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.

Jason Pitzl-Waters