The West Memphis Three Trials: 1994
The Confession Of Jessie Misskelley
Early in June police questioned a 17-year-old acquaintance of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley. Reports of the length of the interrogation vary from two hours to 12 hours, but it is not disputed that the interrogation was conducted without the presence of counsel, and without any waiver of Miranda rights having been obtained. No record of the interrogation was kept, except for a short recording of the confession that Misskelley gave at the end of it. Misskelley admitted having killed the three boys and implicated Damien Echols and a third boy, 17-year-old Charles Jason Baldwin. This confession, although it contained several factual errors relating to the circumstances of the crime, would constitute the most important evidence against the three teenagers, all of whom were charged with the murders.
Misskelley's trial was separated from the other two, and he was tried first, in January 1994. The prosecution's case relied solely upon his confession. Daniel Stidham, counsel for Misskelley, moved to have the confession held inadmissible, but Judge David Burnett ruled that the confession was voluntary and admissible. Professor Richard Ofsche of the University of California at Berkeley was called as an expert witness on coerced confessions after the judge's ruling, but was not allowed to present all of his prepared testimony as to why he believed the confession was probably coerced. The defense's second expert witness on police interrogation and the use of lie detector tests was also only allowed to give part of his prepared testimony. The jury found Misskelley guilty of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He was offered a reduced punishment if he would agree to testify against the other two, but he refused and was sentenced to life plus 40 years in prison.
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