In a major turn of events, an Arkansas judge today freed three men who were imprisoned for nearly 18 years for child murders they say they didn’t commit. Know as the West Memphis Three, the cases of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley have attracted international attention over the years. They were released after accepting an Alford plea, which allows defendants to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state has enough evidence to convict them.
The men were convicted as teenagers of killing three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Misskelley confessed to the crime after a 12-hour interrogation, implicating Echols and Baldwin, though several of his statements diverged from the evidence. Echols was sentenced to death and the other two were sentenced to life.
Several rounds of DNA testing in recent years has failed to turn up any physical evidence connecting the three men to the crime scene. Today’s deal comes several months before a scheduled hearing to determine whether the men would be granted a new trial in light of the DNA results.
Echols said in a statement released today: “I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars”
The men were supported over the years by a large team of dedicated attorneys and thousands of activists around the world.
Read coverage of the case below:
New York Times: Deal Frees ‘West Memphis Three’ in Arkansas
Memphis Commercial Appeal: West Memphis Three Set Free
Arkansas Blog: Case Summary