West Memphis 3 to be freed after plea reached in 1993 murders
August 19th, 2011
12:59 PM ET

West Memphis 3 to be freed after plea reached in 1993 murders

Three men convicted in the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, were ordered released after entering new pleas following a court hearing.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 18 years in prison with credit for time served, a prosecutor said. They were to be released on Friday.

Critics of the prosecution argue no direct evidence tied the three to the murders and that a knife recovered from a lake near the home of one of the men could not have caused the boys' wounds. More recent DNA testing also demonstrated no links, according the mens' supporters.

The case drew national attention, with actor Johnny Depp and singer Eddie Vedder and other celebrities, trying to rally support for the men's release.

John Mark Byers, whose son Christopher Byers was one of the three victims, said he believes the three men are innocent. He said releasing them without exonerating them of the crime is an outrage.

"They're innocent. They did not kill my son," Byers said before the hearing.

But the father of another of the victims, Steven Branch, blasted the apparent agreement.

"I don't know what kind of deal they worked up," Steve Branch told CNN affiliate WMC-TV. "Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you and you can walk free for killing somebody."

Echols was sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin were given life sentences in the May 1993 slayings of Steven and fellow second-graders Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. The boys' bodies were mutilated and left in a ditch, hogtied with their own shoelaces. Prosecutors argued that the men convicted, teenagers at the time, were driven by satanic ritual and that Echols had been the ringleader.

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Filed under: Arkansas • Crime
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Ted Weissgerber

    The SOUTH rises again!

    August 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Nick

    Inb4 everyone calling for their heads.

    August 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cult of Personality

    Cool – Happy to Hear It...Obviously the DNA evidence played a major factor in this case and these three men are innocent. However, based off of this DNA evidence, I hope the real murderers are caught and brought to swift justice.

    August 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Im Guilty of being Innocent...

      August 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jen

    This gives me hope in having some faith in the American justice system.

    August 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jes

      But it took 18 years.

      Plus they had to accept a plea.

      Plus the actual killer or killers were never caught.

      But I know what you mean.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rosaly bagby

    God where are you

    August 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brooklyn

    Wow, our justice system actually worked. About time them boys were released

    August 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mary Rodriguez

    I've followed this case through the media for years. Its sad that some depraved individual is still out there. I hope the parents of the murdered children can be at peace within themselves. The whole thing was horrible and tragic. And, the men being released from prison...let it go. Start from today.

    August 19, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    I am so glad for Damian,Jason and Jessie. The courts were nothing but belligerent and had no proof in the beginning to begin with. The used three boys as a scape goat tactic for their christianity beliefs all because the boys listened to heavy metal music. Good luck Damian, Jason and Jamie.

    August 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tammy

    its about time these boys didn't do this. i watched the last show about this and one of the step fathers dna was in the shoe string of them babies him and his friend need to be in jail!!!!!!!! god is good take care of the 3 men and people leave them alone

    August 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    I've had no doubt of their innocence for many years.
    Good luck, guys.

    August 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. basshead35

    Although these truly innocent men are finally being released from prison, justice has still not been served and never will. The only evidence presented in this case against them was that they listened to heavy metal music and were considered "goths." Stereotypes are not evidence, and their trial was complete bs from the start. I truly wish they would have not agreed to this plea deal, because it still states that they are guilty and admit guilt, but I understand if they hadn't they would still be locked up for a completely ridiculous charge. These men are innocent and should not have to live the rest of their lives as convicted felons. The "justice" system has failed us once again, and ruined the lives of three young men. They should sue the state for every penny they have, and not have to live like this. Good luck to you three, we know you were innocent from the start and I support you, and always have. btw the boy's stepdad and his friend killed the kids!

    August 19, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    They pled guilty to the crime. Time served. Justice was not done unless these three did it! The police still have a closed case. Nothing left to investigate!

    August 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sacha

    These guys have been in jail for 18 years. They got a lucky break which means a shot for appeal or new trial with introduction of dna evidence. The fact that they pled guilty to a lesser charge only means the prosecution offered the deal because they were worried about conviction again. This saves lawsuits for injust conviction and saves alot of taxpayers money prosecuting again with good chance of failure. These three have lost hope of ever being free a few times now...all appeals were exhausted.......so........of course they would accept any deal,.... it meant.......... Time served you are free to go...personnally i would admit to anything that got me out of prison....this doesnt mean they re guilty, it just means they re willing to admit guilt in exchange for freedom......

    August 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    Sitting here wondering if these guy were black, what would the outcome be? Would you all support them being freed as well? Hmmmm....

    August 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jes

      Why are you judging other people – people you don't even know – yourself ?

      But to answer your question – race would make no difference.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darwin

      They were freed because they were innocent, not because they were white. Geez! Black people will find a way to turn just about anything into a race issue. Rob, if I'm even remotely racist, it's because of people like you. Race will continue to be an issue as long as people like you make it an issue. To answer your question, if they were black they would've actually committed the crime. There..... is that what you wanted to hear?

      August 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. banasy©

    Yes, Rob, I would.
    What is your point, besides being a closet racist?

    August 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
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