I recently watched the three-part documentary on the case that aired on ID. Did you catch it? I’d been somewhat familiar with the case beforehand, but the new special went into depth and revealed some (to me) new details. I’d already known that the case stands as a testament to how far justice can be miscarried when people act based on emotion rather than logic and facts. But I didn’t appreciate just how badly the police bungled this one; I’m not even certain all the bungling was unintentional. The cops and prosecutors were so horrified by the crime—the triple murder and mutilation of three second-graders on May 5, 1993—that they became fixated on punishing somebody, even if the somebody or somebodies they punished weren’t the ones who committed the crime. They were bound and determined to fry them some strawmen. And they did.
There was NO evidence whatsoever to connect teenager Damien Echols to the crime. But Echols was known around the small town for being weird. He dressed in black, dyed his hair black. OBVIOUSLY it had to be him, right? And teens Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, who were his friends, were guilty by association. How did these kids end up convicted of the crime if there was no evidence? Because the cops took Misskelley, who was borderline mentally retarded, and coerced a confession from him. Reading the transcripts of that confession will make you angry. It is so obvious what the cops were doing. Then at the trial, some quack with a mail-order “doctoral” degree, a self-proclaimed “expert” on the Occult, testified that the murders were part of a Satanic ritual, that the teens were all Satanists who drank blood and other nonsense. Also, there was misconduct on the part of the jury. It would take years before DNA evidence would exonerate the teens, and they weren’t released until 2011. Even then, they had to sign a legal confession where they technically admitted guilt. I suspect this was a convenient way for the State of Arkansas to avoid being sued for false imprisonment.
The Satanic Panic of the 1980s carried over into the early 90s, and it was still boiling hot in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. It, along with some police incompetence, led to three innocent people being sent to prison—one sentenced to death—and the real murderer going free.