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The West Memphis Three Trials: 1994 - The Confession Of Jessie Misskelley, The Trial Of Damien Echols And Jason Baldwin, Appeals Fail

boys bodies eight injured

Defendants: Damien Wayne Echols, Charles Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley
Crimes Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Val P. Price, Scott Davidson, Daniel Stidham
Chief Prosecutors: Brent Davis, John Fogleman
Judge: David Burnett
Place: Jonesboro, Arkansas
Date of Trial: January-April 1994
Verdict: Guilty
Sentences: Echols: Death by lethal injection; Baldwin and Misskelley: life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The conviction of three teenage boys for the sadistic murder of three eight-year-old boys in what the prosecution claimed was a Satanic ritual received national attention largely as a result of a prize-winning documentary film which contributed to doubts about the correctness of the verdict.

In the early afternoon of May 6, 1993, the bodies of three eight-year-old boys were found in a drainage ditch in an area known as Robin Hood Hills, near West Memphis, Arkansas. James Moore, Steven Branch, and Christopher Byers had been last seen playing together in the late afternoon of the previous day. A search had begun in the late evening and had gone on through most of the night. Their bodies were naked and their hands were bound to their feet with shoelaces. Moore and Branch both died from head injuries and drowning. Byers had been more extensively injured and his genitals had been torn or cut off. He had died from a variety of head injuries and from loss of blood, and had been dead before being put in the ditch.

Damien Echols immediately became a suspect in the eyes of the investigators, apparently because he was suggested to them by a juvenile officer, Steve Jones. Echols was 18 years old, and had had a disturbed childhood; although a somewhat isolated young man, he had called attention to himself in his small community by for shoulder-length hair and his penchant for dressing in black, and for liking heavy metal rock bands. Two days after the discovery of the bodies Echols was interviewed by the police. During this interview, he told them that he knew that one of the three boys had been more severely injured than the others. Since this information had not been officially released, police would later claim that only the killer could have known this. However, no charges were pressed at this time.

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