Last week, the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley) were released from prison after serving 18 years for the murder of three young children in a small Arkansas town. The case became a national cause largely thanks to the 1996 documentary Paradise Lost, which strongly suggested that the men were innocent; since then, the cause of the West Memphis Three has attracted a worldwide following.
Celebrities, journalists, legal experts and concerned citizens worldwide waged a years-long campaign for their release. In an bizarre legal maneuver offered by Arkansas prosecutors, the three men were allowed to leave prison on the condition that they enter guilty pleas, though they still maintain their innocence. Many people assumed that the prosecutors used this strange tactic to save face and avoid an embarrassing retrial, since the case has become notorious worldwide as an egregious miscarriage of justice.
It is alleged by many that the WM3 were convicted based on a coerced and wildly inaccurate confession by Misskelley, scant and misleading evidence, small-town prejudice against heavy metal kids and good old-fashioned American satanic panic. Despite all this, the prosecutors in the case seem to maintain a genuine belief that the three men are guilty.
Now, thanks to extensive interviews and dogged journalistic excellence from the Something Awful team, we know why: the West Memphis prosecutors were sitting on a mountain of additional evidence. Much of it is inadmissible in court, but it nonetheless offers a compelling new view of the case. Here are just a few of those unpublished facts.
WM3: The Secret Evidence
- When noted forensic puppeteer Dale Broons of the Arkansas Baptist Puppet University was presented with a sock puppet of Jason Baldwin, he caused the puppet to say "Howdy, I'm a child murderer" in a very lifelike manner.
- If you pause the Paradise Lost VHS at exactly 00:42:12, Damien Echols' mouth is in such a position that he looks as if he's pronouncing the first vowel of the word "guilty," as in the phrase "I'm guilty."
- A search of Jason Baldwin's residence revealed that he owned several heavy metal music albums, along with a book written by Metallica's James Hetfield, titled "How To Commit Small-Town Satanic Ritual Child Murders the Metallica Way."
- Suspiciously, Jason Baldwin declined to demonstrate his innocence with the customary ordeal by fire offered to him by Arkansas law. We can only conclude that Baldwin was worried he'd be exposed as a sorcerer.
- Damien Echols willingly underwent a polygraph examination during which he was asked several pointed questions about his involvement in the murders. Experts found that the little wiggly needle line moved around a lot, like when they show somebody lying to a polygraph on TV.
- Prison officials intercepted three checks addressed to Damien Echols in 1995. They were each for a sum of six thousand dollars, endorsed by a "Mr. Baphomet," with glowing, evil-looking runes scrawled on the memo line.
- Days after the trio was arrested, police discovered Damien Echols' secret diary hidden behind a panel in his trailer. On the last page, in slightly different handwriting, the following passage appeared: "I am Demoin Echols and kill kids for satin. I am been justly arreste by police they are smarter than me. I am in jail now but writing this with pychic writing occult powers. CASE CLOSED!!!"
- Possibly due to a very slight misplacement of physical evidence by police, there may have been as few as two bodies of slain victims or as many as nine. Even if (just for the sake of argument) Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley didn't kill the first few, chances are they probably killed the extra ones who may or may not exist.
- Jason Baldwin, though he refused to confess to the crime, also declined to recant that confession.
- One or more blood-covered knives were found in the home of at least one of the slain children's stepfathers, though police were unable to recall which one(s). While trying to remember where they found the knife or knives, West Memphis police interviewed each of the likely stepfathers, and they all agreed that the knife or knives "had probably been left at their home(s) by Damien Echols."
- In the days following the crime, several of Damien Echols' peers came forward to report to police that Echols had been wearing a "I Killed Those Kids (And I'm a Satanist)" t-shirt to a softball game. This information was not introduced during the trial, as the shirt was never recovered, and some disagreement remains as to what the exact wording was; some contend that it actually read "I Killed Those Kids (And I'm a Homo)."
- If you play the audio of Jessie Misskelley's confession backwards, it sounds very ominous. One can easily imagine that it sounds like what Satan might sound like if he were confessing to a crime backwards.
- A forensic examination revealed several hairs on Jason Baldwin, all of which contained his own DNA.
- While Damien Echols sat on death row, celebrity WM3 supporter Natalie Maines sent him a letter, written in human blood, which read "THE DIXIE CHICKS SALUTE YOUR BLOOD SACRIFICE TO BAAL."
- At one point during the trial, Damien Echols covered his mouth and coughed. Credible experts from the Arkansas Academy of Christian Audio Engineering analyzed the recording and found that the noise Echols produced was consistent with the sound of coughing up a child's testicle.