When these guys went to jail, “the Black Album” was still on the Billboard charts and Henry Rollins was a constant fixture on MTV. Since then, the plight of Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin — three teens convicted in the murders of three eight-year-old boys — has transfixed many, to the point that both Metallica (who lent a song to a documentary about their plight) and Henry Rollins (who made a tribute album to them) have come to their defense. They call them the West Memphis Three, and the evidence that sent them to jail is apparently shaky enough that they might see release on Friday, seventeen years later. Some highlights of the case:
- The situation Three young boys —Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers — went missing and were later found murdered in a small Arkansas town. The suspects were arrested and tried on evidence many analysts consider weak, including a recanted confession by Misskelley. Echols received the death penalty; the others got life sentences.
- The doubters Over the years, allegations of police mismanagement of the case, as well as evidence of other suspects whose stories were investigated poorly by police have led to doubters amongst legal experts, amongst family members of victims, and amongst celebrities like Rollins. For years, many local residents still remained convinced.
- The unraveling After new DNA evidence came out in 2007, more family members of victims expressed their doubts. On Thursday, things finally came to a head. The three men may see release through a legal maneuver called the Alford plea, in which they claim innocence but admit that the state had enough evidence to convict them. source
» Too little, too late? Some remain unconvinced that the state is acting in a way that respects the wishes of either the victims or the three men still sitting in jail this evening. “There’s certainly no justice for the three men that’s been in prison or my son and his two friends,” said John Mark Byers, the adoptive father of one of the victims. “To me, this is just a cop-out from the state for not wanting to admit that they made a mistake.”