Update, 1:13 PM: A judge has accepted an Alford plea and all three men have been freed.
The case of the “West Memphis Three”- wherein three young men have spent nearly two decades in a prison for a horrific crime many believe they did not commit- could finally be drawing to an end.
It has long been believe that the trio- Damien Echols, now 36, Jesse Misskelley, also 36 and Jason Baldwin, 34- were railroaded based on their appearance and some typical teenage angst. Fears of satanic influence coupled with the boys’ interests and behavior led to a death sentence for Echols, and life in prison for the other two- all teens at the time of the shocking 1993 murders of three local schoolboys. The conviction hinged largely on the confession of Misskelley- who was under duress and later recanted.
A widely-watched HBO documentary about the murders was helpful in attracting attention to the plight of the West Memphis Three, and high-profile celebrities including Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder also drew awareness to the case. Failure to match DNA found at the scene to Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin is believed to be the precipitate for the new deal for the men, but the exact terms of the expected deal have not yet been revealed.
One unlikely supporter has commented on the new developments- John Mark Byers, father of victim Christopher Byers- has expressed his frustration with how the case has been handled:
“I think it’s a travesty to someone that’s a citizen in any state, to have to go to court and lie and say you’re guilty of a crime you didn’t do just to ensure your freedom of getting out… They’re innocent. … I know they’re being forced to plead to some other charge for their freedom.”
“I plan on talking to all three of them and letting them know I don’t blame them for copping a plea to get out. I understand. It’s not their fault. I hold no animosity toward them. They did not kill my son.”
The West Memphis Three could be released from prison as early as today.