West Memphis 3: Alford Pleas for Freedom, Release

The West Memphis 3, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, have been freed from prison after 18 years. They agreed to plead guilty via Alford pleas, under which they acknowledge the state has sufficient evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but they do not admit they committed the crimes and can maintain their innocence. Why the Alford pleas? So they can't sue the state for their wrongful conviction and confinement.

The hearings were closed to the media and public. The District Attorney is giving a press conference now, and says the three are being processed for release and will walk out as free men today.

From the press conference: The DA says: Moments ago, all three entered guilty pleas to murder. The deal was proposed by the defense. The D.A. consulted with the families but did not give the families veto power. [More...]

Based on the Arkansas Supreme Court's 2010 opinion, especially misconduct by the jurors, he believed they would get a retrial. It would be practically impossible to put on a winnable case after 18 years. Even if the state won a retrial, appeals would drag on for years. Also, since the original convictions, two of the victims' families have joined with defense. Witnesses have died and changed their stories.

Guilt or innocence was never on the table. He has no reason to believe anyone else was involved in the crime. As far as the state is concerned, this case is closed. He believes these three defendants committed the crimes.

As part of the pleas today, the defendants were sentenced 18 years, will get credit for time served. They are free. They were also sentenced to suspended terms of 10 years. If they violate the law during this time, they could be sentenced to up to 21 years.

The prosecutor never mentioned the lack of DNA evidence tying these three to the crime, the induced false confessions, or anything else suggesting their innocence. A defense press conference should begin shortly.

Defense conference: Jason says he took the deal to get Damien off death row. It was against his principles to admit to something he didn't do. Damien says it wasn't a hard decision, he's tired. He's been in almost constant solitary confinement on death row for 18 years. Damien thanked Jason and acknowledged his sacrifice.

Their lawyers say they are absolutely innocent. They say the state recognized their innocence today by their Alford pleas, and ask whether anyone believes the state would let these men out of prison if it really believed in their guilt? No reasonable jury would convict these men given the DNA evidence pointing to their innocence. There is no physical evidence to convict these three.

The three were pretty subdued and obviously tired. It was not a festive conference (except for some of their lawyers who were clearly happy.)

Bottom line in my view: A 16, 18 and 19 year old spend 18 years in prison for a crime for which their was no physical evidence, after a trial riddled with juror misconduct. A new trial was on the horizon, the state knew it couldn't prove guilt at a retrial (regardless of its view of its evidence), and the boys, now men, are freed. While they can maintain their innocence, they can't sue for wrongful conviction. And they must watch over their shoulders for the next 10 years while under a suspended sentence, or else they may be returned to prison.

Freedom in America sure comes with a high price tag.

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  • In a (5.00 / 2) (#22)
    by lentinel on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 07:53:11 PM EST
    sane society, the State would insist on making reparations to these individuals - instead of finding a way to make it impossible for them to be compensated.

    Government = Force. (none / 0) (#23)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 08:50:05 PM EST
    Everything else, especially what you were taught in school, is a lie.

    No (none / 0) (#25)
    by nyjets on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 09:40:22 PM EST
    Government represents order. No government is perfect but government is better than anarachy which is what we have without government.
    Government is also what you make it. And what we were taught in school and everything else is mostly certainly not a lie.

    Our (5.00 / 0) (#32)
    by lentinel on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 05:27:35 AM EST
    government represents repression.

    I don't know about "order".

    It is trying to break every contract with the people to provide social services. We're lucky they still collect garbage - in some communities.

    Right now, the way the government treats people promotes the very disorder you wish to avoid. It promotes contempt for government.

    As you say, government is what we make of it.
    Right now, it is a mess.

    It exists to fatten the coffers of the few at the expense of the many. And increasingly, it doesn't care who knows about it.

    The way it treated these 3 people after deliberately stealing 18 years of their lives from them is the kind of thing that could and should promote a revolution and overthrow.

    In brief: to hell with them.


    Wow. (5.00 / 0) (#33)
    by Chuck0 on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 09:02:30 AM EST
    Do you spend all your time on your knees?

    We live in a police state. That's not the "order" I was taught in school. And certainly the not order that I want my tax dollars to pay for.


    No we dont (none / 0) (#34)
    by nyjets on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 09:18:47 AM EST
    I have a fair idea what a police state is. ANd in no way do we live in a police state. Not even in the same ballpark.

    we are ALL wiretapped (none / 0) (#35)
    by Dadler on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 10:10:56 AM EST
    That is a police state.  You can be taken off the street and called an enemy combatant and held forever without charges.  That is a police state.  

    Our police state may not be as obvious as others around the world, but it exists and is doing a fine job of expanding itself.


    Thanks (none / 0) (#1)
    by Ga6thDem on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 12:09:08 PM EST
    for explaining this Jeralyn. I was wondering why they were pleading to anything when the DNA evidence exonerated them.

    What would have happened if they didn't take the plea? Would they have been given another trial?

    Where did you read that the DNA evidence (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Peter G on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 01:39:30 PM EST
    exonerated them? A lack of DNA evidence tying them to the crime, which is what Jeralyn said, is not at all the same as DNA exoneration -- that is, DNA evidence that had to come from the perpetrator, but which is not that of the accused.  Having been the lawyer in a somewhat similar case, I would not second-guess whether this was the best deal that could be struck.  None of us is in a position to know all the factors that come into play in making such a decision.  

    Well (none / 0) (#8)
    by Ga6thDem on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 01:48:59 PM EST
    from what I read there was no DNA evidence from the Memphis Three at the scene but there was DNA evidence from one of the boy's stepfather at the murder scene.

    I'm certainly not a lawyer but the lack of any DNA evidence at the scene certainly raises a lot of questions.

    No, of course, I don't know all the circumstances but with the lack of evidence at the murder scene and the odds of them winning a retrial I was just kind of surprised that they still had to plea.


    The stubborness of prosecutors (none / 0) (#29)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 12:42:40 AM EST
    in the face of evidence knows no bounds, apparently.

    There's a theory they cling to that rapists don't always, um, leave bodily fluids, which allows them to prosecute people for rape with no physical evidence.

    No doubt that happens sometimes, but the odds are against it when you're talking about a group of people.


    The stepfather's DNA is (none / 0) (#30)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 12:43:53 AM EST
    a strand of hair.  I would prosecute on that basis.  It would be odd if somebody didn't have a few hairs on them from people they live or associate closely with, so it really means nothing.

    Did you mean to write that you (none / 0) (#39)
    by Peter G on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 09:08:07 PM EST
    "would" prosecute on that basis, or that you wouldn't?

    Sorry! (none / 0) (#40)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Aug 21, 2011 at 09:16:34 AM EST
    Yes, I did mean "wouldn't."  Dumb typo.

    almost certainly, yes (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 12:13:16 PM EST
    And a conviction at a retrial was highly unlikely.

    "Extortion" (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mike Pridmore on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 12:27:14 PM EST
    "Extortion" is the word that comes to mind.  In addition to the DNA evidence and the questioning of the original interpretation of the wounds of the three boys who were killed, there is also eyewitness testimony, evidently suppressed during the original trials, of an individual, not one of the three defendants, who came into a local fast-food place bathroom covered in blood very close to the time of the killings.

    wikipedia page (none / 0) (#4)
    by Mike Pridmore on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 12:39:22 PM EST
    The wikipedia page for the West Memphis Three seems relatively well done.  It includes discussion of the individual I mentioned.  But the event seems to at least to have been mentioned during the original trial:



    Just curious. (none / 0) (#5)
    by lausunu on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 01:30:17 PM EST
    Jeralyn, where do you come down on the solitary confinement issue. I'm a daily reader and I don't remember you touching on it. I could be wrong. Eighteen years in solitary on Death Row, as was the case for Damien Echols, seems a tad harsh, IMHO.

    I've addressed it in a number of contexts (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 02:41:52 PM EST
    Mentally ill inmates

    Military inmates (includes Supreme Court rulings)

    And many times in the context of terror detainees.

    Obviously, I'm against it.

    For more, check out Solitary Watch and their page of resources.


    Thanks for the links. (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by lausunu on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 01:35:56 AM EST
    It was Bradley Manning's treatment and placement in solitary confinement (and your writing about it) that made me aware of the issue. I was shocked to learn that inmates are kept in solitary for decades. I always had the impression that it was a short term "tool" to punish or protect. Could we as a nation, in this behavior, be anymore depraved? I think not.

    The Stanford Prison Experiment: (none / 0) (#38)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 10:24:48 AM EST
    The horror is that we are all of us, as a group, capable of doing the same.



    I read this and am left wondering (none / 0) (#6)
    by Buckeye on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 01:35:25 PM EST
    what actually happened to the three little 8 year old cub scouts.  Who did it then and why?  I wasn't these 3.

    If you go to (none / 0) (#9)
    by Ga6thDem on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 01:49:59 PM EST
    Wiki and look it up there are two possible suspects.

    Jeralyn, a question (none / 0) (#10)
    by AlkalineDave on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 02:18:15 PM EST
    Does this mean if new evidence came forward implicating someone else in this crime that the state could no longer prosecute? Just wondering if this ends every bit of justice - for the WM3 and the victims families.

    No, if the state had evidence (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 02:31:57 PM EST
    someone else did it, they could still prosecute.

    My facebook is lighting up (none / 0) (#13)
    by txpolitico67 on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 02:54:34 PM EST
    with everyone SO elated that they have been freed.  One of my diehard lib friends in Oklahoma City lamented that she was glad that they  were free, but in the process, 3 more lives were ruined.   I am glad that these men are going to be free, to try, and move on with their lives.

    Difficult to understand how (none / 0) (#14)
    by oculus on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 03:49:37 PM EST
    the three, now-released from custody defendants. Who just entered Alford pleas to first degree murder, may subsequently maintain they were innocent.  

    That's exactly what an "Alford plea" (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Peter G on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 09:37:32 PM EST
    allows.  The Supreme Court recognized in the original Alford case (North Carolina v. Alford, 1970), that a person may knowingly and intelligently -- and quite rationally -- plead "guilty" while maintaining their innocence, and that the constitution does not either invalidate that plea or disallow the state from accepting it.  An Alford plea simply admits that the state has sufficient evidence, under the rules of the court system, to convict you even though you maintain that you didn't do it, and that for good and sufficient reason you don't want to take the risk of standing trial (that is, a longer sentence, or even the death penalty - as in Alford itself).  

    Hopefully, (none / 0) (#15)
    by bocajeff on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 04:20:43 PM EST
    All the high net worth celebs who helped bring this injustice to light can help the three with their futures. Whether helping with education, jobs, housing, etc...

    Although they did plead guilty to murder.

    Snide? (none / 0) (#20)
    by bocajeff on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 06:30:21 PM EST
    I think you missed the part where I said "injustice". I may have made a per choice of words with the second paragraph. My main point was that these men aren't forgotten now that they are free and that people help them get on with their lives. Celebs of all stripes are good about taking on causes and then dropping it once it's no longer fashionable. Snide? I think not.

    wrongful conviction? (none / 0) (#28)
    by diogenes on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 10:53:25 PM EST
    "...crucial new evidence of their innocence has been uncovered including crime scene DNA."

    Maybe "incorrectly convicted"; wrongful conviction implies negligence.  Unless you are saying that they had the DNA all along.


    If this had been in Texas (none / 0) (#18)
    by lawyerjim on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 05:05:55 PM EST
    Damien Echols might have already been put to death and we could have added another name to the list of wrongfully executed.

    Pleas To? (none / 0) (#19)
    by JDB on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 05:58:44 PM EST
    Jeralyn - do you know what offenses they entered the Alford pleas for?  Was it murder of some variety or a lesser included offense?


    Charges Pled To: (none / 0) (#21)
    by lawyerjim on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 07:46:54 PM EST
    Echols and Baldwin entered what is known an Alford plea on three counts of first degree murder. Misskelley entered similar pleas to one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder.

    seems i recall, from my contract law section, (none / 0) (#26)
    by cpinva on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 09:52:27 PM EST
    that a contract signed under duress is unenforceable. since the plea agreement is a  contract, signed under threat of re-trial, and probably the prosecutor arguing against bail. if that isn't duress (short of a gun to the back of the head), i honestly don't know what is.

    as well, the plea doesn't stop them, or anyone else, from publicly trashing the prosecutor, the jurors and the police. there is enough evidence of their collective malfeasance to make at least a couple of entertaining movies, while ruining them.

    granted, it isn't the same as cash, but sometimes you just have to take your satisfaction where you can.

    So the effort should be: (none / 0) (#27)
    by Palli on Fri Aug 19, 2011 at 10:30:04 PM EST
     Who did do these crimes?  Some crazy old boy from the community the DA has to protect until hell freezes over?

    SitE VIOLATOR (none / 0) (#37)
    by caseyOR on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 10:20:43 AM EST
    I think.

    memphis 3 (none / 0) (#41)
    by ccordova on Mon Jan 30, 2012 at 12:45:31 AM EST
    These young men lost 18 years of their young lives sitting in prison for a crime they didn't commit then the state of Arkansas agrees to release them if they say they are guilty and take the Alford plea.  In my opinion the state of Arkansas knew these boys were innocent and wanted them to take the Alford so they can't sue the state well the state shuld have to pay something to each of these young men some type of compensation because they were sooooo wrong in their conviction.