Thanks to a public campaign involving fans in the rock and metal communities, the West Memphis Three have been freed fro jail after being imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. Two of the three were saved from life in prison, while the third was saved from Death Row.
In 1993, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were accused of killing three 8-year-old boys, Cub Scouts Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and James Moore, in Arkansas. In 1994, the fact that the three were metal fans was used in an attempt to stain their characters. Multiple metal bands rallied to the defense of the boys when new forensic evidence showed they had no connection to the killings. Metallic gave permission for their music to be used in a documentary about the boys’ ordeal, Paradise Lost, the first and only time they have done so. Mike Patton of Faith No More, Iggy Pop, Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Neil Fallon of Clutch all contributed songs to a support album put together by Henry Rollins. Disturbed helped raise money for the boys’ defense by releasing a song entitled “3.” And Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder visited the trio in prison, as well as performed multiple support shows.
The release, however, is only a partial triumph.
The boys were scheduled for a re-trial in November, where the new forensic evidence would be presented. But instead they were sent home after making an “Alfred plea.” The plea stated that the boy could protest their innocence, but acknowledge that there may be sufficient evidence to find them guilty in court. In the terms of their release, the boys had to plead guilty and agree to be released on time already served.
The boys were all teenagers when they were sent to prison, and they have shared their reactions to be set free, and the terms on which they were released.
Echols, now 36, says,
I’m being released for a crime I did not commit. I’m still pretty much in shock – you have to realise I’ve been in solitary confinement for ten years. It’s overwhelming. [The plea is] not perfect by any means. But it at least brings closure to some areas.
I didn’t want to take the plea. It isn’t justice – but they were trying to kill Damien.
And finally, the father of murder victim Christopher, Mark Byers, has expressed his support for the campaign and his disappointment that the plea had to be taken:
They’re innocent. It’s ludicrous they’ve had to make a plea in order to get out.