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The West Memphis Three release: Not justice, but a great leap forward

No more jumpsuits for Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin

Yesterday was a very emotional and humbling day for me. After years of waiting, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were freed from prison.

I was 15 years old when the West Memphis Three were arrested for the murders of three little boys in Robin Hood Hills. Jason had just turned 16; Damien and Jessie were a couple of years older.

Damien seemed to have a lot of the same characteristics as I did when I was around his age. I dressed in black all the time. I listened to loud music. I read Stephen King books and even read up a bit on Wicca. I was shocked that they used things that described me and my friends as evidence substantial enough to put someone on death row.

Eddie Vedder and Damien Echols

Nonetheless, here in Arkansas, we all figured they were guilty because we had blind trust in the law enforcement officials who swore up and down they had the murderers in custody. The local news never questioned it; DNA evidence was still relatively new. It wasn’t until a few years later when the case received national attention in the HBO Documentary Paradise Lost.

I’m happy to say I know more people in Arkansas who know they are innocent than those who think they are guilty. I don’t think there’s the same level of Satanic Panic that there was two decades ago.

I was first upset that these men had to plea guilty, but at least they entered an Alford Plea that allows them to maintain their innocence. I was upset that they wouldn’t get the trial we all worked so hard  for. But then I heard what Damien had to say yesterday:

“It’s not perfect by any means. but at least it brings closure to some areas and some aspects… We can still try to clear our names. The only difference is that now we can do it from the outside instead of having to sit in prison and do it.”

Lorri Echols and her husband, Damien Echols.

As I watched them, wearing three-piece suits instead of orange jumpsuits, and being joined by family members… I teared up and realized that they’re out, they are free, and they can still work hard to be officially cleared.

Here’s the press conference. It is definitely worth a watch.

I am very proud of those who used their influence to bring this case to light. It’s sad that there are still others in this country who are waiting for their chance to be exonerated.

More info on the West Memphis Three story and how you can help exonerate the wrongfully convicted:

Mara Leveritt

The Innocence Project

The Arkansas Times

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