Archives For Damien Echols

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Fund Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started! 

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

The Interfaith Mission Council (IMS) of Huntsville, Alabama has announced that Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk is scheduled to offer an invocation before the Nov. 6 city council meeting. In June, Kirk was removed from the schedule due to complaints from local residents. After much discussion, the Huntsville city council opted to maintain its inclusive prayer policy prayer rather than removing invocations entirely. The executive director of IMS, the local organization charged with coordinating invocation speakers, Jeannie Robison told AL.comWe [IMS and the city council] want to honor Huntsville’s commitment to being an Inclusive City and to meet Constitutional standards regarding freedom of religion.”

This past Thursday, the council demonstrated its commitment to diversity by inviting an Atheist to speak. Following that meeting, IMS announced that Kirk had been invited back. In response to the city’s actions, Kirk said, “I think it’s an extremely positive development for Huntsville, and it suggests that people have learned something from the unfortunate situation in June, and are really trying to do better.” You can watch Kirk’s invocation live on Nov. 6 through Huntsville’s live streaming site

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

On Sept. 28, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart posted a call on Witchvox for information about “Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials.” He wrote, “Since Morning Glory’s death, I have been inspired (nay, “assigned!”) to co-author a handbook for Pagan Final Passages—including green burials.” In the spring, the Church of All Worlds’ sacred land of Annwfn was legally-secured as an “officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials.” Morning-Glory was the first to be buried on that land, and Oberon is thankful to those who helped make that possible. Now he wants to turn his experience into, what he describes as, a “how-to manual.”

To accomplish this work, Oberon is looking for input from anyone who maintains Pagan land, a green cemetery, or anyone who is planning to build a cemetery space. He adds, “Previously, virtually all members of the modern Pagan community who have died (at least in the United States) have been cremated, as this seemed to be the only option other than the impossibly expensive and distasteful mortuary practice of embalming and burial in a fancy coffin in a concrete vault. But for many of us, cremation is a repellent choice, as we remember the Burning Times, and have no wish to consign our flesh to the flames yet again!”

10171120_828816003799940_5240040217082249423_nPagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 2nd online conference on October 9, 2014. The event is held in coordination with the Pagan Federation International (PFI) and is focused on “a variety of topics around the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft.” This October’s theme is “The changing of Magic: Modern and Ancient Witchcraft.” There will be two panels on the following subjects: “Ancient Witchcraft and its adaptation” and “Western Esotericism practices and the academy.”  

The online PAEAN conference is held twice a year, in the spring and fall. Coordinators hope that the unique online platform, which allows a diversity of people to engage in dialogue and interaction, will “increase learning, understanding and developing from the combined discussions.”

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

On Sept. 20, the CUUPS chapter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented local Pagan Spelcastor an award for “his long time service of 19 years as the gatekeeper and facilitator” of Pagan Pride Day held at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Spelcastor is now officially retired but, as CUUPS organizers said, “he will long be remembered for keeping the flame alive.” In response, Spelcastor remarked, “I am deeply honored by this outpouring of gratitude and reminded how persistent service to the Craft year after year pays off.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

That is all for now.  Have a great day!

 

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. [...] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. [...] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

  • The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, is still encountering difficulties in getting their new building in Salem, New Hampshire the proper zoning so that they can build a parking lot and make improvements. Neighbors say it isn’t about the Witchcraft, just traffic, but at least one neighbor disagrees with the notion of them identifying as a “church” even though no Christian denomination would receive such a challenge. Meanwhile, a new Hindu temple in the same area has been approved, while the Temple of Witchcraft is still having their essential “church”-ness questioned. Make no mistake, the Temple is in the legal right here, and I hope this is resolved before lawyers have to file litigation, costing Salem quite a bit of money.
  • Remember my analysis of last week’s elections here in the United States? I noted that religious demographics were shifting, and this may have been the first post-Christian election. To add more data to my assertions, Discover Magazine notes that Asian Americans, who voted heavily Democratic this cycle, have also become far less Christian, influencing how they vote. Quote: “Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?” In short, the more some Republicans want to become “God’s Own Party,” the more a growing number of votes will simply evade them.
  • Over at HuffPost Religion Deepak Sarma addresses the question of white Hindu converts, and whether this growing group, sincere or not, are engaging in a unintentional mockery of that which they profess to honor.  Quote: “So, no matter their sincerity, or self-proclaimed authenticity, their mimicry seems more like mockery. And, unlike the forced mimicry of the Diaspora Hindu, which may have subversive undertones and may destabilize the dominant ideology, reverse mimicry, ironically, merely reinforces existing hierarchies and paradigms. In fact, some claim to be more “authentic” than Diaspora Hindus and, in so doing, deny the voice of those they mimic/ mock.” Sarma goes on to posit that perhaps white converts can never understand the experience of the Hindu diaspora and wonders if welcoming Western Hindu temples and homes suffer from “post-traumatic, post-colonial, servile disorder” by accepting these converts. It should be interesting to see the debate and discussion this post incites.
Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

  • Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has passed another important hurdle on their road to becoming an established, recognized, seminary. After awarding its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, graduate, Sandra Lee Harris has had her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This frees her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain. Quote: “David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, congratulated her on her achievement, “This is indeed a milestone, both for your professional aspirations and for Cherry Hill Seminary.”  Oringderff noted the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.” We’ll have more on this story, and its implications, in the near future.
  • Check out this interview with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols, conducted by Henry Rollins, who talks to Echols about “his life before and after his trial, including his spiritual and intellectual journey in prison as well as his wife, Lorri Davis, whom he met and married while on death row.”
  • Back in 2010 I announced that long-running web magazine Heathen Harvest, which covered post-Industrial and neofolk music, was closing down. Now, the site has returned at a new address, with new owners, and with the blessing of the original founder. Quote: “Heathen Harvest’s second major incarnation came into being on 4th July 2011, learning from the past by chiefly reviewing digitial promos and concentrating only on the most stimulating music received. The new site has been respectfully named The Heathen Harvest Periodical to distinguish it from the old website, which still remains archived at www.heathenharvest.com. We continue to cover all material from the darker musical underground and to serve the needs and works of musicians, artists, authors and journalists alike all across the post-industrial spectrum.” The new site can be found at: www.heathenharvest.org.
  • In other Pagan-friendly music news,  UK Pagan band The Dolmen have just released a new album entitled “Wytchlord,” while fellow UK Pagan artist Damh the Bard (a most excellent human being) is coming out with a new album, “Antlered Crown and Standing Stone,” on November 17th.
  • At the New Yorker, Michelle Dean wonders if the folkloric witch has been tamed to its own detriment. Quote: “But the witch is no longer terribly wild to us; she’s domesticated, normal, prone perhaps to a spell of madness but one from which she’ll emerge sunny and whole. She no longer signals a liberating spirit. Culturally, we have replicated witch-figures like Samantha of “Bewitched,” whose powers aid her in serving her husband. Our emblematic witch is Hermione Granger, who performs all the magic and takes none of the credit from Harry Potter. She is self-effacing and noble and never in any real danger of contamination by the dark. There are bad witches in Harry Potter, indeed, bad witches in many stories. But their cartoonish one-dimensionality cancels out any real portent. The internal conflicts go to Snape, while Bellatrix is irretrievable.” Dean feels we need the uncontrollable and unpredictable witch in order to do battle with those who seek to control women.
  • The Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that a prison does not have to provide an outdoor worship space for Asatru in prison, noting that there’s no authority requiring it. Quote: “A federal trial judge concluded that Krieger failed to show how the practice of his religion, which is called Asatru, was harmed by the lack of a worship circle outdoors. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision.
  • In a final note, tomorrow I’ll be heading to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. and I’m hoping to post updates during my time there, and bring back some interviews as well. You’ll also have regular updates from Wild Hunt columnists and reporters to read while I’m away. I’d like to thank everyone who funded this coverage trip back in April, and will do my best to transmit what’s happening in Pagan Studies and Pagan scholarship to you.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

  • South Korea, one of the most Christian countries in Asia, is witnessing a revival of interest in its indigenous shamanistic practices, with local mudangs (priests or priestesses) being consulted by politicians and featuring on popular television shows. Sociology professor Shin Kwang-yeong thinks the popularity is due to Koreans dealing with the “strong uncertainties” of their modern existence, with many crediting shamanism with bringing healing and piece of mind to their lives. Quote:  “I felt something from my heart. This ritual has everything in there – happiness, sadness, anger and fun [...] Sometimes tears pour out from my heart. Sometimes it’s just fun when everyone is dancing and bowing. And, it’s healing.”
  • Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, admitted to having inappropriate sexual relations with at least one woman back in 2011. Now, a Jane Doe is filing suit against Euteneuer, alleging that the priest sexually abused and assaulted her, using his position as an exorcist as a means to force sexual contact. This spiritual/physical rape of the Jane Doe has caused the Catholic church to recall him for counselling and remove his “priestly faculties,” meaning he can no longer perform mass or other sacred rites.
  • There’s a deep connection between synthesizer music and the occult, Klint Finley explores it for Boing Boing. Quote: “You can find traces of the occult throughout the history of electronic music. The occult obsessed Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo built his own mechanical instruments around 1917. The famous Moog synthesizer made an early appearance in Mick Jagger’s soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s occult film Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. And in the late 1970s Throbbing Gristle built their own electronic instruments for their occult sound experiments, setting the stage for many of the occult themed industrial bands who followed. The witch house genre keeps this tradition alive today.”
  • The Border House looks at the controversy surrounding the upcoming game SMITE, and the protests from Hindu activist Rajan Zed over the depiction and ability to control their gods and goddesses, most notably Kali, in the game. The Border House also calls out the “pornification” of Kali. Quote: “This is truly disgusting. Not only is a faith appropriated, but it is done so in a way which turns a widely revered deity into a male sexual fantasy. A goddess in non-sexual nudity is somehow less preferable to a caricature in which she is put in a costume for the male gaze. Whether you agree with Rajan Zed or not about controlling Hindu deities as combat tools is not the issue. The cultural imperialistic mindset which allows a westerner to pornify symbols of Hinduism and yet think he has the right to lecture a Hindu about the religion, this is the issue.”
  • Associated Press reporter Christopher Torchia says that ancient Greek myths lend valuable context to the country’s current fiscal and political crisis. Quote: “Greek mythology is full of examples of how mortals should find the middle way in order to live a happy life, or as it said on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Nothing in Excess,’” Peter Meineck, associate professor of classics at New York University, wrote in an email. He noted that, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, “the first divine agent that caused creation was Eros — the spirit of erotic drive or the impulse to create anything.”
  • Tammy Trotter-Bazzle, a Pagan priestess living in South Carolina, shares her experience advising the pastoral staff at AnMed Health after a Pagan patience was admitted. Quote: “I feel blessed and honored to have had that opportunity. At the end of a day, good was done for the greater good. Pagan patients will be better understood at AnMed. And that was, after all, the reason for this class; to help the patient. I, along with many of the local Pagan community, are happy to see this step forward.”
  • A majority percentage of Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, non-Christian faiths, and unaffiliated religious believers favor same-sex marriage rights. Yet we are told that we must “protect” the conservative Christian viewpoint on marriage by denying all other faiths and traditions the ability to perform legal same-sex rites. How is this about religious freedom again?
  • Is polyamory ready for its close-up? A Showtime reality program is on its way, featuring neo-tantra practitioner and “bliss coach” Kamala Devi. Will Paganism make an appearance? Are we ready for the questions if and when it does?

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On August 19th the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.) were freed from prison in a plea agreement after 18 years of incarceration. 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. Now free, the three men attended the New York premiere of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the latest, and most likely last, installment in a series of documentaries that helped change public opinion on their murder convictions. Peg Aloi, a Pagan media critic, and longtime observer and commentator on the West Memphis 3, was on hand for the screening and was able to ask Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin about their religious beliefs.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

I felt lucky that I was called on to ask a question of my own. First I said thank you to Damien, Jason and Jessie, along the lines of “Thank you for surviving what must have been an unimaginable eighteen years, that most of here can barely imagine, and for being here so that we can all celebrate your freedom and your courage.” That got some applause, then I said, “You were convicted in part because of your beliefs, Damien: your beliefs as a Wiccan and a pagan. Then you became a Buddhist. I’d like to ask both Jason and Damien, what part has your spirituality played in your ability to survive the last eighteen years?”

Jason answered first. He spoke to the difficulty of accepting the fact that he could be found guilty when he was innocent, and looked to his faith (he is a Christian) to help make him strong enough to face his despair. Damien then said, “Two things helped keep me alive while I was in prison: my wife, and my spiritual practice.” He then said it was not only his practice that helped him mentally or emotionally, but physically as well. He said that he suffered physical torture of all kinds to his body, and that adequate medical and dental care were very hard to obtain in prison. He then added that one had to look out for oneself, and that his practices of reiki and energy work helped him keep his body healthy.

You can read more about Aloi’s thoughts on the screening, and the futures of the West Memphis 3, here. Another interview noted that Jason Baldwin said he wanted to go back to school so he could help “prevent similar situations from occurring.” Here’s hoping he succeeds in his scholastic pursuits, and that he need never encounter the gross miscarriages of justice that happened during the “Satanic Panic” years ever again.

For more on the West Memphis 3 from Peg Aloi, click here. You may also want to read John Morehead’s follow-up interview with attorney Dan Stidham (original interview, here), who represented Jessie Misskelley of the West Memphis 3 until 2008 (at which point he became a judge). Stidham says that “Satanic Panic convicted the WM3 and the hard work of many people from all around the world refused to let this injustice stand.” I would suggest reading the whole thing, as there’s a lot of great information to be found there. You can read all of the Wild Hunt’s WM3 coverage, here.

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.

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.

Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr. (aka the West Memphis Three) should receive a new evidentiary hearing, and that claims of juror misconduct should be examined.

“The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists’ campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing.”

The three teenage boys were convicted of killing three children in 1993 for what prosecutors claimed was a “Satanic ritual”, and used Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca to help convince a jury, with no physical evidence and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley, that they were to blame. 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.”

Over the years activists trying to prove the WM3’s innocence have gained high-profile support from Hollywood stars like Johnny Depp, and several books and documentaries have been produced about the case.

This new hearing may be the best chance for the WM3 to receive justice, and finally put an end to the shameful moral panic that jailed dozens of innocent people, sometimes for decades. By allowing this miscarriage of justice to continue we empower the subculture of “SRA” true-believers, give work to “occult expert” scam artists, and validate unrepentant politicians, social workers, and law enforcement personnel, who took part in convicting innocent men and women. As for Echols, who spends his days in solitary confinement “reading, meditating and practicing Reiki,” he just wants to experience the simple pleasures we take for granted.

“I miss the things that most people take for granted, things people don’t want, like rain … to go out and touch it and get wet, or to feel snow. I loved snow my entire life, and I haven’t had that in almost 20 years now.”

We’ll be keeping track of this case as the new trials start.