Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Opinion: West Memphis Three, Outrage in Arkansas

The Confession

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mara Leveritt. Also please see out feature story on the case: The West Memphis Three

Kent Arnold
Kent Arnold

Warford wrote that he doubted Arnold would be selected as a juror for several reasons: Arnold had a relative facing prosecution; he knew far too much about the case; and "he seemed to have made up his mind the defendants were guilty." According to Warford, Arnold had once told him, "All you had to do to know that Echols was a devil-worshiper was to look in his eyes and you knew he was evil."

Warford was stunned, therefore, to learn that Arnold had been selected not only to be a juror but to be the jury's foreman also. Warford said that when he expressed his surprise to Arnold, Arnold "laughed...and made a joke about the stupid lawyers and judges not asking specific questions."

Jessie Misskelley, Jr.
Jessie Misskelley, Jr.

Warford declared that he told Arnold that they could not talk about the case until it was over, and that Arnold agreed. As in all trials, the judge had admonished jurors at the start that they were not to discuss the proceedings outside the jury room. Despite that, Warford stated that Arnold continued to call him and make "constant offhand comments or statements about the trial and his jury service."

Echols and Baldwin were tried separately from Misskelley because Misskelley had confessed, although he had recanted his accusation and confession the day after making them. Misskelley refused to repeat what he'd said at the trial of Echols and Baldwin. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that an accused person be allowed to face any accusers at trial, so if Misskelley would not accuse them in person, his accusation could not be used; even the tape recording of his statement to police could not be played.

Warford wrote: "At one point, I remember [Arnold] saying something to the effect that 'at least nine of us are ready to vote right now' and asked why don't the prosecutors just play the [Misskelley] confession and get this over with."

Judge Burnett
Judge Burnett

For the same constitutional reasons forbidding use of the tape, even mention of Misskelley's statement was inadmissible. During the trial, one police officer did refer to "the statement of Jessie Misskelley" in his testimony. Lawyers for Echols and Baldwin jumped to their feet and moved for a mistrial, but Judge David Burnett denied the motion. Instead, he merely cautioned the jurors to disregard the officer's statement. When the objection was raised in an early appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court declined to reverse Burnett's ruling.

Warford continued: "Nevertheless, as the trial progressed, Kent Arnold's comments were increasingly critical of the prosecution. Eventually, Kent said this prosecutor has not done his job and that if the prosecution didn't come up with something powerful the next day, there was probably going to be an acquittal. At one point, I distinctly remember him saying, 'If anyone is going to convince this jury to convict, it is going to have to be me.'

"Kent told me if the confession had not been mentioned in court, then he might not have been able to convince the swing jurors to convict. He said several times that he could not believe how many jurors had not been aware of Misskelley's confession until it was mentioned in court."

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