Tag: Jason Baldwin
FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE
What exactly does that mean to me? Why have I tried my best to raise awareness of the West Memphis Three? Why have I spent the last 12 years raising money for their legal funds? Why is today, Friday August 19, 2011 so important to me? Let’s start at the beginning…
In 1996 I was living in Portland Oregon and saw a commercial on HBO for a documentary they were going to be airing. What caught my attention was the music being played, it was Metallica. Up to that point Metallica had never leant their music rights to any movie or TV show. As stupid as it may sound to you, that was enough to get me interested in seeing Paradise Lost: The Murders at Robin Hood Hills. A documentary about a trial of three teenage boys for the murder, rape, and mutilation of three 8 year old boys in West Memphis Arkansas.
I watched the documentary the night it was first aired. And three things hit me and changed my life forever…
#1. These teens are fucked up? How can three teenage boys do something so heinous and vile?
#2. Wait a minute… I don’t think they did it!!!
#3. There but for the grace of the gods go I…
You see, these three teenagers were arrested, tried, and convicted of a despicable crime with no evidence, the coerced confession of one of the defendants who was a minor with no attorney or parent present and a deficient mental capacity, the fact that they wore black clothes, listened to heavy metal, read Stephen King, and dabbled in Wicca and the Occult. They were convicted due to ‘satanic panic’.
There but for the grace of the gods go I. In high school I wore black, listened to metal, read Stephen King, was somewhat of an outcast from everyone else, and studied various religions at the time. You read my high school year book inscriptions and it has sayings in there about drinking virgin blood and sacrificing small animals over the summer. Sure it was a joke my ‘friends’ posted in my year books. But, what if what happened in West Memphis actually happened in Ferndale, Ca.
Ferndale, Ca population 1,800 humans, 1,000,000 heads of cattle in 1987. You sneeze on one end of main street and on the other end reports of your death are circulating. If this horrible crime had happened in Ferndale I would have been suspect #1. No doubt in my mind. Am I being melodramatic? How about this? One day a bunch of us went to a friend’s house to party during lunch. I provided a bottle of vodka; only one person drank that day, a preacher’s son. We returned to school, and preacher’s son puked in front of the principal’s office. After hours of interrogating everyone that preacher’s son named was there, I was put before the chief of police who told me in front of witnesses that he believed I was the one to blame for all the drug trafficking running through Ferndale.
Preposterous. If you know anything about Marijuana, you know that Humboldt County California used to be the pot capital of the United States, and some of the best pot came from the mountains above Ferndale and down the coast. One of only two ways to get it off the mountain was to run it through Ferndale. We’re talking BILLIONS of dollars of pot running through main street Ferndale, and me, a lowly senior in high school was the mastermind behind all that? Really? All because I got a preacher’s kid drunk? I was suspended, charged, and convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I myself being a minor. Here’s the beauty part, to contribute to the delinquency of a minor, you have to have a minor also. He was never charged, he wasn’t suspended, NOTHING happened to him. I had to go to AA meetings because I gave this kid a bottle of vodka that he approached me and asked me for.
So, extrapolate that 1,000,000 times, and picture Ferndale Ca when 3 eight year olds have been viciously murdered, raped, and mutilated. Who gets the finger pointed at first? The weird kid who just moved there. That’s who.
There but for the grace of the gods go I.
So after watching Paradise Lost, I was mortified at the miscarriage of justice I had just seen. The internet was just struggling to become what you see and have today, so connecting with others who knew about the West Memphis Three was slow going. It wasn’t until 1999 that I found a website dedicated to the WM3 as they would become known by. And started reading more about the appeals and various legal wrangling the defense teams were doing.
It was 2000 when I started hosting charity events with the FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE Defense Fund as the main if not sole charity receiving all proceeds. I cannot name how many events I held, or help hold, how many thousands of dollars I took part in raising, or how much of my own money over the years I have put into it. But it was never enough.
People ask me why this case over the other thousands or tens of thousands of cases of injustice out there, and I simply tell them there but for the grace of the gods go I.
Today in a surprise move the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie MissKelly, & Jason Baldwin were released from prison. Echols was on death row and had been in solitary confinement for the last 10 years. Jessie and Jason were sentenced to life in prison.
The DA had offered up a plea deal 18 years after the murders, 17 years after their convictions that would allow them to walk out of the court room ‘free’ men. All they had to do was plead guilty to the crimes, but maintain their innocence in what is known as the Alford Plea, and they would walk out the door.
They are still on record as convicted of the crimes, and the court still sees them as the defendants of the crimes, but they are allowed to maintain their innocence.
I cried as the DA read his press statement that the West Memphis Three were ‘freed’. It has been a long 15 years of raising awareness of a travesty of justice. I have purchased The Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt over 30 something times (maybe more) and given them away as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, etc. I have pushed hard when working with others to include the WM3 as part of the charities we work for, and I have spent countless hours talking to anyone who will listen about them. I have worn a bracelet with their names and incarceration date on it for 8 years or more. Today I can have their release date etched into it finally, August 19, 2011.
While I am happy for the men that they finally get to go home after 18 years of being locked up, and I don’t pretend to know what they have gone through in that time, I am saddened by the fact that the state, the police, and the judicial system of Arkansas will not be held accountable for their misdeeds.
I am saddened that now we may never know who truly did it, and I am heartbroken for the victim’s families that they may never get the closure they deserve.
Part of the sadness comes from the fact that the West Memphis Three, as part of their plea deal, cannot sue the state for what they have gone through for the MAJORITY of their lives, nor can they make any money off books/tv/movies made about them later on.
So there is no compensation for them after being behind bars longer than two of them had been alive at the time of incarceration.
Plus, in the courts eyes, they are still guilty.
All this after the DA said in his press conference that while he believes they did it, he didn’t think after 18 years, the new DNA evidence, the jury misconduct evidence (both to be presented to the state supreme court in December to add to the move for new trials for all three men), the fact that two of the victims mothers (third mother died already…) now support the freeing of the WM3, and the fact that some evidence has ‘gone missing’ over the years, that he could get a conviction if in fact they had to have a new trial.
So… to keep his conviction, to keep his record intact, to keep the conviction of his highest profile case as he moves into an election year, he offered the men a rarely used plea bargain that lets them out with time served but let’s them maintain their innocence.
Are Damien, Jessie, and Jason home today? Yes. Are they ‘free’ men right now? Yes. Are they innocent? I believe Yes. Is this behind them now? No. sadly, it is not.
But today… as Natalie Maines put it best… The WEST MEMPHIS THREE SHALL NOW BE KNOWN AS THE WEST MEMPHIS FREE.
For more on the WM3 click here.
For more on Mara Leveritt click here.
To purchase Paradise Lost 1 and 2 click here.
For more information on Paradise Lost 3 click here.
To purchase Devil’s Knot click here.
There but for the grace of the gods go I.
In my inscriptions of the Devil’s Knot that I would give to people I always wrote this: Rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas
Today… that light burns just a little bit brighter.
Beginning today, multi-platinum hard rock band Disturbed will make available for sale a previously unreleased song, entitled “3,” at their official website www.disturbed1.com. All proceeds from the sale of the track, which is available for $.99, will go to benefit the Damien Echols Defense Fund, which pays for legal fees, forensic testing, and investigative fees for the three men known as the West Memphis Three who were unjustly convicted of murder in Arkansas in 1994. The Free the WM3 Support Fund is group of private individuals who strongly believe that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are serving prison terms for murders they did not commit. For more information, please visit www.wm3.org.
For nearly 18 years, The West Memphis Three have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. The three were condemned by their poverty, incompetent defense, Satanic panic and a rush to judgment by the media.
It all began May 5, 1993 when three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. Under tremendous pressure to find the killer despite physical evidence pointing to anyone, West Memphis officers coerced an error-filled “confession” from a mentally handicapped teenager, Jessie Misskelley Jr., questioning him for hours without counsel or parental consent, only audio-taping two 46-minute fragments. Jessie recanted his statement the same night but it was too late: Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Misskelley all were arrested on June 3rd, and have been incarcerated ever since.
Local media said the murders were part of a satanic ritual; human sacrifices in the wooded areas of West Memphis, Arkansas. The police assured the public the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. There was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or acquaintance with the victims so the State stooped to presenting Damien‘s black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as “proof” the children were sacrificed to the devil. In early 1994, Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection, Baldwin received life without parole, while Misskelley got life plus 40 years.
Beginning with the ’96 HBO documentary “Paradise Lost” and the wm3.org website, the push for justice for the WM3 has steadily gained traction worldwide. With the steadfast support and financial help of their supporters, there is now factual, scientific evidence of their innocence. Damien, Jason and Jessie still must fight to gain their freedom but there are major differences now: the “satanic cult sacrifice” motive is now an embarrassment the prosecution doesn’t even embrace. More important, forensic technologies have progressed to the point where previously untested items yielded definitive results: Not one molecule of DNA from the crime scene matches that of Damien, Jason or Jessie. The DNA does match of a pair of individuals (one of them a victim’s stepfather) that were admittedly together on the day the children disappeared.
In 2009, Dr. Werner Spitz, the world’s most respected forensic pathologist, testified the “knife wounds” on the children’s bodies could only have come from post-mortem animal predation. There was juror misconduct that should have resulted in a mistrial— the jury foreman of Damien and Jason‘s trial was consulting his own attorney about the case during the trial as well as discussing Misskelley’s “confession” during deliberations though it was inadmissible in their trial.
In November of 2010, the State Supreme Court of Arkansas finally ruled in the WM3‘s favor for the first time, ordering new hearings wherein all post-conviction DNA, forensic evidence or testimony that could lead to their exoneration will be heard. Judge David Laser was assigned to be the judge of this evidentiary hearing which will begin on December 5, 2011.
While it’s true the WM3 can see the light at the end of this tunnel, they still desperately need your financial help. Judge Laser ordered all remaining DNA is to be tested and we must pay for it, as well as additional forensic investigations and legal work. Please visit wm3.org for more information on the case and make your tax-deductible donation to the defense fund.