(This is going to be a long one. Sorry.)
I’ve already written in this post
about my change from goofy-haired political activist to slightly-less-goofy-haired writer, and how that has affected my view of the West Memphis 3. One thing I noted in that post is that it is hard to find any websites that lay out the case against the teens. That's what this post is for: an entry level explanation of why people think the three are guilty. Sort of the opposite of the front page of this West Memphis 3 site
I should point out that, along with this invaluable website
, I learned a lot about the case reading the arguments on this website
and this website
. Even though the discussions on the two boards can sometimes read like a transcript of the Crips/Bloods Summer Picnic, there’s also a lot of information to absorb.
Just in case you've never heard of the West Memphis 3, here's the case in a nutshell: Three young boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. After a teen named Jessie Misskelley confessed to the crime, he and two other teens, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, were found guilty in two separate trials. After an HBO documentary called Paradise Lost
was aired which cast doubt on the verdict, a large number of people, including many musicians, began clamoring for their release. The supporters’ claims generally state that Misskelley's confession was coerced and that local authorities focused on Damien Echols due to his creepy "Goth" persona. While the conviction has survived multiple courts and appeals, public support (especially on the Internet) still maintains the trio's innocence.Parents Just Don’t Understand
Myth: Damien Echols was a "troubled outcast" targeted for his long hair by dumb yokels who thought heavy metal equaled Satanism.
Truth: Damien Echols was seriously mentally ill.
Many supporters like to use the line "This could have happened to any of us," as if the government was going after metal fans and Wiccans with the same vigor they pursued Communism in the ‘50s.
This is an especially attractive myth for people who like to think that a funny hairstyle or black clothing is a valid form of rebellion that the Man needs to quash (“Mabel, I saw a t-shirt today that said ‘Goddess Bless.’ I’m votin’ Green Party from now on.”) But, while lots of people might have been outcasts in high school, but they probably didn't:
*Stay in a mental hospital, where a doctor listed “extreme physical aggression towards others” as one of the problems.
*Threaten to attack their parents.
*Tell a therapist that drinking blood gives them power.
*Suck the blood out of a wound in front of detention officials
*Kill and mutilate a dog (this is supported by police reports from both an eyewitness to the mutilation and someone who found the dog's corpse. A dog's skull was also found in Damien's room after his arrest).
*Receive full disability from the government for mental problems.
And, in the unlikely event that all of that is true about you, guess what: you might be a murder suspect some day. Folks complain that the “rumor mill” convicted Echols before his arrest. Can you wonder why? You don’t need to believe in a vast satanic conspiracy to see the boy ain’t quite right.
Let’s talk about forced confessions, shall we?The Many Confessions of Jessie Miskelly
No one would argue that Jessie’s conviction kept him from a life of a Rhodes scholar. Nit-picky arguments will break out on occasion on what exactly to label Misskelley: Retarded? Borderline Retarded? I’m going to simplify the whole thing by call him what he definitely is: a dipshit. His lawyer says that Jessie liked to shatter Coke bottles with his fist to show how tough he was. So, dipshit it is.
Was Jessie’s confession coerced? If you define “coercion” the way most people think of it (say, the way they got confessions during the Inquisition), then the answer is a definite “no.” Despite what some sources state, Jessie was not browbeaten for 12 hours without parental consent. He made his first incriminating statement after a few hours in custody, and his father knew exactly where he was.
But, according to a sociologist who testified (mostly out of the jury’s earshot) for Miskelly, these few hours of questioning were enough to make Jessie snap and begin lying to his own detriment. Dr. Richard Ofshe, the sociologist in question, said the police’s questioning techniques helped to get a false confession. Ofshe has published several papers that argue that modern interrogation techniques are psychologically overbearing and should be thrown out. Police, who solve somewhere around 80% of the major crimes they close through confessions, would argue that the relatively small number of false confessions aren’t worth losing the crimes they solve. (I haven’t found any hard data that can say what percentage of confessions are “false,” if anyone out there knows, please leave a comment).
So, the question becomes: how much protection from the law do dipshits deserve?
Jessie, by the way, didn’t confess just once. He confessed twice on tape, once after his conviction. He also confessed to some guards at one point and perhaps even to a friend before his arrest. Jessie, some folks say, is easily led, but during his second confession, you can hear his attorneys pleading with him not to confess. He does so anyway. So, he’s got a little backbone.
The other big problem people have with Jessie’s confession is its discrepancies from facts. This can be a little troubling. But here’s the thing: as we established, Jessie is a dipshit. Not only that, but, according to his second taped confession, Jessie drank enough Evan Williams to make himself sick the night of the murder (a statement with some evidence behind it, I might add). Maybe you’ve never drank Evan Williams. It’s not exactly a sippin’ whiskey. So, let’s perform a test. Drink enough E.W. to make you vomit and then play a game of Memory. How’d you do?Circumstantial Evidence is Okay
Hard evidence, like a videotape of the crime being committed, is like a prefab house that the prosecutors can just move into right away. Circumstantial evidence is a brick. Sure, you can point at a brick and yell, “That’s not a house,” and you’d be right on, Braniac. But you can still build a house with bricks. Let’s lay some, shall we:
Jessie Misskelley’s many confessions
Damien’s pre-arrest hinting that he’d been involved in the murder
The girls who testified that they heard Damien confess
Jason Baldwin’s jailhouse confession
Damien’s mental illness
Secondary fiber evidence
Two types of blood on Damien’s necklace
Jessie’s weeping spells right after the murders
The knife found behind Baldwin’s house
That’s a big pile of bricks. While you might be able to destroy a few of them (I find Baldwin’s “jailhouse confession” to be a little suspect myself), there’s still a lot of evidence pointing to the trio. This is where Occam’s Razor comes into play. You can choose to believe all this evidence is the result of perjurers, corrupt evidence-planting cops, incompetent judges, yokels too dumb to think for themselves, cruel interrogators, coincidence and prejudice. Or you can believe that the West Memphis 3 are guilty. Remember, don’t make assumptions you don’t have to make.
This is not the full story … if you want to learn more, you should by going to the message boards linked to above. But, as WM3 awareness day rolls around, you might be tempted to give some money to the cause. You’d better be sure that your money isn't going to child murders. Are you?