West Memphis Three Mugshot

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.westmemphis3release

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.

the west memphis three