West Memphis Three – Then
*In 1993 three eight-year-old cub scouts were found dead in a muddy creek in West Memphis, a small town in eastern Arkansas. The three boys—Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers—had been hogtied before they were killed, which quickly led to allegations of satanic ritual and sexual mutilation. Hysteria exploded; a witch hunt began. Police focused on Damien Echols, a black-haired Goth teenager who read vampire books and listened to heavy-metal music. With two friends, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley junior, Mr Echols was arrested for the crimes. Mr Misskelley confessed and then recanted; the others always maintained their innocence.
But last week they were released in a sudden, stunning plea-bargain. After years of appeals, the state of Arkansas accepted an “Alford plea” from the three men, who are now in their 30s’.
The three were sentenced to time served, which was 18 years and 78 days, and immediately released—though, to ensure good behaviour, a suspended sentence of ten years hangs over each man’s head. No one had ever before walked off Arkansas’s death row in such a way.
West Memphis Thee – Now
Freedom might have never come without the celebrities, documentaries and internet campaigning that brought international attention to the case. Last year Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam organised a concert in Little Rock at which Johnny Depp appeared and Patti Smith, a punk singer, performed. The director of “Lord of the Rings”, Sir Peter Jackson, helped pay the legal fees of the three.
*Excerpt from: The Economist
Free the West Memphis Three Support Fund Website