The case of the West Memphis Three is one of the longest-running cases of legal injustice in modern American history. In 1993, three teenagers from White Trash Central, aka West Memphis, Arkansas – Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – were convicted of the brutal rape, torture and murder of three little boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers. As depicted in the unforgettable, made-for-HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills, the West Memphis Three were found guilty of murder mostly because they were black-clad, heavy-metal kids in the middle of a deeply disturbed community desperate to pin such a heartbreaking crime on the a group of obvious misfits. The story continues in Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and now producer Peter Jackson‘s West of Memphis, which premiered at Sundance, introduces three new witnesses to corroborate the Three’s innocence. [/Film]
Ever since the first film, the most probable suspect was Terry Hobbs, obvious lunatic and stepfather of one of the victims. Here is the press release: (If you’ve seen the films and know this story, the freezing knot of fury at such a level of sickness and injustice will go away with time. I think.) “Hobbs was the stepfather of one of the murder victims, and has long been linked to the case via DNA evidence. His ex-wife Pamela Hobbs, the birth mother of one of the victims, has called for the case to be re-opened, and has proclaimed her belief that the West Memphis Three are innocent.”
(Mountain Home, Arkansas – January 20, 2012) Terry Hobbs’ nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., allegedly told his friends “my uncle Terry murdered those three little boys,” according to declarations under penalty of perjury recently given to Damien Echols’ defense team. The three new witnesses were polygraphed about what they stated Michael Hobbs, Jr. told them.
“One day Michael picked us up in his truck. He was very quiet and upset. Michael then said to us, ‘you are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.’ According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.”
Another witness stated, “One night last winter, Michael and I were playing pool in his basement when the third friend asked about the West Memphis Three case which had been in the news. Michael responded by saying, ‘My uncle killed three kids in West Memphis.’ Michael was dead serious when he said this.”
The three little boys referenced in the declarations were found brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. DNA consistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, was later discovered in the knot of a shoelace used to restrain victim Michael Moore. Three eyewitnesses have also provided sworn statements that they saw Terry Hobbs with the three children on the day of the murders, immediately before they disappeared. Terry Hobbs has maintained that he never saw the three boys the day they were murdered.
A third witness stated that he was at Michael Hobbs Jr’s home in 2003 or 2004 when he was told by Hobbs Jr. that the two of them could not go down to the basement to play pool because Michael Hobbs Sr. was down there having a conversation with Hobbs Jr.’s uncle. The witness said that he “ listened with Michael Jr. at the top of the stairs. I heard two men talking. One appeared to be very upset even crying and he said ‘I am sorry, I regret it.’ The other man was trying to console him and said, ‘You are in the clear, no one thinks you are a suspect, those guys are already in prison.’”
Echols’ attorney, Stephen Braga of Ropes & Gray, said: “This is critical new information which reveals that the people closest to Terry Hobbs, his family members, may know much more about Terry’s involvement in the West Memphis Three case than they have ever acknowledged. If this is the Hobbs Family Secret, then what a horrific cost that secrecy has imposed on the lives of so many people – perhaps most significantly Pam Hobbs who deserves to know what really happened to Stevie on the night of the murders, as do the Byers and Moore families. With the secret now out, let’s hope that someone in the Hobbs family has the heart, the soul and the courage to come forward to tell the truth directly. In the meantime, I have given our investigative materials concerning these new witnesses – along with other related information – to District Attorney Scott Ellington for his review and action.”
The new witnesses came forward after seeing a recording of the CBS News 48 Hours special on the West Memphis 3 case. At the end of that broadcast, attorney Stephen Braga was asked what’s next in the effort to gain exoneration for the three after their plea deal. He responded: “Hopefully, some day we will find that smoking gun, that key piece of inculpatory DNA or a deathbed confession or a witness will come forward and say, “You know, this is really what happened.”
Hearing those words moved the new witnesses to contact the West Memphis 3 Confidential Tip Line just a few weeks ago. The new witnesses were then interviewed by the Echols’ defense team, signed declarations under penalty of perjury and passed polygraph examinations concerning what they say Michael Hobbs Jr. told them.
The Confidential Tip Line number is (501) 256-1775.
Echols, Misskelly Jr. and Baldwin were freed from prison on August 19, 2011. A long negotiation resulted in a plea of “no contest” by the three while still allowed to maintain their innocence, known as an Alford plea, which “concedes that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction but reserves the right to assert innocence.” In the twenty years since the West Memphis Three were wrongfully imprisoned for someone else’s crime, an epic out-pouring of support has quite likely made such a cosmic bit of correction possible. The state of Arkansas will not admit that they convicted the wrong people and are allowing this loophole.
The West Memphis Three have been freed. Watch the films, hear the story, and trembled at how familiar it all feels.