Thursday, February 9, 2012

West Memphis Three Released

 Plea bargaining is something that often happens in the criminal justice system. It saves a lot of cases from going to trial by the defendant pleading guilty and agreeing to take a specific sentence.  After looking into the case of the West Memphis Three and the 1993 murders of three young Arkansas boys a different type of plea came to my attention, the Alford plea. After spending 18 years in prison Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin were released because of this plea.

             In the case of the West Memphis Three, the defendants claimed their innocence from day one and refused to take any type of deals. One of the defendants, Jessie Misskelley, who is mentally handicapped, was coerced into making a false confession. This confession along with the prosecution’s claim that they killed the young boys in a satanic cult ritual was the basis of the State’s case. The three boys, who at the time were teenagers, believed that in court they would be found not guilty because they did not commit these crimes. Damien Echols was tried alone, found guilty, and sentenced to death, while Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were tried together. Jason Baldwin was found guilty and was sentenced to life without parole and Jessie Misskelley Jr. was also found guilty and sentenced to life plus 40 years. Throughout their time in prison the West Memphis Three attempted to appeal their convictions and each time they were denied by the same judge who handled the case from the beginning. Also while in prison, the three gained support from people all over the world, including many celebrities, who believed in their innocence. After new DNA evidence surfaced the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered hearings on new trial motions for Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin.
                During these hearings the three defendants withdrew their previous “not-guilty” pleas and changed them to “guilty”. Although the three men changed their pleas to guilty they all did so while maintaining their innocence. As I mentioned before, they were able to do this through an Alford plea. In an Alford plea, the criminal defendant does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge. This is basically a guilty but innocent plea in the case of the West Memphis Three. This form of plea was a result of North Carolina v. Alford more than 40 years ago. Although the Alford plea is rarely used it resulted in the three men being able to walk free after spending so many years in prison. Despite what it may seem like, the three men were not exonerated and are not considered to be wrongly convicted which poses the question of whether this is justice or not? In this case, innocent men are being released back into society but they had to say they say they were legally guilty in order to do so. This charge will continue to be on their record and the person who is actually responsible for the crime is still in society. 



  1. WOW this is different I've never heard of the Alford plea, but it seems pretty strange. Why would people acknowledging they have committed a crime get off the hook but yet keep the charges on the record. I would think if you admit to the guilt, you would be put in jail with the sentences they were charged with previously.I just didn't see the logic behind this plea deal. Its sad that DNA isn't done right the first time and innocent people have to spend their lives in prison.Its a good thing they were released since they didn't truly commit the crime.

  2. This is another case of lawyers and the criminal justice system finding loopholes within a system they have made for themselves. I understand the advantages and disadvantages of pleas as it does help speed up an already congested system. After all these years in prison after being found guilty of murder, it is outragous that they are even being considered innocent. Even more disturbing is the fact that they plead guilty before being released. One of the young men was found guilty by a jury of his peers with such assurance that he was sentenced to death. All these years later, he is not only still alive but is now free to move throughout our society. Plea bargains are a useful tool within our system but should not be reserved for murderers. If anything, we need to do a better job of keeping other offenders out of prison so that we have ample room and money to incarcerate animals like this for life.

  3. I actually just watched the documentary of the West Memphis Three on HBO. I was shocked that despite their innocence, they were forced to plead guilty in order to get back the freedom they should have never lost in the fist place. The burden of proof in criminal cases such as this is exceptionally high because of what is at stake. These men lost several years of their life behind bars, which they will never get back. I was also surprised to see the amount of support the Memphis three receive, even from celebrities such as Johnny Depp and the Dixie Chicks. A lesson can be taught to the justice system after a case such as this. The Memphis three did have prime years of their life taken away, but will not be held innocently behind bars any longer.

  4. I watched a video on this in one of my previous criminal justice classes and it just really blows my mind. First off this case really didn't have a lot of evidence to convict these three. The case took place in a backwoods type of place and it honestly seemed like the legal system there was just trying to sweep a horrific crime under the rug. In my class when we watched the video our teacher told us to guess who we thought was the real killer because he strongly believes the real killer is on the video. When we watched it the entire class unanimously agreed with who we thought the killer was based on the evidence that was collected and how the person was acting during his interview. It was a great video but really scary to think that there are still communities in this world that would actually convict CHILDREN based on the fact that the town wants to sweep the crime under the rug. Absolutely disgusting.

  5. I watched one of the very first documentaries on this case done by HBO in one of my other criminal justice classes. The video was extremely graphic and showed the mutilated bodies of the young boys with their genitals cut off and dismembered. It is a travisty that something so horrific could happen and have 3 innocent men be accused and then convicted of a crime they did not commit while the real criminal or criminals were still at large. It was said that one of the murdered boy's step father was involved in this case and it will be interesting to see if justice will be served and the true person caught to face their punishment.