WEST MEMPHIS FREE: FROM BOYS TO MEN
Three eight-year-old boys were brutally murdered in May of 1993 in West Memphis Arkansas. The bodies of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were found in area Known as Robin Hood Hills.
Triple Homicides that are done on three children who are unrelated to each other is rare. The way they were left in the area is also strange.
All three of them were naked and they had been hog tied with their own shoelaces. The children had been severely beaten. Two of them were drowned. Photos showed head injuries to the boys, and one child, Christopher Byers, had what appeared to be belt-lashing welts and bite marks on his body. He had also been stabbed repeatedly in the groin. His genitalia were mutilated, In the court hearings it was said that the penis of Byers was whittled away with precision. His body was singled out for mutilation for some strange reason.
The West Memphis Police had not seen anything like this before. Three boys brutally murdered, and one with his genitalia removed looked pretty horrific. The sad part about the case is that Police were not at all careful with the crime scene, and were in fact sloppily handling evidence.
They were inadequately trained to handle a triple homicide of three young boys. When they couldn’t figure out who may have been responsible for such a repugnant act, a Juvenile Probation officer remembered the name of a young boy, who had jet black hair and practiced Wicca. That young man’s name was Damien Echols.
The Probation Officer was under the impression that this boy had to have committed the crime, because it appeared that the killing of the Byers boy looked like the act of a strange cult follower. Perhaps the act of a young troubled boy with black hair, who listened to Metallica, and Slayer. It was in their minds that perhaps Echols was the leader of a Satanic Cult and that Cult was out to sacrifice Children to the devil.
We have seen the harsh reality of ignorance with regard to Satanic Panic and the fear that vast conspiracy of murderous Satanists still exist in this country today.
While there are those who kill in the name of Satan we can also conclude that there are those who also kill in the name of God. However when it comes to those who practice Satanism we have already learned that their “religion” is really not a religion at all.
We have interviewed such Satanists as Peter Gilmore, and Rex Church who are both Satanists. None of them have spilled innocent blood and none of them have preached that this is the only way to come to Satan.
When ignorance finds itself in places of power, including the, government and law enforcement, the sparkplugs of that engine known as the justice system misfire and injustice becomes common place.
In West Memphis Arkansas a Witch-Hunt was about to take place.
The West Memphis Arkansas Police needed a suspect.
Who do you think they picked?
Damien Echols was the town’s scapegoat from the beginning. It is a matter of record that in other incidents where crimes were committed near West Memphis, he was questioned many times by Juvenile officials. When other things ended up stolen or missing Echols was always suspected. There was even a time where a murder took place 100 miles away and immediately Echols was being questioned because the West Memphis police officials imagined that Damien was the leader of a Satanic network.
There was no evidence to show that he was a leader of a Satanic Cult. Yet people believed it and rumor upon rumor based on ignorance persecuted the young man and finally when three gruesome murders hit too close to home and the call went out for action it was time to act.
The West Memphis Police said that they were sure that their suspect was Damien Echols.
Of course I don’t have to tell you that there was no evidence connecting Damien to the victims or to the murders.
The investigation was literally a witch-hunt and the rumors, irresponsible police work and the media spin on the case created an environment where he was getting his trial long before he entered a courtroom.
A woman who was in trouble with the law over writing bad checks was looking to get a $30,000 dollar reward in pointing the finger at the suspect and so she set out to record some incriminating “evidence.” She invited Damien to her home to try and get a taped conversation incriminating him. She recorded nothing unusual so she then convinced her young boy to tell a tall tale about the murders implicating Damien.
The Boy’s stories were so outrageous police could not arrest Damien based on his testimony. The Boy drew pictures of Damien killing the boys with a bloody sword, his eyes were glowing with fire. It was like something out of some strange movie.
The Police couldn’t base their case on the imagination of a young boy.
The woman who still was hell bent on getting the reward money convinced a 17 year old, mentally retarded boy named Jessie Misskelley to tell police that he saw the murders take place and that Damien was the person who carried out the murders along with his friend Jason Baldwin.
Jessie spent a long time with police but yet only a fragment of what was said was tape recorded. Misskelley obviously was unfamiliar with the case because he kept giving time differences, and mismatched testimony. The police would lead him along in his confession and then the final blow was to show him pictures of the crime scene and the dead bodies of the young boys.
It frightened him and obviously he would say anything to get the police to stop pestering him.
The sad thing is that not only did Jessie implicate Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols but he eventually said that he was involved as well.
Jessie Misskelley was arrested along with Jason Baldwin and finally, the focus of their investigation Damien Echols.
Their case has been the subject of two documentaries. “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.”
After watching Paradise Lost the first time I was frightened at the way the investigation was carried out and I also learned a valuable lesson.
Ignorance can creep into places of power. If it goes unchecked it leaks into our media, and then it is handed out freely to an unsuspecting populace who takes for granted that all things in print or transmitted is fact.
When a person is gunned down by police officers and the spin is that it happened because of the color of his skin, we can stand in judgment and say that it is a byproduct of racial ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice.
In Damien Echols’ case it is evident that he was fingered because he had jet Black hair, listened to heavy metal music, and practiced Wicca.
It is once again an example of how the media and the public have unfairly judged what I call the “Halloween Culture” or “Goth” movement.
According to Burk Sauls the town became caught up in what is known as “Satanic panic.”
He relates on his website the history of “Satanic Panic” and how it applies in this case.
“Satanic Panic is a term used to describe a phenomenon which occurs with alarming regularity in areas with deeply rooted Christian traditions. Various forms of Satanic Panic have been observed since the beginning of time, and although the specific details may change with the times, the roots and results are the same as they have been throughout history. Satanic Panics occur when superstitious people in power choose to explain events that are difficult for them to comprehend by blaming demons and witches. Instead of trying to honestly and rationally understand the complexities of criminal behavior, sickness or mental illness they choose instead to simplify things by imagining a character named Satan who is responsible.
The aftermath of the Robin Hood Hills Murders were obviously a Satanic Panic, and the verdicts of the two trials (Damien and Jason were tried together) bear this out. Jason and Jessie were each sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole, and Damien was sentenced to die by lethal injection. Judge David Burnett later said that he was “not surprised” by the verdicts.
Books written by best-selling author Stephen King were used as evidence against Damien when no real evidence could be found. Black concert T-shirts were held up as evidence in an American courtroom in the 1990s as “proof” that Jason Baldwin was capable of murdering three 8 year olds. Lyrics to songs by BLUE OYSTER CULT and PINK FLOYD were shown to the jury, apparently in an effort to suggest to them that they were relevant to the murders, and somehow showed that the defendants were guilty.
The inconsistent testimony of a jail house snitch and a couple of little girls who claim to have overheard Damien “confessing” at a girl’s softball game were taken seriously even after the sources were shown to be less than solid. There was no physical evidence that pointed to Damien, Jason or Jessie. There was nothing to suggest that they had killed the three children except the superstitious suspicions that were being fueled by the local media who seemed reluctant to publish a story unless it contained the word “Satan” or at least “cult.”
For more than a decade there has been a swell of support for their release and finally copping a plea deal they were released August 19th, 2011. The sad part about the release is that it has been so out of the minds of the public that when I posted on my social network page that they had been freed – I received responses of who are they? What are you talking about? And trolls on the internet comparing what had happened as a miscarriage of justice similar to the Casey Anthony trial meaning those killers should burn in hell.
Those who have followed this case and have been involved in the fight for the lives and well being of these boys, now men certainly know how this case is far from the Anthony case and yet the whole mystery of the Satanic angle still somehow is in the back of the minds of everyone in West Memphis and with those who know about such fears.
The growing problem of civil sanctification is the reason we have such reactions to cases like the West Memphis 3, Casey Anthony and others. Some of us place politics and the courts in a religious frame work. Our social values are tied up in metaphor and our various religious backgrounds. We tend to forget that the courts should be a secular refuge from witch hunts, however we still hold to the models of the puritanical and the superstitious dogmas that have no place in our government and in our court system. We see on the news a violent Islam, a peaceful Christianity and a skewed view of Judaism. Bringing in the pagan, the Wiccan and other spiritual viewpoints that are far outside the circle compounds the fears of most people who do not know the details of these religions. We also see the finger pointing at rock groups that demonstrate macabre stage performances and blame them for the ills of society because they wear black or dress like zombies or demons when they perform.
What we see is not always what is, but we throw all of that logic away if someone in authority convinces us otherwise. It needs to be considered that if only 10 percent of a certain religious organization are fanatics, we need to put that into real numbers which could total in the millions.
That means that if there is a small percentage of fanatics who still believe that The West Memphis 3 are Satanic killers – what kind of lives are they going to have now that they have spent their teen years behind bars and are now placed in society?
People today have no time to analyze the legitimacy of charges or accusations in the open court cases and rely on the media who first raises and nurtures the concern, develops the drama, and then decides whether or not a verdict is justified or valid.
We don’t take the time to analyze the legitimacy of authority and take for granted that those who are appointed or voted for are tending to the affairs of the state and are caring for the people they serve.
Wrongful convictions happen and yet we find ourselves hating the convicted and hating them even more if they are found not guilty. In the West Memphis 3 case newly found DNA evidence exonerated the trio and yet someone in the court room upon their release yelled out that they were baby killers.
Many people in West Memphis remain convinced Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were part of a satanic cult, that the three are murderers who should be locked up forever.
They were released without the ability to clear their name. The deal was that they had to admit their guilt in order to be set free. They had to admit that the evidence shows that they are guilty even though new DNA evidence says they weren’t. They cannot sue the state for wrongful imprisonment and they also are on 10 years probation.
This is freedom? Was there justice for the three boys that were murdered? Arkansas now says that there will be no trial to find the real killer of the boys – to them the case is closed.
Is this justice for the West Memphis 3?
While prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington said the pleas entered Friday validate the decision of jurors who sent the men to prison, it also spares Arkansas the possibility of a retrial, which would have been difficult to prosecute after so many years, or a potential civil lawsuit by the men. The trio had been on course to win the right to new trials later this year.
The three men were seeking a retrial in the case, and a hearing had been scheduled for a new trial. The state Supreme Court ruled in November that the three could present new evidence to the trial court after DNA testing between 2005 and 2007 failed to link them to the crime.
The material included hair from a ligature used to bind Moore and a hair recovered from a tree stump near where the bodies were found, Arkansas Supreme Court documents said. The hair found in the ligature was consistent with Branch’s stepfather,
Terry Hobbs, while the hair found on the tree stump was consistent with the DNA of a friend of Hobbs, according to the documents. Police have never considered Hobbs a suspect, and he maintains that he had nothing to do with the murders.
John Mark Byers, the man who seemed to be an outrageous component to the case and step father of one of the murdered boys maintained contact with me after I had accused him of having Munchhausen by proxy syndrome. He always seemed to be in a rut of victimhood and decided that after a show I produced in 2001 he needed to set the record straight. At the time I grew to understand that he too was being held to trial by the media and backed off on my thoughts that he was the real killer.
When Byers heard of the release of the accused killers he finally stated that releasing them without exonerating them of the crime is an outrage. After a hard line stance against their innocence he finally said that he believed that Damien Echols and his colleagues were innocent of the murders.
The state had no courage to overturn the convictions. They wanted to maintain the civic sanctification of the courts. Three 8 year old boys are dead, new DNA evidence could bring to justice the real; killer and the courts want to maintain an appearance of piety by releasing innocent men calling them guilty and ignoring the young boys who were brutally murdered?
This is an outrage. It’s not only an ugly comment on capital crime, but on a system that should strive for justice.
If you still don’t know who the West Memphis 3 are – you should study their case. If you don’t care to, then perhaps you can wait for the day when justice is no longer blind—but dead buried and forgotten just like those little boys.