For background on the West Memphis Three, please see my previous entries here and here, and the site dedicated to their case.
Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of the slain Steve Branch, has filed a defamation suit against the Dixie Chicks and their lead singer and frequent provocateur Natalie Maines. As ever, this is being reported, hither and yon, as a case of the controversial performer in trouble again because of her big mouth. Thus far, the reportage has been very surface, and leaves a number of questions. I have yet to see a reprint of any specific comments Hobbs is calling libelous. Here's the Washington Post:
Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, who was killed in 1993 with Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Nov. 25. The suit names all three members of the Dixie Chicks, but focuses on Maines.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Hobbs claims he suffered loss of income, injury to his reputation and emotional distress.
Maines attended a Dec. 19 rally in Little Rock, where she claimed Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley _ known to sympathizers as the "West Memphis Three" _ were innocent and that supposed new evidence pointed to Hobbs. Her comments echoed a Nov. 26, 2007, letter that was still on the Dixie Chicks' Web site on Thursday, in which she claimed that new DNA testing of hair from the crime scene linked Hobbs to the killings and that his behavior after the slayings indicated his guilt.
I suppose it could depend on how she worded this, because the over-all content is accurate. There is DNA evidence linking Hobbs to the crime scene and there are other things implicating Hobbs and a friend, who is also linked by DNA. Maines didn't make any of that up. It was information discovered by defense attorneys and forensics experts. It was part of a Habeas Corpus motion which, sadly, failed to win over the Arkansas court this fall. And, as Maines explained in a letter on her website, that evidence is probably the most compelling yet, in a case which has sane people everywhere shaking their heads in horrified amazement. The lack of physical evidence tying the three young men convicted of the Robin Hood Hills murders has set off alarm bells from the beginning. But, when forensics examiners, using the most modern DNA testing methods, found, as they did last year, that there was not a shred of their DNA found at the crime scene, it was another nail in the coffin of this erroneous prosecution. What they did find was hair strands with DNA consistent with both Terry Hobbs and a friend with whom he spent time, on the day of murders. All of this information was reported in a press conference by the defense team. (The complete presentation explaining the DNA and other evidence can be found in a YouTube series posted in my entry here.)
You'll note that Hobbs isn't suing the defense lawyers, the forensics experts, or the various news outlets which reported their findings. He's going straight for the very deep pockets of the Chicks.
Maines also did not invent or imagine the concerns of Terry Hobbs's ex-wife, who has openly stated her suspicions that he may have been responsible for her son's death. And, you'll note that Terry Hobbs doesn't seem to be suing Pam Hobbs either for her very damning comments to the press.
In July I asked Pam if her ex-husband could have been involved in the murders.
"Do you think honestly in your heart that he might have had something to do with this," I asked. "Honestly in my heart...I have to be honest. Possibly," replied Pam Hobbs.
But why did she answer that way? Four months later--the response.
"The manipulation that I lived with through 17 years of living with him, knowing honestly that he was not a loving step-father, that he tries to portray himself to be," said Hobbs.
He's not suing her for reporting that her son's pocket knife was found in his effects. He's also, apparently, not suing Pam's sister Jo Lynn McCaughey for naming him as a likely suspect. But, Natalie Maines who had the audacity to repeat the public statements of others, he's suing.
Also missing from the early reports of Maines's legal troubles, is an explanation of why she and countless others -- Trey Parker, Henry Rollins, Winona Ryder, Jack Black, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder... me -- are so impassioned about seeing the West Memphis Three exonerated.
The Washington Post piece -- the most comprehensive I've found so far -- allows this statement to hang in the air.
Police arrested the three after a confession by Misskelley in which he described how he watched Baldwin and Echols sexually assault and beat two of the boys as he ran down another trying to escape.
Not mentioned is that Jessie Misskelley is mentally handicapped, with an IQ under 70, that he was interrogated for 12 hours without benefit of counsel or parental consent, that his confession was riddled with factual errors, that he was told he'd be able to go home if he gave them the information, and that he recanted a few hours later. That information, alone, goes a long way to demonstrating that this isn't just a case of wacky celebs running their sucks on legal matters they don't understand.
Also not mentioned in this latest flurry of press reports is the legal reasoning that put these boys behind bars. But, I guess it starts to sound a little silly to talk about convicted Satanic ritual murderers. Especially when there never was any evidence that such a ritual took place, and nothing to tie the boys to such practices except for the fondness for Metallica, black clothes, and Damien Echols's fascination with spiritual study that included some books on Wicca. Lets face it. How do you report, with any seriousness, a prosecution that doesn't hold up under the tiniest bit of scrutiny?
Let's hope that this new action from the litigious Mr. Hobbs brings some renewed focus on a miscarriage of justice that forced three young boys to grow up in prison. Natalie Maines has proven repeatedly that she is a woman of principle, who doesn't back down in the face of ridicule, or even CD burnings. The girl has grit. She'll need it, because as much as I'd like to think a lawsuit this absurd would be laughed out of court, the conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, has amply demonstrated that justice doesn't always prevail.