The last time I posted on the West Memphis Three here, a new hearing was in the works. But in a shocking turn of events, it was announced today that a hearing will take place tomorrow in Jonesboro circuit court that could possibly result in the RELEASE of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. The Arkansas Times news blog states that the court will hear pleas from the defendants in exchange for release, and that these pleas might still allow the defendants to maintain their innocence. Many major news outlets are reporting on this stunning story, and of course we’ll be tuned in tomorrow to learn the results.
This is HUGE. Partly because all three defendants are being brought into court together (originally Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Echols were tried separately from Mr. Misskelley). But also because the possibility of release for reduced charges (which seem to be consist of a guilty plea) is an option never before reported in the eighteen year history of this case (which is summarized as well as described in detail here at the original supporters’ website founded by Burk Sauls, Kathy Bakken and Grove Pashley).
The case has been big news in the pagan community from the beginning, when rumors in the community of West Memphis, Arkansas painted the 1993 murders of three young boys as some kind of satanic rite. Local high school student Damien Echols, a practicing Wiccan, was implicated, as were his friends Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. The resultant trial and convictions (resulting in life sentences for Baldwin and Misskelley, and a death sentence for Echols) comprised a major portion of an award-winning documentary film shown on HBO and at film festivals in 1996, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The filmmakers produced a follow-up film in 2000 (Revelations), and are currently working on the third and final film, entitled Purgatory which is premiering at the prestigious Toronto Film festival. I have communicated with Joe Berlinger this evening and he confirmed that he and Bruce will be on hand in Arkansas tomorrow for filming.
It is impossible to convey how important these films have been in raising awareness about this case. Before Paradise Lost came out, Damien Echols was contemplating asking to be put to death because of his horrific treatment in prison. These films have not only told the story of this incredible case, providing content that is stunning and revealing, but have lent hope to the three incarcerated men and brought countless supporters to their cause (including high-profile celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Margaret Cho and many musicians like Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle and the members of Metallica who donated songs to the films’ soundtracks).
I’ve been writing on this case for many years (you can see some of the Witchvox coverage here) and it’s been quite demoralizing at times to realize how slow the wheels of justice turn. The suffering of the three innocent young men in prison, as well as the families of the three murdered boys whose killer or killers have not yet been apprehended, has moved many people and inspired many followers and supporters of the case. May all who have yearned for justice for the West Memphis Three, and for Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, be convinced tomorrow that justice is possible.
UPDATE August 19th: The Arkansas Times blog has breaking updates on this case so this is a good place to check in for news.