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Misskelley attorney pens book about infamous 1993 case


Stidman, now a district judge, offers details about his client, plea deal that set him free

By Ralph Hardin

There have been countless books written, doccumentaries produced, TV episodes shown, poscasts streamed and even feature films released about the infamous murders of three eight-year-old West Memphis boys in 1993. A quick Google search shows more than 100.

Enter Judge Dan Stidman.

Thirty years ago, Stidham was a rookie lawyer who got a call that a teenager needed representation. He was told it was an open-and-shut case since the boy had already confessed to the murders. But as Stidman learned more about Jessie Misskelley, he realized his client could be innocent.

'The thing that bothered me the most was that Jessie couldn't seem to form a narrative when it came to telling about what happened,' Stidham said.

Back in 1993, police accused three teenagers of murdering the three boys: Steve Branch, Chris Byers and Michael Moore. Misskelley, along with Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, were arrested and accused of killing the boys. Stidham, who represented Misskelley, started to learn more about the case and thought things didn't add up.

'We'd ask him a question, and he'd get it wrong,' Stidham said. 'The confession itself contains not only improbabilities, but also impossibilities.'

Stidham has kept quiet about these details for more than 30 years. He said some people wanted to keep the truth buried. Now, he's breaking his silence in his book A Harvest of Innocence.

'When Mr. Misskelley refers to the victims, he refers to them as 'The Byers' or 'The Branch,'' Stidham said. 'I thought that was kind of odd.

It dawned on me he was looking at a photograph from the local newspaper that referred to the victims as 'The' in front of them. He was just parodying that back.' As Stidham continued to represent Misskelley, he realized his client didn't skip school like he initially said, and he wasn't at the crime scene anywhere near the time of the boys' deaths.

Despite this, Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were found guilty of the murders in 1994. They spent more than 18 years behind bars, but a chance for release eventually came in the form of an Alford Plea.

'It seemed like a victory in 2011,' Stidham said. 'I got to keep my promise to my client that I would get him out of prison.'

While Echols, and to a lesser extent Baldwin, have been outspoken in their continued efforts to prove their innocence, using their quasicelebrity status to keep the issue in the media, Misskelley has barely been a blip on the public radar since his release.

Now, looking back, Stidham said he disagrees with the Alford Plea. It allowed Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty, which he said is an oxymoron.

'Do you really think that the state of Arkansas would have let somebody walk off of death row and two people in prison serving life sentences if they thought they had killed three 8-year-old kids,' Stidham said. Stidham continues to work on the case and believes he has found a different suspect in the murders of the boys–a truck driver who is possibly a serial killer.

'There was a ten-acre truck stop right next to where the bodies were discovered, and

See BOOK, page A10

Photo courtesy of Dan Stidman


From page A1

that was the last place where the kids were seen riding their bicycles,' Stidham said. 'You can back up your 18-wheeler almost to the crime scene itself.'

Stidham is a district judge in Arkansas. He said the case sticks with him and ultimately changed how he runs his courtroom. He doesn't allow Alford Pleas.

The West Memphis Three case is still playing out in the courts more than 30 years after the murders.

Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin continue to maintain their innocence to this day.

Most recently, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled evidence could be re-tested with new technology to see if there's DNA of the killer on ligatures used to kill the boys.

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