Apr 4, 2013

Further Adventures in a West Memphis Courtroom -- UPDATED

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Judge Victor Hill denied a motion from Pam Hicks (previously Hobbs) and John Mark Byers to see all the evidence in the murder of their sons Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, as well as Michael Moore. Neither these two plaintiffs nor their attorney Ken Swindle seem very broken up about the decision.

The attorney for Pam Hicks and Mark Byers, the parents of two of the victims, told News Channel 3 that judge’s decision “was not a big deal.”

“They would have like to have had all the evidence. That would have been the icing on the cake. But the ending goal was answering questions,” attorney Ken Swindle said. “The primary reason the parents hired me was to find answers, and they feel like for the first time in 20 years they have answers about what happened in those woods.”

That's because in the process of suing, they were granted partial access to the evidence. The discovery process enabled them to see a letter from Bennie Guy which implicated four men. Both Guy and Billy Stewart, who was referenced in Guy's letter, were interviewed. They claim that they heard confessions from two of the men, then teenagers, who committed the murders.

If this new testimony brings Hicks and Byers any sense of closure, I must assume that means they are convinced that Terry Hobbs and his friend (lover?) David Jacoby spearheaded the murders, because that's what Stewart and Guy claim.

Byers seems quite convinced and got very aggressive with Mr. Jacoby at the courthouse last week. Hicks has speculated in the past that her ex-husband Terry Hobbs could have been responsible but had been loathe to believe it.

Their stories, which can be downloaded along with some other evidence here, tell a wild story of forbidden love, drug abuse, and a violent end for three boys who stumbled on a strange scene in the woods.

As I wrote last week, the story that unfolds in the new testimony is pretty crazy and there are some credibility issues. Stewart is a drug dealer with a record. Guy is a convicted rapist, and his conversation with L.G. Hollingsworth was a jailhouse confession. Hollingsworth died in a car accident in 2001. The fourth potential suspect Buddy Lucas, who confessed to both Stewart and Guy, is described as "slow."

That said, the major elements of the two interviews are consistent and mutually reinforcing. Both men seem genuinely aghast but felt some need at the time of the confessions to protect the child-like teenager Lucas.

Lucas was also friends with Jessie Misskelley whose confession to police implicated himself, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. It is arguably why all three were convicted but is considered by many experts to be a false confession, in part because of Misskelley's mental capacity. The same could obviously be argued regarding Lucas, although there's a key difference. Lucas confessed his own involvement, not to police after hours of grueling interrogation, but to people he knew and had some relationship with.

Lucas also gave some rather convoluted testimony to the authorities back in 1993 that implicated his friend Misskelley. It was also apparently under some duress as he said later police had "hollered" at him. He recanted it the same day and refused to testify. His conversation with prosecutor John Fogleman can also be found in the evidence packet.

The story that now unfolds from Mr. Lucas's confessions as relayed by Guy and Stewart is at least more plausible than a Satanic ritual murder that left no altar or tools or any physical evidence at all. As a narrative it, at least makes sense and provides a plausible motive. Stewart is a drug dealer but he appears to have been Hobbs's drug dealer and his eye-witness testimony of Hobbs snogging with with Jacoby and hanging out in a gay bar also bolsters the essential narrative.

Even before this turn of events, Hobbs was in the crosshairs of WM3 supporters. He even tried to sue Natalie Maines for citing the DNA evidence against him, as if she'd invented it. That didn't work out.

Now, a new movie (see above), outlines the already accumulated evidence against him. The movie has taken fair criticism for targeting Hobbs so directly.

The new documentary West of Memphis has received a lot of praise for the way it tells the story of three men who were convicted, perhaps wrongly, for the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early '90s. "A gripping documentary," said the Guardian's review. "Compelling and comprehensive," proclaimed a New York Post article. "The film," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "casts a hypnotic spell all its own."

But the rave reviews miss a dangerous hypocrisy at the heart of the film, which was paid for and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and directed by Amy Berg. In their quest to clear the names of the "West Memphis Three"—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. who were teenagers when they were convicted for the 1993 killings—the filmmakers decide that they have found the actual murderer: Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys. And in publicly making the case against him, they perpetrate a similar sort of injustice to the one they originally set out to correct: relying on questionable evidence to prosecute in the court of public opinion.

. . .

Is this mixture of facts, conjecture, and speculation enough to prove Hobbs guilty? How much of this evidence would hold up in court? How much would withstand interrogation? How much wouldn't even be admitted in the first place? How much is reliant on faulty memories?

Unless Hobbs actually goes on trial, we won't ever know. But the filmmakers aren't answerable to a judge or jury.

The big question, though, is whether Hobbs -- let alone Jacoby and Lucas -- ever will stand trial. Because although the evidence to date is mostly circumstantial, contains inconclusive physical evidence, and includes testimony from convicted criminals, it's still a stronger case than the one that convicted Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. That conviction cost them half their lives, spent their youth, and still marks them as convicted felons.

One more tantalizing clue emerged from that West Memphis courtroom this week.

The judge said they can’t have access to all of [the evidence] since it may be needed in a future trial.

UPDATE: This was just posted to Facebook by WM3.org. They missed it last week and it hadn't come up in my google search of on Bennie Guy, either. But Mr. Guy may be cleared by DNA evidence.

Things haven't changed much in the 18 years since Bennie David Guy walked the streets of Earle, Arkansas as a free man. But, soon the now 53-year-old Guy may get that chance as he awaits parole after serving less than half of a 40 year sentence for a crime DNA evidence indicated he didn't commit, the rape of an 11-year-old girl at a motel in 1995.  That evidence was available to Crittenden County prosecutors and his defense attorney just two months after he went to prison.

"I get to looking at the evidence that's in the writ and the DNA evidence says he didn't commit the rape. His semen was not found in the victim. That it's someone...It's someone else's," said Project Innocence attorney Phillip Allen in 2008.

Bennie's brother Bobby also believes him innocent, "They sent a letter said the girl lied about it. Said it been on her conscience for so long she wanted to get it off her conscience."

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