Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The West Memphis Three

Evidence

Damien Echols (POLICE)
Damien Echols
(POLICE)

When WMPD officers arrested Damien and Jason they took with them warrants to search their homes. From Jason Baldwin's home police seized a red robe which belonged to his mother, fifteen black t-shirts and a white t-shirt. From Damien's they seized two notebooks which appeared to have Satanic or cult writings in them, a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of boots. After divers searched an area of a lake behind Baldwin's house, a knife was recovered.

Jessie Misskelley (POLICE)
Jessie Misskelley
(POLICE)

A witness from the State Crime Laboratory testified that she found fibers on the victims' clothing which were microscopically similar to four fibers found in Jason and Damien's homes. None were found in Jessie's. A red fiber found on Jason's mother's robe was microscopically similar to fibers from James Moore's shirt. A green polyester fiber on James's cap was of a similar structure to those found on a blue cotton-polyester shirt, belonging to a child relative, found in Damien's home.

Jason Baldwin (POLICE)
Jason Baldwin
(POLICE)

Fibers from this same shirt also matched with one cotton and one polyester fiber found on James's blue pants. The defense counsel had presented their own fiber witness who disputed the similarity of the red fiber. It was shown that these fibers could have been matched to any number of items available for purchase at a local department store. Despite the fact that these fibers showed inconclusive results, they were still presented as evidence to tie Jason and Damien to the crime.

Jason's clothing was used in Jessie's trial to show that Jason owned clothing which was described by Jessie during his confession. None of these articles of clothing could be definitely linked to the crime with fiber or blood samples. Their sole purpose seemed to be to confirm Jessie's claims and to highlight the boys' preference for wearing black clothes, supposedly an indication of Satanic tendencies in teenagers. Damien's books and writings were used as evidence of his delving into the occult, an important aspect of the prosecution's case in Jason and Damien's trial as the only motive they could put forward was that the murders were Satanic ritual killings.

The knife found in the lake behind Jason Baldwin's parent's home in November 1993 had a serrated edge. Dr Frank Peretti testified that some of the wound patterns on the three victims were consistent with, and may have been caused by, a serrated edge knife. This testimony becomes questionable when new evidence available after the trials is considered. Apart from testimony of Damien's ex-girlfriend, Deeana Holcomb, that Damien had once owned a knife similar to the one found in the lake except it had a compass on the handle, there was no substantive evidence that proved either Damien or Jason had owned the knife. Damien admitted that he had once owned a knife similar to the one submitted as evidence but his had a compass attached to the handle and was of a different color. He claimed that he had sold this knife while living in Oregon in 1992, which agreed with the time frame given by Holcomb.

On the night of Damien's arrest, a necklace he was wearing was taken in as evidence and sent away for testing as there appeared to be blood spots on it. The results of these tests were not available when other evidence had been presented at the trial so the prosecution asked for a continuance in order to obtain these results. The continuance was granted and the court reconvened two days later. The minute quantities of genetic material present for testing meant that only the blood types present could be determined. It was found that one spot was consistent with the blood type of Damien and the second spot was consistent with the blood type shared by both Jason Baldwin and Steven Branch, and 11% of the world's population.

Because there was evidence to show that both Jason and Damien were known to wear this necklace on occasions, Judge Burnett offered the State the opportunity to re-open the case presenting the new evidence, if they would agree to a severance for Jason Baldwin from the State's case against Damien Echols as it was no longer legally acceptable for the defendants to be tried together. The reason for this was that the evidence could now be used by either party to implicate the other in what is called an "antagonistic defense." The State chose not to present the evidence and proceeded to its closing arguments. This was probably because this new evidence was very weak and a case against Jason standing on its own merits would be very risky for the State.

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