09-25-11 RESPONSE TO WEST MEMPHIS THREE SUPPORTERS
Recently I received the following critical comment concerning my posts about the West Memphis Three case: “Mr. Sinclair, the ‘evidence’ you present is simply you passing moral judgement [sic] on someone else, jumping to conclusions, and quite obviously you’re parroting talking points from a ‘non-supporter’ website that doesn’t quite seem to understand how legal issues work, or that Satanic ritual abuse has been thoroughly debunked.
“It is very plain you haven’t even bothered to study this case, you’re simply taking a pack of lies, rumors, and innuendo, and you’re leaping to wild conclusions that can’t be supported by any evidence at all, and you are trumpeting this pile of garbage as fact. You are completely untrustworthy, and I feel terribly sorry for anyone who reads your words and trusts that they come from an honest, upstanding man.”
For this WM3 supporter, and all the others who have lambasted me for my poor examination of, or failure to examine at all, the “evidence” in the case, below is the evidence upon which I have based my opinions that the three are guilty. My sources have been hyperlinked.
Michael Moore, Stevie Branch, and Christopher Byers were 8 years old on May 5, 1993. They were Cub Scouts and in the second grade.
The young boys often played together in their West Memphis neighborhood, including an area known as the “Robin Hood woods.”
On the afternoon of May 5 Stevie and Michael were riding their bicycles while Christopher was skateboarding.
Between 5:45 and 6:00 p.m. Deborah O’Tinger saw the boys walking through her yard.
At about 6:00 p.m. Dana Moore, Michael’s mother, saw the three boys together with Michael riding his bicycle.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. Brian Woody said he saw four boys going into Robin Hood woods. He said two of the boys were pushing bicycles while the third was carrying a skateboard. The fourth boy was just walking behind them.
When the boys did not return to their homes, their parents notified the police and a search was undertaken to find them.
The following morning the Crittenden County Search and Rescue Unit found a tennis shoe floating in a ditch just “north of Ten Mile Bayou.” The Unit knew Robin Hood woods drained into the bayou and that the boys had been last seen in that area. The Arkansas Supreme Court in Echols v. State described what happened next:
“ ,,, Detective Mike Allen walked along the ditch bank to the place where the tennis shoe had been found. He noticed that one area of the ditch bank was cleared of leaves, while the rest of the bank was covered with leaves and sticks. He described the cleared area as being ‘slick,’ but having ‘scuffs’ in the cleared-off area. He got into the water, reached down to get the shoe and felt Michael Moore’s body. The corpses of Christopher Byers and Stevie Branch were subsequently found about twenty-five downstream. Policeman John Moore, who was also there, said there was blood in the water, but none on the bank. Detective Bryn Ridge was also present and helped recover the boys’ bodies. He collected the victims’ clothes, three tennis shoes, and a Cub Scout cap that was floating in the water. He found a stick stuck down in the mud. He dislodged another stick as he was removing the corpse of Michael Moore.”
It was a horrific crime scene even for veteran police officers. The boys’ bodies had their right hands tied to their right feet while their left hands were tied to their left feet. Black and white shoe laces had been “used as ligatures.” Wounds to the neck, chest area and abdominal region of Michael’s body indicated a “serrated knife” had been used in the vicious attack. Abrasions on little Michael’s scalp could have been inflicted by a “stick,” according to State medical examiner Dr. Frank Peretti. Dr. Peretti found some evidence, although inclusive, that the boys had been sexually assaulted; and that since Michael’s death had been caused by drowning, the boy was still alive when thrown or dumped into the water.
The bodies of the other two boys also evidenced brutal physical abuse. The Arkansas Supreme Court described this abuse: “Steve Branch’s corpse had head injuries, chest injuries, genital-anal injuries, lower extremity injuries, upper extremity injuries, and back injuries. The body had multiple, irregular, gouging wounds, which indicated he was moving when he was stabbed. The anus was dilated. Penile injuries indicated that oral sex had been performed on him. There was also evidence that he, too, had drowned.
“Christopher Byer’s corpse also had injuries indicating that he had been forced to perform oral sex. His head had scratches, abrasion, and a punched-out area on the skin, and one eyelid had a contusion. The back of the neck had a scrape. The inner thighs had diagonal cuts on them. The back of the skull had been struck with a stick-like, broomstick-size, object. The skin of the penis had been removed and the scrotal sac and testes were missing. There were cuts around the anus, and the hemorrhaging from those cuts indicated he was still alive when they were made. Many of the cuts were made with a serrated knife. Byers did not drown; he bled to death.”
Years after the conviction of the West Memphis Three, lawyers and supporters for the three located “expert” witnesses who said the boys had not been sexually abused; the many injuries to their little bodies had been caused by “animal predation.” I cannot refute these “expert” theories but what I do know is this: four legged animals did not hog tie those three boys and throw them into the water-filled drainage ditch with two of them being alive when they hit the water. Thus, it is not a question of “whatever” killed those boys but “who” murdered them in cold blood; and whoever did it left their bicycles discarded nearby.
Four days after the bodies of the three boys were found Detective Bryn Ridge interviewed Damien Echols who was known to local authorities and whose name had been associated with “occult” activities. During the interview, Detective Ridge asked Echols how did he (Echols) thought the boys may have died. The Arkansas Supreme Court paraphrased Ridge’s account of what Echols said:
“[Echols] stated that the boys probably died of mutilation, some guy had cut the bodies up, heard they were in the water, they may have drowned. He said at least one was cut more up more than the others. Purpose of the killing may have been to scare someone. He believed it was only one person for fear of squealing by another involved.”
Inasmuch as no information had been released about one of the boys being more “mutilated” than the others, Echols’ statement implied first-hand knowledge about the crime and at that point he became more than a “person of interest.” One month after the murders, and three weeks after Echols was interviewed by Detective Ridge, Detective Allen asked Jessie Misskelley about the murders. The detective talked to Misskelley, who was not a suspect, because he had heard that Echols, Misskelley and a third youth named Jason Baldwin had been involved in “occult” activities.” Misskelley gave Detective Allen two statements that implicated Echols, Baldwin, and himself in the murders.
Based on this information, the police arrested Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley, who became known as the “West Memphis Three.” They were jointly indicted for capital murder of the three boys.
Echols and Baldwin were tried together. Misskelley was tried separately. Misskelley’s statements were introduced as evidence in the Echols/Baldwin trial even though he had “recanted” the confessions by that time. The Arkansas Supreme Court laid out the other evidence presented at the Echols/Baldwin trial—some of which has been impugned and/or recanted. Nonetheless, all the evidence must be examined to understand the State’s case against all three defendants.
First, Anthony and Narlene Hollingsworth, both of whom knew Echols well, saw Echols at 9:30 p.m. on the night of the murders walking with his girlfriend, Domini Teer, near the Blue Beacon Truck Stop. Echols was wearing dark clothing that was dirty. Since the truck stop was located near Robin Hood woods, the Arkansas Supreme Court reasoned that the Hollingsworths’ testimony placed Echols near the crime scene and the couple could have mistaken Teer for Baldwin because “both had long hair and were of slight build.”
Christy Van Vickle, a twelve-year-old, testified she had heard Echols say that he had “killed the three boys.” Another witness, 15-year-old Jackie Medford, testified she also heard Echols say: “I killed the three boys and before I turn myself in, I’m going to kill two more, and I already have one of them picked out.”
A criminalist with the State Crime Laboratory, named Lisa Sakevicius, testified she compared fibers that were found at the crime scene and on Echols clothing and believed they were “microscopically similar.”
Dr. Peretti testified the bodies of the three boys evidenced “serrated wound patterns.” Six months after the murders a diver found a “serrated knife” with the words “Special Forces Survival Roman Numeral Two” on the blade in a lake located behind “Baldwin’s parents’ residence.” The medical examiner stated that many of the wounds inflicted upon the boys “were consistent with, and could have been caused by, that knife.”
Deanna Holcomb told the jury she had seen Echols “carrying a similar knife,”
although she said the knife she saw had a compass on the end. A 1987 catalog from a Tennessee-based company named Parker’s Knife Collector Services carried the same kind of knife with a compass on the end with the words on the blade: “Special Forces Survival Roman Numeral Two.” A picture of this knife, which was similar to the one found behind Baldwin’s residence, was shown to the jury.
Detective Ridge testified that Echols conveyed information about the wounds inflicted upon Chris Byers’ body before this information was made public.
The State’s theory of the case was that the murders of the three boys were linked to the occult. All three defendants had exhibited public evidence of occult interest/involvement. A Dr. Dale Griffs, an “expert” in the occult, supported the State’s theory. His testimony was later discredited.
Echols took the witness stand, and when asked about Detective Ridge’s testimony, he said he had read in the newspaper that one of the victims had been mutilated more than the others. His attorney introduced newspaper articles into evidence. On cross examination, Echols was forced to admit that no such information appeared in the newspaper articles.
Baldwin did not testify, but a jailhouse informant named Michael Carson did testify that Baldwin had confided in him that he (Baldwin) had been involved in the murders.
Echols and Baldwin were convicted. Echols was sentenced to death while Baldwin was given a life sentence. Misskelley was convicted at a separate trial and sentenced to life.
ALLEGED RECANTATION OF TESTIMONY:
It has been repeatedly stated by West Memphis Three supporters that Christy Van Vickle and Jodee Medford have recanted their statements to police that Echols had confessed to them. That is not true (here), but even had the girls recanted, recantation testimony is uniformly viewed by the courts as being “notoriously unreliable.” Recantation testimony indisputably makes the witness a lair—either in the original statement or in the recanted statement. Liars do not enjoy a presumption of credibility.
The courts have said that “Recanted testimony given under oath at trial is not looked upon with favor [and] indeed such is generally looked upon with downright suspicion.”
With respect to recanted testimony given after trial, the courts have adopted a four-prong test in weighing this evidence: “The newly discovered [recanted testimony] must be more than impeaching or cumulative; it must be material to the issues involved; it must be such as would probably produce an acquittal; and a new trial is not warranted by evidence which, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered and produced at trial.”
First, the testimony of the Van Vickle and Medford was cumulative. It simply reinforced the statement Echols had already made to Detective Ridge about one the boys had been mutilated more severely than the others—a strong indication of first-hand knowledge about the crime. Echols never denied making the statement to Ridge and, in fact, was caught in a lie on the witness stand as to how he came about that information.
JESSIE MISKELLY’S CONFESSIONS
Jessie Misskelley, who was not a suspect and who was questioned by the police only because he was a known associate of Echols, quickly confessed not only to his involvement in the murders but implicated Echols and Baldwin in them as well. Misskelley would give additional statements in the investigation process. The confession/statements contained significant inaccuracies and inconsistencies. West Memphis Three supporters have attributed the admissions of guilt by Misskelley to his “borderline mental retardation” (a reported IQ of 72).
But what actually constitutes mental retardation? The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the American Psychiatric Association have developed slightly different definitions but as Boccaccini, Marcus T., Clark, John W., Kan, Lisa, Calliouet, Beth, and Noland, Ramona L. said in their study “Jury Pool Members’ Belief About the Relation Between Potential Impairments in Functioning and Mental Retardation for Aikins-Type Cases” (Law & Psychology Review) the two groups agree on three criteria for measuring mental retardation: 1) significant sub-average intelligence, 2) serious impairment of adaptive function, and 3) evidence that the first two components have been present since the beginning period, which is usually before age eighteen.
Reading language Misskelley used in his confession, his adjustment in prison, and his post-release interviews simply does not offer significant evidence that he was/is “borderline” mentally retarded. And there was enough “voluntary” information given to the police by Misskelley which indicated first-hand knowledge about the crime, just as Echols had indicated the same first-hand knowledge through his un-refuted statement to Detective Ridge.
Misskelley’S ALLEGED “FALSE” CONFESSION
West Memphis Three supporters routinely claim that the police coerced Misskelley into the confession. Misskelley was not a suspect when first interviewed by the police. The detectives simply wanted to interview him about his association with Echols, hoping to gain information about Echols who was then a major “suspect” because had made statements indicating knowledge about the murders, both to Detective Ridge and others. The police had not set up a coercive “get a confession” strategy when they decided to interview Misskelley—a strategy most often associated with false confessions. They were simply trying to get as much information as possible out of Misskelley about Echols before he decided to confess.
The New York-based Innocence Project reports 25 percent of the nation’s DNA exonerations involved false confessions and incriminating statements. The Innocence Project lists the following reasons for false confessions: duress; coercion; intoxication, diminished capacity; mental impairment; ignorance of the law; fear of violence; the actual infliction of harm; the threat of a harsh sentence; and a misunderstanding of the situation.
There is no credible evidence that any of these reasons motivated, or even influenced, Misskelley’s initial confession. While West Memphis Three supporters “assert’ that duress, coercion, and diminished capacity led to that confession, there is no credible evidence to support these “assertions” other than its inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
The Innocence Project says that confessions from juveniles are particularly unreliable because children can be so easily manipulated. Children tend to believe they can “go home” as soon as they admit guilt. Misskelley may have been a teenager but he was no “child” who believed that once he implicated himself in a brutal triple murder, he would be allowed to “go home.”
It is now generally recognized that individuals, who are mentally impaired, are indeed at the mercy of police interrogators who have no “special training on questioning suspects with mental disabilities” and who tend to view mental impairment as an opportunity to secure a confession with little or no regard for its veracity. And it must be noted that the same manipulative interrogation techniques used on these vulnerable individuals can also prompt “mentally capable adults” to give false confession as well because, as the Innocence Project suggests, they are often subjected to lengthy interrogations under harsh physical conditions; brow-beaten into mental, physical and psychological exhaustion; or led to believe they will be released after confessing and can then prove their innocence.
Once again there is no credible evidence that Misskelley was subjected to a lengthy interrogation under harsh conditions, or that he was brow-beaten by his interrogators into exhaustion, or was led to believe he would be released after confessing.
While Misskelley’s confession/statements would have serious “credibility” problems in the judicial arena, that initial confession is nonetheless critical to the public debate about the guilt/innocence of the West Memphis Three. It must be viewed in the context of Echols’ first-hand knowledge about facts of the crime before they became known in the public record. Misskelley’s initial confession demonstrated the same first-hand knowledge about the crime. Put simply, the police did not either tell Misskelley to confess or tell him what to say in the confession (if they had, there would not been the inaccuracies in his confession).
Misskelley confessed because he was involved in the murders of those three boys. To what extent, we will never know. But that is not the real point—the point is that each of the West Memphis Three have admitted to their involvement all along the way.
NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE:
Last November the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered that DNA testing be conducted on evidence found at the crime scene. This evidence included “a foreign allele from a penile swab of victim Steven Branch; a hair from the ligature used to bind victim Michael Moore; and a hair recovered from a tree stump, near where the bodies were recovered.”
DNA testing of this biological material excluded Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley as sources of the material. However, DNA material from the hair found on the Moore ligature was consistent with Terry Hobbs, Steven Branch’s stepfather, and DNA material from the hair found in the tree stump was consistent with a friend of Hobbs, David Jacoby. West Memphis Three supporters declared Hobbs/Jacoby as the real killers of the boys.
But the new DNA evidence did not exonerate the West Memphis Three. It simply concluded that strands of hair found at the crime scene were consistent with those of Hobbs and Jacoby. It does not present even minimum probable cause to believe these two men committed the murders. But it was information a jury should have been allowed to consider.
Further, it must be noted that the West Memphis Three had a court-ordered hearing coming up in December on this “new” DNA evidence, but several weeks before their release, Echols’ attorney, according to the New York Times, began negotiating a “deal” with prosecutors for their release. What kind of attorney, who believes his client is innocent and who believes there is new evidence to support the claim of innocence, would urge his client to plead guilty. All an Alford plea does is to permit a defendant to plead guilty while maintaining his innocence. It does not diminish the defendant’s admission of guilt through the plea. Each one of the West Memphis Three defendants stood in open court and told the judge they were “guilty” of killing those three boys. That is the best evidence of guilt against them.
This is America. People in this country enjoy the right to express opinions about any given social issue. The West Memphis Three, and their supporters, created the public debate about the “actual innocence” of the three men. Yet it is not really a debate they want. They want the general public to embrace the “evidence” of innocence they have cobbled together from a number of different sources—much of which is as unreliable as the evidence the say convicted the WM3—and if anyone refuses to accept their evidence (and points of view) as credible, they attack both the intelligence and character of the doubters. A debate must have two sides, and the proponents of each side must be given a reasonable opportunity to present their views in a rational forum.
While there is no direct evidence that Echols, Baldwin, or Misskelley killed those three boys, there is compelling evidence that each has confessed to, or bragged about, killing them.
Next the West Memphis Three stood in an open courtroom and pled guilty to the murders. Supporters say this was not an admission of guilt but their only way to get out of prison. That dog won’t hunt. That December hearing would have resulted in a new trial for all three, and the chances were exceedingly high that they would have been acquitted upon a retrial. The District Attorney said as much following the guilty plea hearing. So after 18 years of incarceration claiming innocence, Echols, and the other two, did not have either the will or courage to wait a few more months to face a jury with an opportunity to establish their innocence.
Beyond the WM3, there have been four other “suspects” linked to the murders over the past eighteen years. The first suspect was a bloody African-American man dubbed “Mr. Bojanles” who was seen by employees at a local Bojangles restaurant on the evening of the crime. The restaurant was located near the ditch in Robin Hood woods where the bodies of the three boys were found. Employees said the black man was dazed, covered with blood and mud, and used the restroom at the restaurant. The employees called the police who responded to the call but did not fully investigate the incident. When the bodies of the three boys were found the next day, the restaurant’s manager once again called the police who this time responded by taking blood scrapings from the walls of the restroom. That evidence (if it can be called such) was later destroyed or lost. I have never believed that one person, much less “Mr. Bojanles,” killed the three boys—not in the manner in which they were slain.
The second suspect was John Mark Byers, the adoptive father of Chris Byers. He became a prime suspect after Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky produced a 1996 documentary about the West Memphis Three titled Paradise Lost. During the filming of this HBO documentary, Byers reportedly gave a knife to cameraman Doug Cooper who gave it to Berlinger and Sinofsky. After filming of the documentary had been completed, the two filmmakers reportedly discovered what appeared to be blood on the knife and quickly turned it over to West Memphis law enforcement authorities. At the time the “bloody knife” was significant because the State’s case was premised on the theory that the bodies of the three boys had been mutilated with a knife. Byers was ultimately “exonerated” by WM3 supporters and actually joined the ranks of those supporters.
The third and fourth suspects were Terry Hobbs and/or David Jacoby based on the “hair evidence” found at the crime scene. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the Hobbs/Jacoby strands of hair could have been transferred to the boys before the murders actually occurred. Hobbs and Jacoby worked together, and, sometimes, socialized. But they were not close friends whose relationship would have allowed them to join together and commit three horrific murders. I do not believe that one or both of them killed those three boys, and there is not a single thread of credible evidence to suggest they did.
The evidence presented in the courtroom and in the public record against the West Memphis Three is far more compelling of guilt than any of which has been presented against Mr. Bojanles, John Byers, Terry Hobbs and/or David Jacoby. Damien Echols was the first suspect in the murders and four days after the crimes he made a statement to Detective Ridge indicating first-hand knowledge about the murders.
Beyond their legion of admissions of involvement in the murders—before, during, and after their convictions—Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley pled guilty to the murders. They chose to flee the courtroom with their guilty pleas rather than stand and fight for the innocence they had maintained. Of course, after the guilty plea hearing and while the cameras were rolling, the WM3 and their supporters vowed to keep the “search” going for the real killers. Those assertions have as much credibility as O.J. Simpson’s assertion that he would find the killer of his wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.