Satan always gets a bad rap. He is blamed for everything “bad” that happens in the world. If you mix this with ignorance, southern accents, backwoods churches and a touch of inbreeding, you have the makings of a true life horror story. That is precisely what this post is about………..Paradise Lost – The West Memphis Three.
If you are not familiar with the story, it begins in West Memphis, Arkansas late one evening in 1993. Three young boys out playing in the neighborhood disappear. Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers— were reported missing on May 5, 1993 around 7:00 p.m.
Initial searches by police, friends and neighbors that night included a cursory visit to the location where the bodies were later found (Robin Hood Hills).
They were found stripped naked and had been hogtiedwith their own shoelaces: their right ankles tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs.
Their clothing was found in the creek, some of it twisted around sticks that had been thrust into the muddy ditch bed.The clothing was mostly turned inside-out; two pairs of the boys’ underwear were never recovered. Christopher Byers had lacerations to various parts of his body, and mutilation of his scrotum and penis. Police initially suspected the boys had been raped;however, later expert testimony disputed this finding despite trace amounts of sperm DNA found on a pair of pants recovered from the scene. Prosecution experts claim Byers’ wounds were the results of a knife attack and that he had been purposely castrated by the murderer; defense experts claim the injuries were more probably the result of post-mortem animal predation. Police believed the boys were assaulted and killed at the location where they were found; critics argued that the assault, at least, was unlikely to have occurred at the creek.
Three boys were soon rounded up as suspects: Jessie Misskelley, Jr., 17 years old; Jason Baldwin, 16 years old; Damien Echols, 18 years old. Baldwin and Echols had been arrested for vandalism and shoplifting, respectively, and Misskelley had a reputation for his temper and for engaging in fistfights with other teenagers at school. Misskelley and Echols had dropped out of high school; however, Baldwin earned high grades and demonstrated a talent for drawing and sketching, and was encouraged by one of his teachers to study graphic design in college. Echols and Baldwin were close friends, and bonded over their similar tastes in music and fiction, and over their shared distaste for the prevailing cultural climate of West Memphis, situated in the Bible Belt. Baldwin and Echols were acquainted with Misskelley from school, but were not close friends with him.
Police felt that the crime had “cult” overtones, and that Damien Echols might be a suspect because he had an interest in occultism, and Jones felt him capable of murdering children. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a satanic ritual. After a botched, shambled and hasty investigation, which resulted in circumstantial evidence, a town of superstitious god-fearing christians on the offensive and claims of Satanism and Satanic rituals, the three were found guilty in what can be described as “backwoods” justice (system).
Three lives forever changed and three dead children……………no “justice for ALL”. The results were in keeping with the agenda of the system: Find someone to pin the crime on and issue swift justice. That is exactly what happened. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. The three “children” were sent to prison to begin their sentences.
The crimes were brutal, the results heartbreaking and the criminal justice system………..totally incompetent. With the crimes involving children being slaughtered and mutilated, life for the young inmates must have been a horror itself at the hands of other inmates. Pedophiles and child murderers are systematically beaten and continuously raped by other inmates. The cell doors were slammed and these three (just children themselves) grew up behind bars.
After a series of appeals regarding the DNA evidence,including an argument before the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2010, the West Memphis Three reached a deal with prosecutors. On August 19, 2011, they entered Alford pleas, which allow them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them.
Judge David Laser accepted the pleas and sentenced the three to time served. They were released with ten-year suspended sentences, having served 18 years and 78 days in prison.
There have been several documentaries about the West Memphis Three and I recommend checking out the Paradise Lost trilogy.
- West Memphis Three Featured in HBO Documentary (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Inside Latest ‘Paradise Lost’ Installment (huffingtonpost.com)
- One Of The West Memphis Three Talks Life In Prison(huffingtonpost.com)
- ‘West of Memphis’ poster: First Look! (insidemovies.ew.com)
- ‘Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory’: The West Memphis Three Go Free (Review) (popmatters.com)