This Saturday the CBS show 48 Hours Mystery will discuss the tragic case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley Jr., otherwise known as the West Memphis Three. In 1993 the three men—then teenagers—were convicted of the “Satanic” murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. It was a sham from start to finish, with the authorities relying on false testimony, moral panic about heavy metal music, and an “occult expert” with a mail-order Ph.D., who testified, “I have personally observed people wearing black fingernails, having their hair painted black, wearing black T-shirts, black dungarees.” As a result of this railroading, Baldwin and Misskelley are now serving life and Echols is on death row.
The case is covered in a documentary called Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Woods, and a second documentary called Paradise Lost 2. The basic facts of the case come down to this: three kids were found dead in a creek. Forensic data was collected improperly. The police immediately pinned the crime on three teenagers because they listened to death metal. The police coerced a confession from one of the teens, who was retarded. In the meantime, and actual lead was ignored. Teens were convicted among a media-induced Satanic Panic.
It disgusts me that cases like this still pass for justice in this country, and that this could even happen after the debacle that was the McMartin Preschool trial.
Of course, there are plenty who are convinced that the WM3 really are Satanic murders, and the fact that the evidence does not support the convictions doesn’t seem to matter much. (One commenter at Reason states: “One of the 3 confessed. Echols and Baldwin both told others they committed the murders. Echols was seen near the crime scene with muddy clothes. Clothing fibers and a knife connected them to the crime.” The confession was coerced and none of the other “facts” are true.)
More info on the West Memphis Three case here. Support site for the West Memphis Three. Another essay by Damon Root on the West Memphis Three. Preview video for the upcoming episode of 48 Hours.
Please, people — take the time to actually look at the world around you before singling out anyone who looks different as an agent of Satan. The Inquisition is over already.