Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Opinion: West Memphis Three, Outrage in Arkansas

New Evidence

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

On August 28, the 2,000 seats in Little Rock's Robinson Auditorium were filled for "Voices for Justice: A Rally in Support of the West Memphis 3." Singers Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, and Patti Smith, actor Johnny Depp, and the band Fistful of Mercy performed and spoken-word artist Henry Rollins contributed a videotaped message from Scotland.

James Michael Moore
James Michael Moore

Most supporters, however, are not celebrities but ordinary people who simply cannot believe that Arkansas is willing to execute Echols and to keep Baldwin and Misskelley in prison for life, based on nothing more substantial than the evidence presented at their trials. Many say they connect to the case because they too felt different in high school and what happened to the defendants could have happened to themselves.

Like me, they find it disheartening that even new information that further weakens the case has failed to budge our courts. For example:

  • A juvenile detention supervisor at the facility where Baldwin was kept while awaiting trial was scheduled to appear as a character witness on his behalf, but she did not testify. She has since provided a sworn statement that she was told to leave town on the day she was to appear or risk losing her job.

Steven Branch
Steven Branch

  • Another woman, who testified at Misskelley's trial that she had attended an "esbat," or witches' orgy, with him and Echols, has since told reporters that her testimony was "a total lie." Victoria Hutcheson said she was facing legal problems at the time of the murders and that police promised they would take care of her hot checks if she testified against the teenagers. She has since apologized to the men in prison.
  • A few years after the trials, the journal Forensic Linguistics published an analysis of Misskelley's recorded confession. The article's author concluded, "None of the key, specific, verifiable details were provided by the confessor." Instead, he wrote, "The police were the source of nearly all of the substantive information regarding the crime."
  • After news that the DNA of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, was found with the bodies, Hobbs told a reporter that he did not see the children at all on the day they disappeared. Upon hearing that, two women who lived near him at the time came forward. They have now sworn affidavits claiming that they saw Hobbs with the children a short time before they disappeared. When asked why they had not reported that fact to police earlier, they said police never questioned them and that, until the recent news report, they had not known that Hobbs denied having been with the children that day.

Christopher Byers
Christopher Byers

  • Also in the wake of the new DNA findings, Pamela Hobbs, Terry Hobbs' former wife and the mother of victim Stevie Branch, told the media that she has harbored suspicions about her ex-husband since 2002 when she discovered a small pocket knife that had belonged to her son in Terry's possession. Pamela Hobbs told the defense attorneys that Stevie had always carried the knife in his pocket and that she believed he had almost certainly had it with him when he was killed. She gave the defense the knife along with 14 others she found that had belonged to her husband
  • A half-dozen prominent forensic scientists called in by Echols defense team all have testified that animals, not humans, caused what police believed to have been the castration of victim Christopher Byers. The scientists said that, contrary to the conclusion of the Arkansas Crime Lab, all three boys died from forcible drowning and that "none of the injuries were caused during life, and none were caused by a serrated knife, or any knife for that matter."
We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'