Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

West Memphis Three Petition for New Trial

Jason Baldwin

 

Baldwin, meanwhile, has already spent more than half his life in prison—almost all of it as a trusted inmate. In 2006, however, after Baldwin had been imprisoned for 13 years, he tarnished that reputation.

Jason Baldwin
Jason Baldwin

At that time, he and about eight other inmates worked with a small group of officers managing the prison farm. The office work was routine, but the atmosphere in Baldwin's new assignment was not like anything he'd encountered before. Someone had brought a guitar to the building, and Baldwin began to learn to play.

More amazing, the office had computers. They were not connected to the Internet, but someone in charge did allow the inmates to play video games on them, listen to music and watch movies.

Baldwin knew all this was against the rules. But he liked it. And he joined in.

"When I got there, they already had that stuff going on," he said. "I didn't instigate it, but I made a conscious decision to benefit from it." Though he could not get onto the Internet, he added, "I was working on it. I wanted to."

Baldwin reasoned that he had already lost irreplaceable years for a crime he didn't commit, years when computers were getting faster, smaller—cooler—and into the hands of everyone his age. Until his chance at the farm office, Baldwin had not played an electronic game since his 1994 trial, when, he recalled, one of his attorneys had let him play on a device he had.

Baldwin knew he was rationalizing, and that the consequences would be harsh if he were caught, so he wasn't too surprised when the inevitable crackdown occurred. On Aug. 27, 2006, prison officials sent investigators into the farm office.

Baldwin owned up to his part in the activities. He was taken to the state's super-maximum security unit, where Damien Echols is held, and placed in solitary confinement. Baldwin spent 77 days in solitary.

Today, Baldwin lives at the department's maximum security unit. He has regained the status he lost and lives in a barracks reserved for trustees. "The majority of the officers wish me well," he said. "They tell me they pray for me."

He recalled with a grin that last September, after the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing to review evidence in his case, "I was coming from the laundry with my cleaning stuff, and I was smiling. And the warden saw me and said, 'Baldwin, what are you smiling at. You think you're going home?'"

 

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