Oct 13, 2009

Tide Turning in West Memphis Fishbowl?

There have been some new developments in the strange, sad case of the West Memphis Three. If you're not familiar with the history of the witch trial that put three teenage boys in prison over 15 years ago, you can find background in previous entries here and here. As reported previously, DNA evidence implicates Terry Hobbs; the stepfather of one of the murdered children. Now comes evidence that he lied under oath about not having seen the boys the day they were murdered. Three eyewitnesses have come forward, who place him with the children earlier that evening.

The claims are from Terry Hobbs' neighbors; a woman and her two daughters.

One states, "Between 5:30 p.m. And 6:30 p.m., I saw Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers playing in my backyard. I am absolutely, completely and totally positive that I saw Terry Hobbs hollering at Stevie, Michael and Christopher to get back down to the Hobbs' house at approximately 6:30 pm."

. . .

Meantime, you may be asking why the three women just came forward. They say they were never questioned by police at the beginning and were unaware, until now, of Hobbs' recent statement that he hadn't seen the boys the day of the murders.

. . .

The affidavit continues, "Following the murders, the police never came to interview me or my family. In fact, after the murders, I do not recall ever seeing any police vehicles on my street or seeing any police interviewing any of the people in my neighborhood."

If there was ever any question that the police did not do their due diligence in investigating the murders of the three eight year old boys, there you have it. They never even questioned Stevie Branch's neighbors. Well, they were a little busy interrogating Jessie Misskelley for 13 hours. I mean, why burn shoe leather when you have a mentally handicapped boy you can convince to tell you exactly what you want to hear?

One of the most troubling features of the West Memphis Three case is the way the entire town got swept up in a "Satanic Panic," that seemed to supersede any sense of reason. To outside observers, that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, could have been convicted, on such flimsy evidence, seems absurd. Thus, has the case become a cause for many people, including a number of noted celebrities; Henry Rollins, Eddie Veder, Natalie Maines, Trey Parker... The list goes on. Yet, with all the press attention, benefit concerts, etc., the town only seemed to dig its heels in deeper. That may finally be changing. The New York Times reports:

For years, outsiders have raised questions about the guilt of the three misfit teenagers, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who were convicted of the murders. But more recently, a steady dribble of new evidence has begun to seep into the consciousness of West Memphis, eroding the once nearly unanimous belief that those outsiders — including rock stars, HBO filmmakers and the creators of “South Park” — did not know what they were talking about.

First came reports that John Mark Byers, once considered by many observers to be a prime suspect, had started publicly supporting the West Memphis Three, and proclaiming their innocence. Then, the mother of Stevie Branch, Pam Hobbs, turned in evidence implicating her ex-husband, and saying she thought he may have done it. Slowly, skepticism, about the original verdict, seems to be growing, within the insular, little town of West Memphis.

Still, the trial remains a delicate subject in West Memphis and its county, Crittenden. The mayor of West Memphis, William H. Johnson, declined to be interviewed about it. Linda Miller, who owns a health food store with her husband and believes that the convictions were wrong, said she was wary of speaking her mind because the issue was so “polarizing.”

. . .

But a lack of open debate about the case does not mean that there are no deep, if quiet, misgivings about the convictions. From his living room recliner, Mrs. Bailey’s husband, Otto, offered his opinion. “I bet if you polled three-fourths of West Memphis,” he said, “they would say those boys had nothing to do with it.”

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