West Memphis Three - The Makings of a Story

The best stories usually come from close observation of the world around us. There is hardly a more gruesome account than the actual events which occurred near West Memphis in 1993 when three 8-year-old boys were left to die in a ditch. But those convicted — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin — have been freed as the result of an Alford plea in which the defendants — who became internationally known as the "West Memphis Three" — plead guilty to reduced charges while maintaining their innocence.

Echols was formerly sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin to life in prison. They are also allowed to present new evidence to the court to prove that innocence. The surprise hearing came as a shock, as the Arkansas Supreme Court had called last November for a hearing to review their cases in December, as scientific examination of DNA evidence has yet to turn up DNA that matches the defendants. No physical evidence has ever been linked to any of the three convicted, and years of appeals ensued with growing public interest.

Cary Holladay, now an associate professor of fiction at the University of Memphis, wrote a short story explicitly based on the horrific events argued to be the result of satanic ritual, winning an O. Henry Award in 1999 for the piece. “Merry-Go-Sorry” captures the Southern hysteria surrounding the case, and ultimately gives a voice to the gravity of injustice that is capable of accumulating.

Yesterday, Holladay could simply hope for their freedom. Now Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley finally have it after spending more than half their lives in prison.

You can read the full text of “Merry-Go-Sorry" here.

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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, Memphis magazine’s associate 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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