Lawyers representing three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in a notorious 1993 murder case have reached a potential deal that could allow the men, known as the West Memphis Three, to walk free on Friday, people familiar with the deal said. […] The deal being discussed would not technically result in a full exoneration; some of the convictions would stand, though the men would not admit guilt. Should Mr. Echols be freed, it would be the highest profile release of a death row inmate in recent memory.”

The West Memphis 3 case is perhaps the most high-profile trial known in which the 1980s Satanic moral panic played a significant role, using Damien Echols interest in the occult and Wicca as proof of his murderous interests. The case was decided with no physical evidence, and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley.  Jessie Misskelley’s former defense attorney Dan Stidham, in an interview with John Morehead, paints a picture of the Satanic hysteria that surrounded the trial.

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

It’s easy to forget how pervasive anti-Satanic propaganda was back then, with many journalists and talk-show hosts (even Oprah) diving right into the hysteria.

The result was thousands of lives ruined, directly or indirectly, by this phenomenon until it finally lost steam and faced a backlash from investigators and skeptical Christians. As a society, we are still dealing with the fallout of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic, and many of those who participated enjoy high-profile careers to this day.

This new deal, if it goes through, was most likely triggered by the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruling that the West Memphis Three should receive a new evidentiary hearing, and that claims of juror misconduct should be examined. At this time the three men have entered the court room, and at least two will be released. I will update this post once the court appearance has finished.

UPDATE: It looks like a done deal according to singer/songwriter Natalie Maines, who is in atttendance.

The gag order has been lifted, so now I can tell you, I'm sitting in a holding room at the courthouse about to see three men walk free!
Natalie Maines

More as it happens at the #wm3 Twitter feed.

UPDATE II: says it’s done.

Everyone's screaming in joy! It's done. 18 years too long #wm3

More soon.
UPDATE III: The West Memphis 3 are free.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Am I understanding this correctly, they won’t say they’re “guilty” but have to plead it so that they can’t sue AK? The police department and judges should be ashamed of themselves.

    How horrible for the 3 of them and how horrible for the victims families, that the killer still isn’t caught.

    • Charu’Wahya

      You mean AR, I don’t think they can sue Alaska. And its more to point at a then probation officer. He wrote down a list of names and said those three are the most likely ones. That’s where it began.

  • I pray they not only walk free, but that they receive proper justice. They deserve to be compensated for the great injustice done them…

  • Soli

    May justice indeed happen for all these men. Natalie Maines’s tweet about one charge remaining so they cannot sue the state is disheartening if it is so.

  • How weird. This reminds me of a mental patient who was a regular on the locked psych unit where I worked in the late 1980s/early 1990s. She had supposedly been the victim of abuse by a “satanic” cult who had made her have babies so they could use the infants in blood ritual, etc. It was very lurid! Everybody believed her, too. I had my doubts, but kept them private.

    It turned out she was being used, but not by “satanists”–her husband was using her (because of her suggestibility and low IQ) to commit insurance fraud.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      That’s really…revolting.

  • Moggie_cat

    I agree with Vermillion. While I’m VERY happy they are free, I’m not happy that they had to do a plea deal. That is injustice!

    Never the less, I wish them all the best, I wish the families of the victims peace, and I hope real justice is served in the end.



  • Crystal Kendrick

    I wish some higher up folks in the media would apologize for their participation in and validation of the SRA nonsense. Just a dream, I know. I’m pretty upset about the plea deal. The prosecution has absolutely no sense of integrity. How do their consciences not eat them up? Shame on them. Not only will these men not be allowed to seek compensation for doing time- one in constant fear of his time being up- but a guilty party has been allowed to walk free for 18 yrs. Who knows what other crimes have been perpetrated in the mean time?

  • We ~now~ know there are such things as forced confessions? Like we didn’t know this 18 years ago? Or in 1693, for that matter?

  • vs-f

    I knew someone in our community who successfully sued a therapist for implanting false memories of ritual Satanic abuse and who then turned around and claimed– in the context of a ritual — that such abuse had actually occurred. My response was that this was someone not well-wrapped, with whom I should keep exceptionally well-policed boundaries. Alas, there were some in the community who took this person’s words at face value. I really truly think that no such thing as ritual Satanic abuse ever occurred anywhere in this country during the past century and that much harm was done by those who claim it existed.

  • Anonymous

    This should receive a new evidentiary hearing and the allegations of juror misconduct should be investigated. At that time these men entered the courtroom and at least two will be released.

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