For the first case I wanted to talk about here, I chose a bit of a big one. But out of all the true crime cases that I’ve read about and looked into, this is probably the one I’m most knowledgeable and passionate about. It is going to take me quite a few posts to really cover everything I want to discuss about it, but that’s the whole point of this blog. To allow me to break down my thoughts on a case in a way that I can organize and voice.
First of all though, I want to just summarize the case for those who are unfamiliar about it. On May 5th, 1993, the three boys pictured above – Stevie Branch, Chris Byers, and Michael Moore – all 8-years-old, were murdered and left in a creek near the neighborhood where they lived in West Memphis, Arkansas.
A month later, the police arrested three older boys for the crime. Damien Echols (18), Jessie Misskelley (17), and Jason Baldwin (16) were brought in and charged with the murders after Jessie confessed to the crime and implicated the other two. All three boys were found guilty and Jessie and Jason were both sentenced to life in prison, while Echols was sentenced to death.
Over the next several years, people began to question the evidence in the case though, suspicious that an injustice had happened. Were the boys really guilty, or had they been convicted based on Satanic Panic and bad forensics? This was brought to the attention of the public mostly by an HBO documentary that was following the case called Paradise Lost.
Almost 20 years later, after many appeals, arguments, several more documentaries, and hundreds of articles written about the case, on August 19th, 2011, Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were all three released from prison as part of a plea deal. The three entered an Alford plea, which means that they enter a formal guilty plea, but do not admit guilt. If it sounds a little weird, that’s because it is. It doesn’t happen very often, but the plea deal allowed them all three to walk out of prison and go home. Echols, who was on death row, went from possibly being executed to being a free man.
The Alford plea also allowed the police and the prosecution to close the book on the case. They had guilty pleas from their three suspects. There’s no reason to look any further than that. But over a decade after their release, for many people, including Echols and Baldwin, the conclusion of this case is still not satisfactory.
If you believe that Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin committed these murders, then the state of Arkansas just let three people who viciously killed three children out onto the streets once again. And if you don’t believe that they killed the three children, then whoever did kill them just got a free pass, and three other innocent boys spend two horrific decades falsely imprisoned. Either way, it does not feel like justice was done.
And that’s my summary of the case. There’s SO much more to talk about here though and I have many, many thoughts on the case that I want to share.
If you want to jump ahead and learn more about the case, there are four great documentaries about it. The Paradise Lost trilogy is available on HBO. They were made while the case was happening and all three of them are amazing. There is also West of Memphis, which was made in 2012, after the three were released from prison, and is a great overview of the entire case.
I became very interested in the case after listening about it on Bob Ruff’s podcast, Truth & Justice. This long-form podcast really digs deep into the case and is a great listen if you are interested in it. Bob Ruff also joined with the Oxygen network to make show called The Forgotten West Memphis Three, which is a great look at the case in 2020.
Lastly, there are several books about the case, but the only one I’ve read is called Devil’s Knot. It’s slightly outdated now, written in 2002, but covers a lot of what was known about the case at the time. There was also a movie made based off that book, starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, also called Devil’s Knot.
Those, along with many other articles that I’ve read over the years about the case are my main source of knowledge about it.
If you just want my quick thoughts about the case – I think that Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin are innocent of the murders and that the real killer got away with it. I’ll go into more about why I think this as I unfold the case over the next several blog posts. I have no idea how long that is going to take. I’m just winging this.
Okay, that’s it for the summary of the case. Next post I’ll talk about the day of the murders and introduce the people involved.