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Fight for Innocence

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Submitted By supersam24
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One afternoon, in West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 6, 1993 three eight year boys’ bodies were found. The boys’ bodies were found hogtied, mutilated, and sexually assaulted. As the whole town was rocked by this discovery, the police decided they had to find the killer immediately. They automatically turned to their first suspect, Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old boy who was known around town for dressing in all black and listening to rock music. The next arrest was made on Jessie Misskelley, a friend Echols, who was coerced into falsely confessing his guilt. The final arrest was made with Jason Baldwin, yet another associate of Echols. The three boys became known nationally as the West Memphis Three (WM3). The boys had rumors around town saying that they participated in Wiccan circles and Satanic rituals. Many believed that the murder of the three eight year olds’ was for a Satanic ritual that Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were participating in. Even with a complete lack of circumstantial evidence from police, Jessie MIsskelley, at the age of just 17, was found guilty on one count of first degree capital murder and two counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to life in imprisonment without parole. Jason Baldwin was found guilty on three counts of capital murder. The 16 year old was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 40 years. Damien Echols was found guilty on three counts of capital murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. (Steel, “The West Memphis Three”). The town was convinced they had found and put away the killers, but the rest of the world was not so sure. Many people protested against the boys containment, including famous musicians from around the world. In 2007, with new technology, DNA evidence was recovered that showed the boys had no link to the case whatsoever. (Weinstein, “Lawyers file DNA motion in Cub Scout murder case”) .With an already faulty case, this new evidence caused the three men to be offered Alfred Pleas in exchange for their freedom.(Roberts, “Deal Frees ‘West Memphis Three’ in Arkansas). So what can be blamed for the nearly two decades imprisonment of these three innocent men? Is it faulty police work, or just plain ignorance? Biased-based policing has threatened our criminal justice system for years, police use faulty evidence and coerced confessions to accuse the teens of a crime they didn’t commit just because they had a negative stereotype surrounding themselves. This topic is important and interesting because society rarely wants to admit when something has gone wrong and prefers to turn the other cheek. Rather than working for a better place, society has become lazy and looks for the fastest way out, even though that may ruin someone’s life.
William Blackstone once said "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." The police began setting up their case by using a witness, Aaron Hutchinson, a young a boy who claimed he witnessed the murders. The boy told several different stories, none of which added up and none of which pointed in the direction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. Aaron was not even able to identify Baldwin or Echols in a lineup, but still the police pressured him into trying to accuse the three young men. Other witnesses they interrogated all had faulty stories, inconsistent timelines, and one was even a drug addict (although the defense would not allow this information to be shared with the jury). Although the West Memphis Police Department (WMPD). had countless pieces of evidence against other suspects including the stepfather of one the murdered boys, they still decided to pursue Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley. In June of 1993 Jessie Misskelley was unconstitutionally question by the WMPD. During this time the WMPD intensely interrogated the teenage boy until he was coerced into giving a false confession. (Steel, “The West Memphis Three”). This confession, although should have been considered inadmissible for being illegally obtained and against his basic due process right “guaranteed by the Fifth and the Fourteenth amendment that laws and processes be fair.” (SBCC, 259). was still used in Jessie Misskelley’s trial. Other faulty information provided against the three boys included fibers from a t-shirt that were only microscopically similar to fibers matched on the victim, although during cross-examination the defense showed that these fibers could belong to any number of shirts. If this same case happened today, the West Memphis Three would have had a better chance of remaining innocent men. Firstly, since 1993 DNA testing has had tremendous improvements since the 90’s. According to the Innocence Project, since 2000 there have been 249 exonerations in the United States. Secondly, social media has grown vastly. The spread of news can happen in a matter of seconds these days and anyone with a basic computer or cell phone can access information, more easily than ever before. Thirdly, the criminal justice system has been working harder to eliminate discrimination to people who are in one way or another considered ‘different’. If this case had gone to trial in 2014 rather than 1993 it is strongly believed that the WM3 would have been able to pull together a stronger case. It is very important for Police Officers and other Criminal Justice employees to put forth the effort into efficiently and correctly solving a case rather than trying to finish it in a quick amount of time that has no durable evidence. Not only is morally important but legally. If an officer doesn’t give a defendant basic access to their due process rights it can result in major consequences for both the police officer and the defendant. As for the case of the WM3, Jessie Misskelley although interrogated against his rights was not allowed to recant his confession and it ended up landing himself and his two friends in federal prison. This case does not utilize the law. The WM3 were not awarded their rights throughout the Criminal Justice process. While Jessie Misskelley was being interrogated the police did not obtain the parental consent to interview him there, or give him his right to fair and equitable treatment. The WMPD used intimidating methods, held him for long periods of time, lost nearly three hours of his interview footage, and used Misskelley’s confession even though it was extremely inconsistant. When an expert social psychologist came in to prove that Misskelley’s confession was coerced. However the evidence was ignored, and forbidden from letting the jury know. The jury was also not allowed to know that one of the witnesses brought the stand was an LSD addict whom had been in and out of rehabilitation and prison facilities. The courts brought witnesses who they believed would tell the people of the jury would believe. A change of venue could have almost guaranteed unbiased perspective as the people of West Memphis had constantly been spewed with anti-satanic magazine and newspaper article. The media fueled the flame of the biased ideas towards the WM3. There were several amendments that were violated during this case. The 5th amendment states “...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..” these rights were violated when Misskelley was held for question without parental consent and when he was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit. In the 6th amendment it says “...the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury….” this right was infringed upon when they were in a town that had a bias against them because of media outlets, gossip and negative stereotyping. The WM3 were not treated fairly, not being allowed to show in court the only evidence that would prove them innocent. Several years later when DNA was shown that linked none of the WM3 to the crime scene, a request for new trial began. The three men were offered what is know as an ‘Alford Plea’. An Alford Plea is defined as “a guilty plea entered as part of a plea bargain by a criminal defendant who denies committing the crime or who does not actually admit his guilt.” While Jason Baldwin was hesitant to take plea, wanting to be an innocent man not a guilty one, he took it for the sake of his friend Damien Echols. Damien was facing death row and if this DNA evidence had not come up an innocent man could have been put to death. August 19, 2011, the three men know as the West Memphis Three stood pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder, and were released from prison. Many were outraged by the release of these three but many rejoiced. Many big names such as Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke out their beliefs in the WM3’s innocence and they both attended the final trial for the three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley spent eighteen years and seventy-eight days in prison. Based upon the research of this topic. A conclusion could be made that this case was purely made up of faulty policing, and a faulty justice system. Everyone from the police responsible for the arrest, to the judges, to the jury had an extreme biased. In the United States of America people are supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” but in this case these boys never stood a chance. “Damien Echols claims that he was found guilty long before the trial began because he was considered weird by many in the community…”(Steel, “The West Memphis Three”). This is true, from the beginning police had always tried to pin this on the WM3. Even with no direct or circumstantial evidence WMPD were still trying to pin the tragic deaths of the three boys on the WM3. Many parts of this case can be taken and used for examples for what not to do when running a case. Police Officers and Attorneys around the US should study this case to learn from it the many ways that they can create stronger cases etc. This case is also important to help learn the importance and significance of letting innocent defends go free. Eighteen years is a long time, being in prison for eighteen years leads to missing out on a life. This case could help exonerate and prove the innocence of hundreds of other inmates being held in prisons across the countries. Although there is a lot of joy in the release of these men, and the saving of a life. It is important to remember as well for the three young boys who were murdered justice has still not been served.
Works Cited
30, October. "Lawyers File DNA Motion in Cub Scout Murder Case." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 30 Oct. 2007. Web. 08 May 2014. .
"False & Coerced Confessions Lead to Wrongful Convictions in California." False & Coerced Confessions Lead to Wrongful Convictions in California. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2014. .
"The Innocence Project - DNA Exonerations Nationwide." The Innocence Project - DNA Exonerations Nationwide. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2014. .
Masters, Ruth E., Ed. D, Lori Beth Way, Ph. D., Bernadette T. Muscat, Ph.D, Michael Hooper, Ph.D, John P.J. Dussich, Ph.D, Lester Pincu, and Candice A. Skrapec, Ph.D. Intro Administration of Justice. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.
Mezzaroba, Isabella. "Science Leadership Academy Learn · Create · Lead." The West Memphis Three — Science Leadership Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2014. .
Robertson, Campbell. "Rare Deal Frees 3 in '93 Arkansas Child Killings." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. 08 May 2014. .
Steel, Fiona. "A Most Heinous Crime." The West Memphis Three — — Crime Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. .
Wild, Susan Ellis. Webster's New World Law Dictionary. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. Print.

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