Update: West Memphis 3 Are Free

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 19, 2011 — 42 Comments

As speculated this morning, the West Memphis 3 have been released from prison in an Alford plea that allows them to be released maintaining their innocence, while still being considered guilty by the state of Arkansas.

Damien Echols talking to the press. Photo by Heather Crawford at KATV.

Here’s an official statement from Damien Echols on his release:

“To all my friends and family, my attorneys and advocates, and to those of you from every corner of this earth who have stood beside us these long years, please know that I will forever be indebted to all of you for helping me to become a free man. Each and every day I was the beneficiary of acts of kindness and humanity from people of all walks of life, of all ages, nationalities, religions and political persuasions. The enormity of the support Lorri and I received throughout this struggle is humbling.

I have now spent half my life on death row. It is a torturous environment that no human being should have to endure, and it needed to end. I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars. I want to live and to continue to fight for our innocence. Sometimes justice is neither pretty nor is it perfect, but it was important to take this opportunity to be free.

I am not alone as there are tens of thousand of men and woman in this country who have been wrongfully convicted, forced into a false confession, sentenced to death or a lifetime in prison. I am hopeful that one day they too will be able stand with their friends and family to declare their innocence.

This whole experience has taught me much about life, human nature, American justice, survival and transcendence.

I will hopefully take those lessons with me as I embark on the next chapter in my journey and along the way look forward to enjoying some of those simple things in life like spending Christmastime, Halloween and my birthday with those I love.”

Pagan journalist, media critic, and academic Peg Aloi, who has been covering this story for years, released a statement to me on hearing the news.

“Like many Pagans, I’ve been following this case since 1996, when the first documentary film came out. It’s impossible to overstate how important PARADISE LOST was in raising awareness about this case, or how controversial it was. Many viewers were convinced after viewing it that the West Memphis Three were innocent and had been railroaded; but many other viewers thought justice had been done. Certainly that is the sign of an effective documentary film that allows viewers to take in the events and make their own decisions; anyone who has yearned for justice in this case can’t help but be grateful to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their part in documenting this case. It’s hard for me to believe these men have been freed. I hope whatever surreal feelings that Damien, Jason and Jessie and their loved ones are having now will very quickly give way to celebrating their hard-won freedom.”

Despite the drawbacks of the deal, this is a historic moment, one that helps put an end to a dark period in America. There will most likely be a glut of media and attention on this deal soon, and I will try to bring you the most relevant coverage in the days and weeks ahead, but for now I am glad the WM3 have been freed. For some of my past coverage on this case, click here.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Peg

    It is so hard to believe this day has come. It has been so emotional for me and I am sure for so many. Damien’s statement was eloquent and stunningly gracious.

  • Eldritchhare

    The Satanic Panic reign of terror that descended upon America for a handful of years was, imo, seriously akin to the Dark Ages. Law enforcement, media, mental health professionals and churches piled on and supported the railroading of people based on spurious and inflammatory accusation with no foundation in reality. I doubt that I would be as gracious as Damien Echols though I certainly would have taken that plea arrangement so that I could immediately reclaim my freedom. Justice has still not been served, either to the families of the little boys who were murdered or to the West Memphis 3. They are entitled to monetary compensation, the humiliation of the people who railroaded them and public apologies all around at the very least.

    • Dea Syria

      Not Exactly In the dark ages it seemed reasonable that one’s misfortunes could have been caused by the ill will of neighbors because people believed in magic, and that is how magic works. This was utterly ridiculous and superstitious since we have known for some time that magic does not operate int he real world.

      • Norse Alchemist

        I disagree with you on the Magic working and operating in the real world….

  • No Bod E

    In this country, it isn’t about who actually committed a crime, it is instead about who prosecutors think they have the best chance of convicting. It’s a numbers game with human beings lives at stake just so D.A. can “show” that they are protecting the people.They don’t care who is really guilty. They don’t get that false convictions DO NOT protect anyone.

    • No Bod E

      I need to make a correction. False convictions protect the real criminals and allow them to commit more crimes.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/2RNWVAVXOQKAQI52V5ZV74QTV4 Mike

    About fucking time. To bad they got screwed over with the agreement. But it’s better than allowing one of them to be put to death.

  • Crystal Kendrick

    I’m very glad they are out. I’m saddened and angered by the plea deal. They deserve compensation AND we may never know who the real killer was.

  • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

    Goosebumps, tears, joy and anger….

  • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

    I would not breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The shadows of this past in America have informed our present. Many of the people who made good money off of this time of strife and pain are still doing it, and many of their accusations are now being spread globally. These times, at least to me, have not ended, so long as whenever my religious choice comes into question it can still be a factor in whether or not I retain custody, or keep a job, or am able to be safe.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I can’t help but think of everything that I’ve been able to do with my life since 1994 while they were in prison. I pray that they are able to savor and fully enjoy their freedom.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      I was thinking about that, too. They have missed so much. A good chunk of their lives are gone. Their youth, a time when the rest of us are sowing our wild oats and figuring out who we are and which direction we will take, was wasted in the prison system enduring who knows what. I feel so sad for them. I send them my prayers and well wishes.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    It’s not completely hopeless. Justice can be done. It can be slow, grueling, and half-baked, but it’s not impossible.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jer.willow Jennifer Walker

    Eldritchhare, I absolutely agree with you. I’m grateful these men are finally free, but I still look forward to the day they are completely exonerated of this horrendous crime.

    • Guest David

      They have been exonerated in the court of public opinion already. Along with being free, that’s enough for today. Tomorrow they’ll go to work to make it plain to all. Justice system or not.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7U556IIG7J56QNMBHTQT6IFYKU American Citizen

    sorry but if they were indeed innocent they would have never taken this plea. I really feel for the families of the brutally murdered children who now must watch as these killers walk and are treated like some kind of heros. Well, their kind wont change and it only a matter of time til they do in some other poor little kid.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      “if they were indeed innocent they would have never taken this plea”

      I’d like to see you sing the same tune if you were on death row. In solitary confinement. For 18 years.

      “these killers”

      Wow. Only someone how hasn’t researched or read about this case at all could so boldly claim they were guilty all along. Even the prosecution today admitted that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, and that they worried about being sued for millions.

      • Zz_mooc

        i totally agree!that is so true!! the prosecutors dont care that innocent boys spent 18 years in prison 1 on death row for something that they know they didnt do! all they care about is them not suein the living shit out of them for millions & millions of dollars which is well deserved anyway!!! people are just ignorant if you can just base your opinion on something you know nothing about other that what the prosecution says like they really give a shit!

    • Q.Q. Moar

      Please change your username; you’re an embarrassment to actual good citizens.

    • http://twitter.com/lunamoth42 Luna

      “feel for the families of the brutally murdered children[…]”

      You mean the ones who were on the side of the defense in this case?

    • Grimmorrigan

      Dear American Citizen,

      You appear to be an angry ill-informed individual who is more concerned with venting anger than understanding wht is going on. I’m sorry that you are so woefully ignorant of this cases that you would amke such a statement as you did. Mayhaps if you were to actually try this new learning tactic call “reading comprehension” you might understand this a litle more. Try it with critical thinking for a truely wonderful expereince. Until then, please take your relgiously motivated hate speech and outdated ideas of justice elsewhere.

      Really did you think you would change minds with this statement? I thought Chrsitianity had provisions against masturnation…mental or otherwise.

      Sin,
      Gr. I.M. Morrigan.

    • Zz_mooc

      but even the families of the boys said that they made a mistake in thinkiing that they were guilty..stevie branches mother admitted that she made a mistake in tryin to crusify those innocent boys with the justice system & she stongly believes that terry bradshaw did it!! if you were locked up for something you & so many other people know you didnt do wouldnt you just swallow your pride and accept the plea so you could get out & figure what really happened & who really did it to stick it to this mixed up,contriversal,and ridiculous justice system??!!!

  • Lori F – MN

    The families of the victims didn’t think the three were guilty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/papillonskeletons Papillon Skeletons

    I’d just like to point out that Peg Aloi recently wrote a very sexist article on Huffington Post and there has been a lot of outrage regarding it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peg-aloi/tough-gals-do-they-still-_b_924507.html

    I only post this because she deserves to be called out on this.

    • AnonGuest

      Right. Because if someone’s into social justice, they’d better be perfect all the time

    • Hbuchy

      I would but I’m honoring the boycott of Huffington.

    • Grimmorrigan

      Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Someone said something I disagree with. waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…..if I don’t like it it must be wrong and that person must be evil. waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    • Norse Alchemist

      Well, just goes to show. Conservative says something sexiest, they get burned alive. Liberal says something sexist, and those that complain about it roasted.

      Reminds me why I don’t read the huffingtonpost. It’s little more than a self righteous propaganda rag.

      • Souris Optique

        She was basically trotting out the “real feminists shouldn’t knit” b.s. once again. Considering your opinion of feminists, I
        a. can’t imagine why you’d care, and
        b. would think you’d be happy to keep long pointy objects away from us.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      That was a pretty asinine article but I don’t see what it has to do with the issue at hand.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bethnin Beth Winegarner

    I wish I could agree that this ends anything. As Damien himself said, there are many others who are wrongfully convicted. Some, like the WM3 and like Alexandria Boring, were convicted in part because they were profiled by prosecutors as “the killer type,” meaning goth/pagan/metal/etc. As long as we have people like Don Rimer informing police, and others sounding the gong that dark music or violent video games or goth affiliations can make someone turn violent, then this can happen again.

  • Ursyl

    Since the state is insisting on considering the 3 to be guilty, despite evidence and all this, I guess this means that they will continue to protect the real killer, thus letting that one walk free.
    Perhaps to kill again?

    This protects us, how?

  • The Bony Man

    Though I am happy that these three are finally free, my heart hangs heavy in my chest to know that justice has not been properly done for them. That they will always have the guilt on their legal records despite the obvious lack of evidence is criminal.

  • http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com/ Freeman Presson

    It is a wonderful thing that these three can breathe free air again. I am sure the legalese slicy-dicy of the Alford plea was an attempt to protect the state of Arkansas from a significant lawsuit that they could not otherwise hope to win.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RevCrystal.Blanton Crystal Blanton

    I am so blown away and excited to see this happen. I am so shocked……

    • Oberon Osiris

      I’m very happy to see this, but like some, don’t see true justice prevailing. And because of comments like American Citizen, we are so not through this. AC, whoever they are, probably would support Michelle Bachmann, a possible Republican Presidential candidate, who is strongly anti-anything not her brand of extreme Christian. And there are others; I believe Jason has spent time with Sarah Palin’s connections to similar idealogue (sic) Christians.

      Sadly, American Citizen represents the lingering threat to our right of religion…

      • Norse Alchemist

        I think American Citizen might be a troll….

  • Anonymous

    I remember the SRA panic quite well. One of my friends, usually a level-headed social worker, completely bought the idea that many people in our rural state were victims. I had a hard time accepting that this kind of ritual abuse was widespread anywhere, let alone in our state.

    I’m happy to hear that these three are free; it sounds like they were convicted with very little evidence. I hope the search for the true killers goes on; who knows what they have done in the last eighteen years.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IPLIO5VCWUG5F2M7XYVW27CTGU Jenna Stevenson

    The director of Paradise Lost, Joe Berligner, was on Democracy Now! today talking about what he felt about the release of the West Memphis 3. His interview is here: http://bit.ly/q4e9sb

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.conard Tim Conard

    i am happy that they are free, but i do wish that there had been an exoneration. this is still on the justice has failed side of tge board as far as i am concerned…

  • Watersedgeplumbing2005

    The real tragedy of all of this is that who ever did this is free and probably has done it again.

  • Zz_mooc

    im at a loss for words. i never thought that i would see this day come when they were able to be free again! it saddens me that it has taken this long for these boys to be able to say that theyre free again..its ridiciulous that they have spent pretty much theyre whole lives inprison & now the only way they could be set free is if they said that they did the crime so theyre still linked back to killing those boys!! all i want to see is terry bradshaw & mark byers burn in hell for this! thats who they should have been looking at the whole time so much more evidence pionts to them then anything ever pointed to the wm3! still im overjoyed to know that they finally have a chance to figure out who really did it n make them suffer for the years & pain theve endured just for simply being DIFFERENT