Death Penalty Case Update: West Memphis Three Released

In a surprising turn of events, an Arkansas judge today accepted a plea deal by Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, known as the “West Memphis Three,” and ordered them released immediately.   Echols had spent 17 years on death row in Arkansas; Baldwin and Misskelly were  serving life sentences.

Here’s more from the Associated Press:

Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts and dumping their bodies in an Arkansas ditch changed their pleas Friday, resolving a yearslong effort to win their freedom.

 

Under a plea bargain, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were being freed immediately. The families of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were notified about the pact ahead of time but were not asked to approve it.

 

The defendants, known by their supporters as the West Memphis Three, agreed to a legal maneuver that lets them maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors have enough evidence against them. They were credited with time served, and Echols is being freed from Arkansas’ death row. They were placed on 10 years’ probation and if they re-offend they could be sent back to prison for 21 years, Prosecutor Scott Ellington said.

In yesterday’s coverage by CBS News, one of the victims’ family members voiced his support for the men’s release:

Byers’ adoptive father, John Mark Byers, said he believes Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are innocent. He said prosecutors told him that they planned to reach a no-contest plea on Thursday.

 

‘There’s certainly no justice for the three men that’s been in prison or my son and his two friends,’ Byers said. ‘To me, this is just a cop-out from the state for not wanting to admit that they made a mistake.’

 

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