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!
@1NatalieMaines
Natalie Maines

More as it happens at the #wm3 Twitter feed.

UPDATE II: WM3.org says it’s done.

Everyone's screaming in joy! It's done. 18 years too long #wm3
@wm3org
WM3.org

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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