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article imageBriefs filed for men known as West Memphis Three

By Melissa Higgins     Feb 18, 2011 in Crime
The Craighead County Court confirmed that briefs were filed yesterday and today on behalf of three men convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year old boys. The men were teenagers at the time of their convictions.
On September 30th of 2010, the defense team for Damien Echols presented oral arguments before the Arkansas State Supreme Court (ASSC). Dennis Riordan, counsel for Echols, stated that he felt the case should be returned to the circuit court. Echols has been on Arkansas’ death row since 1994. Attorneys for each side were given 20 minutes to present their arguments.
The crux of the defense’s argument was that Echols should receive a new trial due in part to the results of DNA testing since his 1994 conviction. Another aspect of the argument related to alleged juror misconduct that was said to have occurred on the part of the jury’s foreman, Kent Arnold. Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin were tried together, following the conviction of Jessie Misskelley who provided the West Memphis police department with a confession stating the two others had participated in the murders. The confession was not admitted into the joint trial for Echols and Baldwin, although juror notes demonstrated it was factored into the jury’s final decision. Most recently, an affidavit emerged highlighting Arnold’s role in possibly influencing the jury’s findings.
Though the oral hearings directly pertained to Damien Echols, the ASSC announced their decision to order evidentiary hearings for all three men on November 4th of 2010. The purpose of an evidentiary hearing is to allow for the examination of evidence so a judge may decide if a retrial is warranted. Previously, appeals had been denied based on the state’s contention that DNA evidence should prove innocence. Associate Justice Ronald L. Sheffield was quoted by Arkansas Online as writing the following:
“While there is a significant dispute in this case as to the legal effect of the DNA test results, it is undisputed that the results conclusively excluded Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley as the source of the DNA evidence tested.”
Circuit Judge David Laser was appointed to overhear the evidentiary hearing for the three men. Laser replaced former Judge David Burnett who won a seat on the Arkansas state Senate in 2010. Burnett presided over the original trials and direct appeals. He upheld the convictions, dismissing the results of DNA testing that excluded the three defendants. Judge Laser was quoted by the Commercial Appeal as saying:
“I’m giving this case priority. I want to get this done as soon as possible.”
Echols’ defense attorneys are working toward obtaining further DNA testing on additional materials taken from the location where the three boys’ bodies were recovered on May 5th of 1993. Testing on various hairs and other items has been performed in the past. However, the defense teams had not previously been granted permission to test every item. Former results pertaining to DNA testing have excluded all three of the men convicted of the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers as donors. Defense teams, along with the convicted, their families, and some of the families of the victims, are hopeful that information presented during the evidentiary hearing will secure a retrial for the three men.
Briefings may be found here.
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