Freedom for the West Memphis Three?

Few crimes have horrified our community so much as the 1993 murders of three Arkansas children — Christopher Byars, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore — whose bound and strangled bodies were found in woods outside West Memphis. The resulting trial of teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley attracted international attention, not just because of the horrific nature of the crime, but because of the allegations of Satanism that crept into the prosecution.

Despite any definite evidence against the "West Memphis Three," as they came to be known, a guilty verdict was handed down. Echols was sentenced to death, and Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences.

Over the years, many people have begun to question their guilt, including a number of Hollywood stars and other celebrities. There were no witnesses to the crime, and no DNA linked the three to the crime scene. A motive for the attacks also remained unclear. Meanwhile, the three remained behind bars.

On Thursday, Arkansas Circuit Court Judge David Laser announced a stunning development in the 18-year-old case, when he revealed that a special hearing for the three young men would be held in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on Friday:

"The court will take up certain matters pertaining to the cases of defendants Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley on Friday, August 19. One session will be conducted out of public presence with all defendants present and another session will be conducted in open court. The session conducted in chambers will likely begin at 10 a.m. followed by a public session which will begin about 11 a.m. Space will be limited for the public session — first to the parties, counsel and court personnel, then to family members of the victims and family members of defendants with remaining seating to be occupied by media representatives and the public."

According to some sources, the "West Memphis Three" have already been released from prison, and speculation is rampant that charges may be dropped against them, or they may plead guilty to lesser charges and will be released because of the time they have already served.

In May 2010, Mara Leveritt, author of Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, published an account of the baffling case in this magazine. Go here for the full story.

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“901” is the current affairs blog compiled by the staff of Memphis magazine, where readers can find breaking-news tidbits relating to all facets of life in the Bluff City. 

Edited by Shara Clark, Contemporary Media’s special projects editor, this blog’s regular participants include long-time Memphis editors such as Michael Finger, Jackson Baker, Frank Murtaugh, and Kenneth Neill. “901” also includes regular contributions from Inside Memphis Business staffers Richard Alley and Eileen Townsend, as well as the staff of the Memphis Flyer.

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