Devils Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara LeverittIn 2011, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history was set right when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were released after eighteen years in prison. Award-winning journalist Mara Leveritts The Devils Knot remains the most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on the investigation, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys who became known as the West Memphis Three.
For weeks in 1993, after the murders of three eight-year-old boys, police in West Memphis, Arkansas seemed stymied. Then suddenly, detectives charged three teenagers, alleged members of a satanic cult, with the killings. Despite the witch-hunt atmosphere of the trials, and a case which included stunning investigative blunders, a confession riddled with errors, and an absence of physical evidence linking any of the accused to the crime, the teenagers were convicted. Jurors sentenced Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to life in prison and Damien Echols, the accused ringleader, to death. The guilty verdicts were popular in their home state, even upheld on appeal, and all three remained in prison until their unprecedented release in August 2011.
With close-up views of its key participants, this award-winning account unravels the many tangled knots of this endlessly shocking case, one which will shape the American legal landscape for years to come.
Who are the West Memphis Three?
The West Memphis Three are three men known for being convicted as teenagers in , of the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols was sentenced to death , Jessie Misskelley, Jr. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the juveniles killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual. The case generated widespread controversy and was the subject of a number of documentaries that explored its elements. Celebrities and musicians have held fundraisers to support efforts to free the men, who they say are innocent of the charges. In July , new forensic evidence was presented in the case.
At the time, the prosecution asserted that the boys were murdered as part of a satanic ritual. All three of the accused were convicted of the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment and, in Echols case, the death penalty which was never carried out by the State. Following the submission of new DNA evidence in , the State of Arkansas negotiated a plea agreement with all three of the accused and allowed them to submit Alford pleas which essentially asserts that while the three acknowledge that the State has enough evidence to convict them, they maintain their innocence. The three were then released on time served. For many, this was enough to exonerate the three teenagers, now grown men. Lets examine these three actually four other peoples testimony, shall we?
Timeline of events in the West Memphis Three case 1 of 6. They had been beaten and hog-tied with their shoelaces. June 3 After being interviewed by the police for hours, mentally challenged Jessie Misskelley implicates himself, Baldwin and Echols in the murder of the three children.
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On August 19, , a plea deal nothing short of remarkable was struck in a case that has held the attention of the town of West Memphis, Arkansas and arguably the nation for over 18 years. In a crafty maneuver exemplifying the skills of legal advocacy, attorneys from both sides of the very publicized legal case negotiated a plea deal called the Alford Plea, finally putting a highly controversial murder case to rest. The following is a brief synopsis of the case that shocked a nation, paired with exclusive personal input from the attorneys who negotiated the deal, exhibiting a rare instance of true legal compromise. In May of , the lifeless bodies of three second grade boys were found in a muddy ditch in Arkansas. Their cold legs were hogtied to their mutilated bodies with their own shoelaces.
In , two juries found the men, who were teenagers at the time, guilty of murdering three eight-year-old boys Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers in May in West Memphis. Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin and Misskelley to life without parole. Misskelley was the first of the three to be tried in He was 17 at the time. He was tried separately from the other two because he had confessed—and implicated Echols and Baldwin — in a statement tape-recorded by police. Misskelley retracted the statement but was convicted after prosecutors played it at his trial.