Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The West Memphis Three

New Evidence

Brent Turvey
Brent Turvey

Prior to Jessie's trial, Daniel Stidham had asked WMPD officers whether a criminal profile had been made on this case. He was told that none had been done. After the trial, he learned that the officers had lied to him. The FBI had presented the WMPD with a cursory profile in the form of a survey to be conducted to trace any Vietnam veterans in the area at the time of the murders. This determination was made solely on the nature of the injuries to Christopher Byers's genitals as the FBI had not received all of the crime scene reports normally required for an in-depth criminal profile.

All efforts by Stidham to procure the services of a reputable and qualified Criminal Profiler before the trials were fruitless due to the lack of resources available. It was not until after the three young men had been convicted and sentenced that he was able to secure the services of Brent Turvey, who agreed to take the case pro-bono. Brent Turvey has a Master of Science degree and is a highly qualified and experienced Forensic Scientist and Criminal Profiler. At the time he was first approached by Stidham, Turvey was based in California and had not heard about the case.

Turvey's Criminal Profile revealed many areas of physical evidence which were missed or misinterpreted by the Medical Examiner and Coroner on this case and overrules many of the assumptions made by police as to the nature of these murders. If all of this information had been available when the police initiated their investigation its outcome may have been very different.

In this case, Turvey based his report on a forensic examination of all of the available crime scene and autopsy photos, a crime scene video, investigator's reports, witness statements, family statements, and autopsy reports. The purpose of the report was to "assess the nature of the interactions between the victims and their environments as it contributed to their deaths as indicated by available forensic evidence, and the documentation regarding that evidence."

After examining the evidence available, Turvey revealed a number of evidentiary points which had not been noticed during earlier examinations. The most important of these was his opinion that the patterned injuries all over Steven Branch's face were not the result of an attack with a serrated edge knife, as was originally believed, but were, in fact, bite marks. This opinion was confirmed by Dr Thomas David, a board certified forensic odontologist, who identified the marks as being human adult bite marks. After comparing these marks with bite impressions obtained from Jessie, Jason and Damien, Dr. David gave his expert opinion that they did not match. Bite marks are extremely useful in identifying the perpetrator of a crime as they can be as unique as a fingerprint. Further suction type bite marks were also found all over Christopher Byers's inner thigh.

Also, on Christopher Byers, was the impression of the knife handle on the right side of the wound in the genital area. It is not known at the time of writing whether this impression has been compared to the two knives presented at the trial as possible murder weapons. Turvey describes these injuries as having been brought about by forceful, violent thrusts which were neither skilled nor precise, but were rageful, careless and purposeful.

Another unidentified pattern compression abrasion was found on the back of Steven Branch's head which Turvey believes is consistent with a footwear impression. He recommended that a footwear impression expert analyze the impression to make a more precise determination. At the time of writing, it is not known whether this has been done or what the results were.

The final piece of physical evidence which had not been thoroughly analysed at the time of the trials was a piece of torn cloth found in the clutched hand of James Moore. Turvey believes that this piece of cloth may be a potential link between the victims and their assailant, and for this reason needs to be fully examined by a qualified person.

The conclusions which Turvey draws from the evidence available were that:

The site where the bodies were found was a dump-site only and not the primary crime scene, it is more likely that there were actually four scenes involved in this crime: the abduction site, the attack site, a vehicle used to transport the boys and their bikes, then finally the dump-site in the woods.

  1. The extent of the injuries to the victims, especially the emasculation of Christopher Byers, would have meant a great deal of blood would have been at the scene. In this situation there was virtually no blood.
  2. There were search parties moving through the area which would not have given the assailant(s) the time needed to carry out the attack without being disturbed.
  3. The nature of the injuries to Christopher Byers would have caused him to scream. No screaming was heard by searchers or local residents near the site.
  4. There were no mosquito bites on any of the bodies which would be expected if they had been in the woods for the period of time that would have been required to carry out the attack.
  5. James Moore had an unexplained directional pattern abrasion just below the right anterior shoulder area. This abrasion was created by forceful directional contact with something that was not found at the scene.
  6. The nature of the attack required light, time and uninterrupted privacy. It was dark in the woods. The crime scene would more likely be a secluded structure or residence away from the immediate area of attention.

The assailant was someone known and trusted by the victims. The physical evidence, crime scene and victimology in this case are most consistent with the classification of a Battered Child or Child-Custodial Homicide.

  1. The fact that there were three children together suggests that it would have been difficult for the offender to take all three children unless he was able to gain their trust.
  2. The children would have been taken to another location before the attack began which implies a level of trust, also that intimidation and fear would have been factors in gaining control, suggesting that the assailant was much larger and stronger than the victims.
  3. The violence and level of force in this attack was punitive in nature, indicating that the offender was punishing the boys for some real or perceived wrong.
  4. The difference in the nature of injuries in the three boys indicates that the assailant had a different relationship with each of the boys. James Moore is described by Turvey as a "collateral victim" who was probably only attacked because he was with the other two. The severity of the blows to his head and the lack of damage from the ligatures on his ankles and wrists suggest that he was unconscious throughout the attack. The anger of the assailant , manifested in victim damage and sexual mutilation, is directed primarily at Steven and Christopher, indicating a strong personal association with them.
  5. That all of the related physical evidence was disposed of at the dump site suggests that the assailant believed he may be investigated because of his relationship to the victims and so had to dispose of any evidence.
  6. The dump site being so close to the point of abduction suggests that the assailant knew the area well and lived close by, to enable a quick return to an area of safety. He would also have to have been to the site recently to know that there would be water there at the time.
  7. The type of bite marks are most often seen in Battered Child Homicide.
  8. The presence of healed injuries on Christopher Byers's body, Melissa Byers's concern that Christopher was being sexually abused which she expressed to a school counselor before his death, medical records, reported behavioral problems and Chris's diagnosis with ADD and other behavioral disorders, are all strong indicators that Christopher Byers had been physically, if not sexually, abused prior to this attack.
  9. Steven Branch had lacerations on his penis which were probably self-inflicted indicating a sexualized child, usually associated with sexual abuse.

There were probably two assailants. The primary assailant would have been a man whose focus was directed toward Christopher Byers. His accomplice may have been male or female.

  1. Three victims would have been easier to control if there were two attackers.
  2. The nature and range of injuries to Steven and Christopher indicate two separate assailants with very different ways of expressing their rage.
  3. The Battered Child nature of the bite marks on Steven Branch is more often associated with a female offender.
  4. The attack on Steven Branch was more punitive in nature than sexual.
  5. The "suck mark" type bite marks on Christopher Byers are more sexually oriented. The attack on his genitals suggests an offender who is ashamed of his own sexuality, possibly confused and angered by his own sexual impulses towards males. The offender was punishing Christopher for his sexuality and to establish, or re-establish, sexual ownership of him.

The primary offender in these murders is described by Brent Turvey as possibly having the following characteristics:

  1. Showing violent and selfish sexual behaviors.
  2. A very selfish and explosive individual with a potentially violent temper.
  3. Wants to be perceived as not caring how others view him.
  4. Would be described as hostile, angry and as someone who carries grudges.
  5. Would project a macho, heterosexual, in-control image.
  6. An egocentric individual who cannot tolerate the criticism or shortcomings of others.
  7. Requires instant gratification for his impulses and can react violently when those impulses are not satisfied.
  8. He may be glib and superficial and extremely manipulative.
  9. Dominant in all relationships with women.
  10. Very possessive and irrationally jealous in his sexual relationships, possibly manifesting in violent behavior acted out towards the females in his life.
  11. Would have a level of knowledge and sophistication in criminal activity through repeated offences, exposure to law enforcement training and techniques or previous arrests for similar crimes. May have spent some time in prison or commits petty crimes to support himself. Probably will have past arrests for drugs, violent behavior and assault.
  12. Very likely to have been married more than once. A misogynistic attitude toward women, and past relationships would have involved a great deal of physical and/or emotional abuse.
  13. If married at the time of the offence, the marriage would have been in crisis. His wife may have been the compliant partner in this crime.
  14. It is very likely that the offender would have been involved in the search for the boys, possibly dumping the bodies with the intent of being the one to find them in order to shift blame.
  15. Offender will probably have a collection of knives, and will possibly have a similar interest in firearms and guns.
  16. Will probably have a drinking problem or a drug habit supported by criminal activity.
  17. He is probably unemployed, unable to hold down a full-time job for a number of behavioral reasons.
  18. He most probably used his own vehicle in this attack which would most likely be masculine, like a truck.

This profile gives no support to the WMPD's interpretation of the crime and, even if all of Turvey's interpretations of the facts were to be discarded, the physical evidence he has revealed would make it virtually impossible for any jury to find Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The details of Jessie's confession do not correlate with the facts of the case. The evidence that the children were not murdered in the area they were found in is overwhelming and his description of James Moore's face being cut with a knife is overruled by the odontologist's identification of the injuries as bite marks.

As Jessie's confession was the cornerstone of the prosecution's case against the three teenagers, its refutation effectively destroys the significance of any corroborative evidence which was put forward.

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