Thursday, July 19, 2007

Satanic Panic and the West Memphis 3

For the first time in the fourteen year history of the West Memphis Child Murders, there is actual physical evidence conclusively pointing to a suspect--- And as most people with functioning brain stems expected, it does not point to the West Memphis 3.

The DNA of Terry Hobbs, stepfather of murder victim Steven Branch, was found in the rope used to tie up one of the murder victims. You can read the forensic report here.

There was a time when I thought the West Memphis 3 did it. One of the suspects had allegedly made a full confession, and West Memphis Police Chief Gary Gitchell (Think Inspector Clouseau with a southern accent) never tired of regaling reporters with information that appeared to be the result of a small town rumor mill on crack than any true investigative work.

During the first trial, we found out just how questionable the confession was. Wannabe professional wrestler Jessie Misskelley, whose IQ tested at the lower end of comfortable room temperature, was questioned by police for three hours, only 46 minutes of which was recorded. In this “confession”, he told police that the murders took place in the afternoon before the three young victims were even missing (Something the police can be heard coaching him on even on the recording). He said that one of the boys was raped, which turned out not to be true. He insisted that the boys were all tied up with rope, when in fact, two were tied up with their own shoelaces.

If such a “confession” had been made in New York or Massachusetts, it would have been tossed immediately as having been worthless. But he confessed to something that piqued small town hysteria.

When asked why he, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin killed the three boys, he claimed to have been a member of a satanic cult for three months, and that the boys were killed as part of a ritual.

A quick Google search on churches in West Memphis showed 66 distinct results--- That’s quite a bit for a town of only 28,000 people. Church is part of the daily life in the town. When you cry “Satanism!” you get a response.

The defense team for the three defendants asked for a change in venue--- Certainly not an unreasonable request considering that Chief Gary Gitchell and his Mini-Me, Detective Bryn Ridge seemed to be in front of the cameras more often than Britney Spears’ hoo-ha.

But it ended up playing into the hands of the prosecution--- The trials were moved to perhaps one of the few places more heavily churched than West Memphis. Jonesboro, Arkansas has 206 churches and is so bound by biblical doctrine that alcohol cannot be legally sold in Craighead County.

The jurors spent months listening to stories about Satanism, including unintentionally comical testimony from occult killings “expert” Dale Griffis (Revealed under cross examination to be the customer of a mail order diploma mill) who, with a straight face, said that the defendants’ taste in music (Pink Floyd and Metallica) and their taste in literature (Stephen King and Anne Rice) was proof of their Satanism.

And the jury returned with the shocking, yet at the same time predictable verdict--- Guilty as charged.

The news broke two months ago that the case was being reexamined by, among others, noted forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, perhaps best known as the focus of HBO’s “Autopsy” documentary series.

Did Terry Hobbs do it? Perhaps. I do not know. I know that when John Mark Byers, the stepfather of another of the victims, heard erroneously that bite marks had been found, he had his teeth removed. I’m not aware of a strong connection between Byers and Hobbs, so I have no idea if they would have worked in concert or why they would have done it.

But at the very least, this is evidence that should be heard in court, and it’s high time that this case got a second look. The three fendants have lost fourteen years of their lives already. Damien Echols is known to have been raped and severely beaten in prison. Jason Baldwin was just moved from one facility to another as part of an investigation into abuse at the hands of prison staff. The case against them was so weak that my suspicion is that there were only 24 people on earth who couldn't find reasonable doubt--- Unfortunately, they were the jurors at the two trials. They deserve to have evidence that might exonerate them be heard. And all of us deserve the truth--- For if three men wrongfully convicted of this murder sit in jail, then the person or persons who did it walk freely among us.


'Coma said...

I just linked to you...
This is important.

Freedonian said...

Thank you!

LeftWingCracker said...

same here, bro, this is something we ALL need to push...

Ivy said...

I did too, in 2 different places.

Anonymous said...

I challenge anyone, anywhere to read THE DEVIL'S KNOT, and after finishing it not want to go out and kick something. These defendants were the most vulenrable creatures in our Justice system, because of two facts that had nothing to do with teh evidence but everything to do with the case, they were "different" and poor.

Shea Flinn

Jeff said...

Jonesboro (and Lake City, just to the east) is one reason I have told many people I will never live in a small town again.

Give me crime over police and prosecutorial corruption any day. At least criminals get sent to jail.

A.C. McCloud said...

It's an interesting case. I'm agnostic on whether they did the crimes or not--it sure looks flimsy in hindsight to some degree.

I'm more curious as to your statement regards the "66 distinct hits" on churches in West Memphis, and on how churches factor into this in general. Are you saying there are 66 churches in W. Memphis, or something else?

If not, what do the 66 distinct hits have to do with anything?

For comparison's sake, what are the church-to-population ratios in other towns for outside Arkansas or the south? I'm not saying your theory is wrong, would just like to see more data before putting much stock in it. After all, even if there are lots of churches, we all know there's also a Dog Track over there.

Freedonian said...

(Crossposting here and at the new WordPress site so you can see a response no matter where you are)


The point I was trying to make about the churches over there is something that I, having lived there (Including at the time of the murders), have seen firsthand.

There was a visceral reaction to the Satanism angle in all of this that's hard to explain.

Have you ever been at the beach when there's a shark sighting? There's a primal fear that takes root as the bathers all run out of the water.

The shark sighting was the day of the murder.

The only difference is that the swimmers generally start feeling safe and comfortable once they're out of the water. The people of West Memphis never felt that. I don't think a city less bound to its religious doctrines would have reacted the same way. Where I sit right now is only 13 miles from where I lived then--- But in its own way, it's a whole different world. This verdict would not have happened in Memphis, I don't think.

As far as the 66 goes--- I did a Google search to see how many churches there were in the city. At some point late in the search, I became aware that First Baptist (Think of them as a little megachurch, the small town version of Six Flags Over Jesus) was messing up the results with multiple listings. There would be one result for the church proper, another for the rec center, another for the nursery. I tossed them out as best I could, then threw out every result from a ZIP code other than 72301 (72303 has been used in recent years, but I'm not sure exactly where). It may actually be more because of that criteria, but 66 was what I came up with. And having lived there, I wasn't surprised to see 66. The street I grew up on alone had three churches within "little kid" walking distance. That's long before we get to the two major roads, which easily have a dozen apiece. And there's one every few yards in the rough part of town.

Freedonian said...


Brother Cracker, Ivy, thank you. I just want the information to get out.

Shea, it's good to hear from you.

I keep wanting to read "Devil's Knot", but I can't bring myself to. I get mad.

But this comment is so good that I wish I had finished the piece with it:

These defendants were the most vulenrable creatures in our Justice system, because of two facts that had nothing to do with teh evidence but everything to do with the case, they were "different" and poor.


I can never do the small town thing again. My sister and her family live in another town outside Jonesboro. I refer to it as "The Land That Starbuck's Forgot". By my guess, Starbuck's ain't the only one. They've got a Subway, a Sonic, and one redlight. The nearest Big Mac is about fifteen miles away. I don't even like going there for a visit.

Danemagic said...

The more people that hear about this case the better, though many in the media are silent, some are beginning to speak out.

As for the 66 churches I would think it speaks to the main issue in this case: fear, faith and foolishness over fact and reason.

Sometime back the issue of this case went before then Governor Mike Huckabee, he claimed the verdicts just and all descent came from people outside of the state. This is not surprising given Huckabee’s stance against science; in his world there is not enough evidence to support Bio-evolution so why not subordinate fact and reason to faith and foolishness?

Frayed Edges said...

Living and working in the legal field in Jonesboro, Arkansas during the time of the arrests/trials of the WM3, this is huge to me. I know many of the cast of characters involved.

I know how deeply felt was the pain and anguish of Dan Stidham, Val Price, and the other court appointed attorneys for the "boys." I know how incensed so much of the public was when they were convicted (even though the media reported differently!)

For all these years I have followed this case and am now shocked but happily so that the DNA of someone other than these three wrongly convicted young men has been found.

But will the justice system do the right thing...that is the REAL question.

I wait with bated breath.

Farm said...

What an incredible load.

I can't find a single detail you got right.

It's amazing how many idiots there are who know absolutely nothing about this case, yet insist the WM3 were wrongfully convicted.

brentpeterson said...

Supporters Call Judges Ruling a “Mockery”
As the Plot Thickens in the case of the West Memphis Three

September 13, 2008: Little Rock, AR — Following a ruling Wednesday that no new evidence would be heard in the case of the West Memphis Three, supporters of the three men maintain vehement opposition to what they call the "mockery" being made of the Arkansas legal system in this case.

"Judge [David] Burnett's order yesterday denying Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin a new trial, based on DNA findings, was more than just another injustice in the long and tragic history of this case; it blatantly disregarded the statute that our Legislature enacted in 2001 to ensure that citizens are not executed or imprisoned when new scientific evidence demonstrates that they are innocent," said Capi Peck, activist for the release of the West Memphis Three.

According to Arkansas Take Action, a non-profit organization formed to seek justice for three men convicted of the triple homicide of three young boys in 1993, the 2001 statute requires a judge to weigh all evidence regarding guilt or innocence. The statute expressly orders that a judge will consider new items of evidence not presented at the original trial to determine whether a jury of peers would now acquit a defendant. If Burnett had allowed it, the court would have heard a multitude of evidence, including the following:

1. that none of the collected DNA matched any of the defendants, but DNA evidence points to another suspect, Terry Hobbs (stepfather of one of the victims);

2. that witnesses placed Echols at his residence on the phone several miles away from the crime scene;

3. that the wounds the prosecution claimed were inflicted in a satanic ritual by a survival knife found near Baldwin's house were shown by forensic pathologists to be the result of post-mortem animal predation;

4. that the state's Satanic expert was a fraud, having obtained his Ph.D. through a now-defunct mail-order college, and later having written a book claiming that two girls were abducted by aliens but recalled nothing of the encounter until he, Dale Griffis, was able to extract the information through hypnosis; and,

5. that a key prosecution witness, Anthony Hollingsworth, who testified to seeing Echols near the crime scene, had conspicuous motive to lie to prosecutors. Not only was he on probation for sexually assaulting his sister at the time of his testimony, but also recent child rape charges against him were dismissed by one of the prosecutors in the case.

In addition, ATA co-chair Capi Peck said, "the notion that Echols’, Misskelley’s, and Baldwin's guilt was determined by facts presented from the witness stand at trial is preposterous in light of what has been revealed as jury misconduct." A sworn affidavit from a Little Rock attorney, hired on an unrelated matter in 1994 by original Echols-Baldwin trial jury foreman Kent Arnold, outlines the misconduct in explicit detail.

According to the affidavit, still under seal, Arnold admitted that he had:

1. misled the court about his opinions in order to secure his selection as a jury member;

2. prejudged the defendants' guilt;

3. used a statement from Jessie Misskelley from a separate trial in the case to sway the jury to return a guilty verdict. (This despite the fact that Arnold told the Little Rock lawyer the prosecution had not proved its case and that the Misskelley statement was all they would have to go on).

Misskelley's statement was inadmissible in the Echols-Baldwin trial, as Misskelley had recanted and refused to testify against the other two men. The jury's consideration of it, from what had been gleaned from news sources, and the prosecution's "slip" in referring to it during arguments was a clear violation of the defendants' sixth amendment rights

"By refusing to hear the evidence not presented at the first trial, Judge Burnett has evaded, but cannot suppress, a simple truth," Peck said. "Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin would surely be acquitted of these charges if they were tried today

Big B said...

Does Gitchell admit he was an ignorant idiot or that he was evan wrong? Hes a criminal! He knew he didnt have a clue who did it and the heat was on. His interrogation and sticking by what he did long after he KNEW he was wrong about their guilt is as immorra as it gets. He should be held accountable!! We all know who did it now and he walks free with that evil grin. Screw Gitchell n tbe Judge! They are equal to serial killers. They knowingly took 3 young lives and enjoyec it. They were proud of their convictions like a serial killer is proud of their kills.