Arkansas Death Row Inmate Freed After 17 Years

Damien Echols was freed from death row and two codefendants were freed from prison in Arkansas on August 19 after almost two decades of maintaining their innocence for the murder of three children in 1993. Echols, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were granted an opportunity to enter a special plea in which they continued to assert their innocence but acknowledged that the state could likely convict them again in a retrial. DNA evidence that emerged after their trial did not match them to the scene of the crime. The defendants, who came to be known as the West Memphis Three (pictured) were convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year old Cub Scouts.  Misskelley is borderline "mentally retarded," and confessed to the crimes after a nearly 12-hour interrogation.  Misskelley implicated Echols and Baldwin, though portions of his confession did not match details of the case.  Echols was sentenced to death, and Baldwin and Misskelley were given life sentences.  All three were credited with time served and released. 

The disturbing nature of the murders led investigators to believe that it was related to a satanic ritual.  Investigators subsequently focused their attention on Damien Echols who was at the time a troubled teenager who practiced Wicca.  Learn more about the case here.

(J. Nuss, "Arkansas judge accepts plea deal, frees Memphis 3," The Associated Press, August 19, 2011; C. Robertson, "Deal May Free 'West Memphis Three'," The New York Times, August 19, 2011).  See Released from Death Row (Partial Innocence).