ATLANTA — The three men known as the “West Memphis
3,” who have been imprisoned for 18 years for a notorious 1993
child-murder case, have won their freedom in an Arkansas courtroom after
new evidence arose casting doubt on their original convictions.
In an agreement with prosecutors, the three men —
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — pleaded guilty to
the murders of three 8-year-old boys in May 1993, but are able to claim
they are innocent, an arrangement known as an “Alford plea.”
The three men were released Friday after serving sentences of 18 years plus credit for time served.
“Today’s proceeding allows the defendants the freedom
of speech to say they are innocent, but the fact is, they just plead
guilty,” Scott Ellington, district prosecuting attorney for Craighead
County, Ark., said in a prepared statement.
The case of the West Memphis 3 — teenagers when
arrested — became a cause celebre in music and Hollywood circles as
questions emerged about their trial, in which prosecutors argued that
the suspects, who favored black clothing and heavy metal music, murdered
the boys as part of a satanic ritual.
At one point, Misskelley confessed to police that he,
Echols and Baldwin had attacked, raped and murdered the second-graders.
Supporters said the confession was false and coerced, and noted that
Misskelley is mentally disabled.
Since then, the Arkansas Supreme Court determined
that DNA evidence found at the scene “conclusively excluded” the three,
and attorneys for the men had asked for a new hearing to consider new
Henry Rollins, the former singer of the punk band
Black Flag, was among those who rallied support for the Memphis 3,
releasing a benefit album to aid their defense.
Rollins, in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Friday, said that the news had made him “literally dizzy.”
“I am happy for the guys but so much has been lost,”
said Rollins, who is on tour in Scotland. “Three boys were killed. In my
opinion, the wrong people were incarcerated and the person or persons
who did it are still out there, alive or dead, still not brought to
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