And yes, it’s true – the West Memphis Three have finally been released after serving 18 years for a crime they did not commit. It’s apparent that the state of Arkansas knew they couldn’t win a retrial so they gave themselves an easy “out”. It’s wonderful that they are finally free, but it’s sickening that the prosecutors are considering this “case closed” and will not be searching for the real murderer. And it’s also sickening that some people still presume their guilt despite the complete lack of evidence. Their only crime? Daring to look different in a close-minded town. If you haven’t seen the documentaries “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Lost 2” I highly recommend them. I’ve dug back into the MFDJ archives for my original reviews and for a review of WM3 “ringleader” Damien Echols’ excellent book.
The Comtesse Reflects On…
The West Memphis Three (Originally Published 10/22/06)
I am embarrassed to admit it, but until this weekend, I had never really studied the case of the West Memphis Three. However, this past weekend I watched the documentary Paradise Lost – The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills, followed by its sequel Paradise Lost 2 – Revelations. I was absolutely amazed and appalled at what I saw. Most of you are probably familiar with the case already, but for those of you who are not, the films revolve around a triple-murder of 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas on May 6, 1993. The bodies were found in a ravine and a short time later police arrested three local teenagers, linking the boys’ killings to a satanic ritual. One of the boys confessed, and they were eventually convicted, with two of the boys being sentenced to life imprisonment and one being sentenced to death.
What you learn while watching these films is that, apart from the confession, there is literally NO EVIDENCE to link these three to the killings. And the confession – made by a teenage boy (Jesse Misskelley) with an IQ of 72 after 12 hours of intense police questioning – was obviously coerced. During the taped confession, Jesse gives incorrect details that the police correct in order to get him to say what they want him to say. Jesse immediately recanted his confession, but it was too late – the police and the public had already decided to make a scapegoat of the three young men. Their only crime? Being different.
The alleged “leader” of the three, Damien Echols, wore black clothing, had dyed black hair, listened to heavy metal music, and admitted an interest in Wicca and Satanism. And the other two were mainly convicted based on guilt by association. To an educated individual, the entire idea that these murders were satanic ritual killings is, of course, ludicrous! The bodies of the boys were found naked. They had been tied-up, stabbed, raped, bitten, and beaten, and one of the boys had his penis cutoff with a knife. There was no blood found on the scene, indicating that the boys had been killed elsewhere and dumped in the ravine. There was absolutely nothing in the positioning of the bodies or the manner in which they were murdered to suggest a ritual killing (even if you believe in the absurd notion that satanic killings ever actually take place, which I don’t believe there is any evidence to support).
It’s pretty obvious to us morbid types that this is a sex slaying… and all evidence points to the mutilated boy’s father, John Mark Byers. (NOTE: Since this review was written, John Mark Byers did a complete 180 and became an outspoken supporter of the innocence of the WM3. Which, of course, doesn’t mean he *didn’t* commit the murders, but it does seem unlikely – so all my comments below may just be mumbo-jumbo after all.) His hateful presence dominates both films – as he wishes death upon the West Memphis Three in the most explicit of manners, while obsessively following the trials and every subsequent appeal. The circumstantial evidence to point to Byers as the killer is overwhelming: he had a history of violence; he had abused his son (physically) and his wife had suspected that her son had been sexually abused as well; his son Christopher was the only boy who had been sexually mutilated and who had bite marks on his face, indicating a special level of rage was directed at him compared to the other boys; he had supplied a knife to the filmmakers and they noticed what appeared to be blood on it and turned it into authorities who determined that the blood, based on its type, could have belonged to either Christopher or John Mark Byers (unfortunately, this was prior to DNA testing, and this test destroyed the blood evidence); he was the first to report the boys missing; he was the only parent to continue to fanatically follow all of the appeals and talk extensively to the filmmakers (exhibiting that peculiar tendency of some killers to stay involved with the case), etc.
But the biggest evidence, in my mind, of Byers probable guilt is the fact that after the trial, he had his teeth all removed. The defense bungled the original autopsy by not catching that there was a bite mark on Christopher Byers’ face. During the appeal process, they compared the bite mark to the bite of the West Memphis Three and it did not match any of them… but, wouldn’t you know it, they couldn’t compare John Mark Byers’ bite mark because he’d had his teeth removed. During Revelations, he comes up with a couple of different stories for exactly why he had his teeth removed: 1) they were knocked out in a fight or 2) they fell out due to periodental disease caused by some medication he was taking. Dental records actually show that they were simply removed at Byers’ request – for no medical reason at all. Hmmmm, suspicious? Oh, and did I mention that his wife also died under suspicious circumstances as well, and that investigation is still open?
And what evidence is there against the West Memphis Three? The taped confession of Jesse Misskelley couldn’t even be used as evidence against Damien and Jason, so all that the prosecution had was some clothing fibers that were matched to the scene (which isn’t very compelling evidence, to say the least, since some types of fibers are extremely common) and some witness testimony about overhearing Damien bragging about the murders (one of the witnesses has since confessed that she lied under oath). It’s basically nothing more than a modern-day witch hunt – and the West Memphis Three have been imprisoned for 13 years now, as appeals are denied and time runs short for Damien on death row.
To say that this story has pissed me off is an understatement. Who among us wouldn’t fit the description of the West Memphis Three: dark clothing, an interest in the occult, an interest in alternative religions, dark music. It’s amazing to think that in this day and age, someone can still be sentenced to death when there is no evidence against them – just because they are different from the norm and freak the jury out.
If you haven’t seen these films, I highly recommend you take a look. It’s too important a topic to avoid. I also encourage you to get involved by checking out the Free The West Memphis Three organization website.
Review of Almost Home: My Life Story Vol. 1
by Damien Echols (Originally published 05/14/07)
Damien Echols, as you may be aware, is one of the West Memphis Three – the trio of teenagers who were convicted of murdering three boys in West Memphis in 1993 despite the absence of any physical evidence linking them to the crime. Damien was considered the “ringleader” of the murders and has been spending the last 13 years on death row. The story of this great travesty of justice (which is nothing more than a modern day witch hunt) has been well-explored in the documentaries Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2, but this autobiography presents the story from the perspective of Damien himself. It’s a fascinating read.
I was surprised to find that the part of the book I found most interesting wasn’t his early life or his trial, but rather the years behind bars. The way in which Damien has managed to keep himself sane and actually improve himself, both physically and intellectually, while on death row is amazing to me. He realized early on that his anger would end up destroying him and turned to Buddhist meditation as a way to control his negative emotions. He has spent his years reading voraciously on a wide variety of subjects. He has carried on numerous friendships via letter writing, even falling in love and marrying one of his supporters. And despite his situation, he still somehow manages to convey sympathy towards the ignorant, uneducated jurists who allowed their superstitions about people who wear all black and listen to heavy metal music being “satan worshippers” to convince them that three clearly innocent young men were guilty.
After reading “Almost Home,” I want Damien Echols to be my friend. But more than that, I want him to be free.
And now he is!!!