Sep 20, 2011

48 Hours Mystery -- West Memphis 3: Free

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

In case you missed the new 48 Hours Mystery on the WM3, I have posted the show in its entirety above. Much of it is a rehash of their earlier coverage but the new interviews with Damien Echols, his wife Lorri Davis, and Jason Baldwin are incredibly heartening. It's wonderful to see that Echols has gotten some color. His skin looked like alabaster on the day of his release. And Jason Baldwin has won a whole new level of admiration from me. His joy and optimism after having lost half his life to the criminal justice system of Arkansas are amazing. He has proved himself to be a man of honor and integrity. He could have gotten a reduced sentence, all those years ago, if he'd testified against his friend. He refused. And torn between his desire to see a just verdict in a new trial and the certainty of saving Echols's life with the plea deal, he chose to save a life. Has the absurdity of putting this man behind bars for murder ever been more glaringly apparent?

The written coverage from CBS underscores the absurdity:

This is what justice in Arkansas looks like: On Aug. 19, 2011, Judge David Laser in Craighead County released three men who had spent the last 18 years in prison, one of them on death row. But as part of an unusual plea agreement, the three men -- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley -- who insist they are innocent, had to first plead guilty to three counts of murder.

It struck more than a few observers in the packed courtroom that morning that the surreal spectacle had very little to do with justice. As one of the newly freed men, Jason Baldwin, later described it, "When we told prosecutors we were innocent, they put us in prison for life. Now when we plead guilty, they set us free!"

The county prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington's actions didn't help clear up matters either. He said publicly that he still believed these men were guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the state's history: the brutal murder of three 8-year-old boys in 1993. And yet, he made them all sign a waiver promising not to sue the state.

Nope. It's still not justice. But at least three innocent men are finally free.

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