Damien Echols files complaint against West Memphis Police, says WMPD never responded to FOIA request
Twice- convicted killer wants to know hat happened to evidence in 1993 murder of three children
Soury Communications, Inc. Discovering that evidence in the “West Memphis 3” case had been inexplicably lost or destroyed, Damien Echols, who was freed from Death row ten years ago and was seeking to perform new DNA tests on the evidence, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County asking the court to “declare that the WMPD violated its statutory obligation to respond to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request” and “direct the WMPD to respond to the FOIA request within three days.”
Damien Echols said, “Ten years ago I had no choice but to take an Alford plea to get off death row. I needed to fight for my innocence, and that of Jason and Jesse, outside of the prison walls. And that is why I sought to test the evidence in the case to exonerate us and lead to the real killer(s). Once we made inquiries to the West Memphis Police to turn over the evidence in the case for advanced testing, the evidence disappeared.
“We will not give up until we find whatever evidence exists. We will find out who destroyed the evidence and why the legal authorities lied. We want a hearing to get to the bottom of this.”
In an effort to find out what happened to the body of evidence that could potentially contain exculpatory forensics exonerating the three and leading to the real killer(s), Little Rock attorney Patrick Benca, of McDaniel Wolff & Benca, submitted a FOIA request months ago seeking all records relating to the missing evidence in the WM3 case. That FOIA request has gone unanswered in violation of Arkansas state law.
Echols’ attorneys have also filed a Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County First Division, as well as seeking an expedited hearing.
“Having recently learned of the West Memphis Police Department’s (“WMPD”) spoliation of evidence in his case, apparently both before and after his Alford plea, Damien Echols moves this Court to exercise its continuing supervisory jurisdiction over this case…”
Although there has been absolutely no response from the West Memphis Police to Echols’ FOIA, Crittenden County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman has responded with shocking disregard to the facts in the case and opposing any further court action to uncover what happened to the evidence.
In a reply memo filed with the Crittenden County Court today, (Sunday, August 2, 2021), Echols’ attorneys allege Chrestman is “playing dodgeball with the facts.”
According to memo to the court, “So why is he playing dodgeball with the factual allegations before this Court? Why can’t he just admit it again in this proceeding and – in the interests of justice – work cooperatively with the Court and counsel to develop a full record of what happened here? At the end of the day, it all really makes one wonder “what else is there to hide?”
“…the Prosecuting Attorney
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Photo courtesy of Facebook ECHOLS (cont.)
has effectively given Echols’ complaints the back of his hand, hoping to “summarily” deflect them away from the Court’s consideration. Being a “servant of the law” requires more than that though. This Court will apparently have to be the one to provide it.” Background In May 2020, Echols and his attorney Stephen Braga, of Bracewell LLP, contacted then Crittenden County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington who agreed to release evidence in the case for further DNA testing. In a series of email correspondence, Ellington contacted Kermit Channel at the Arkansas Crime Lab who informed Ellington that the trial evidence was located at the West Memphis police department. Ellington then contacted WM Police Assistant Chief Langston and Major Stacey Allen who also agreed to provide the evidence for DNA testing.
This was a very positive development, as it was recommended using the new M-Vac DNA system on the existing evidence to hopefully reveal a stronger DNA connection to the real perpetrator (s) in the killing of the three children.
Testing had previously revealed that the DNA linked to Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the murdered children, was found in the ligatures on the sneaker of one of the boys. Ruff hoped to confirm that, as well as identify other DNA links to the killers. A recent FBI study found that the amount of DNA recovered with the M-Vac system was several? fold greater—the vacuum system yielded an average of 12 times more nDNA and 17x greater mtDNA- than traditional methods.
According to the motion filed today, “Braga subsequently reached out to Ellington, who said he had no problem with having the evidence so tested. Over the course of the next eight months, Braga and Ellington engaged in a series of communications designed to facilitate the transmission of specified items of evidence from the WMPD to the laboratory chosen to do the MVac DNA testing. The specified items of evidence were the victims’ shoes, socks, Boy Scout cap, shirts, pants, and underwear, as well as the sticks used to hold the clothing underwater and the shoelaces used as ligatures to bind the victims. The chosen laboratory was “Pure Gold Forensics, Inc.,” a California-accredited private forensic DNA laboratory specializing in the new
“Damien Echols said, “We have been literally begging the state of Arkansas to allow us to do further DNA testing to clear our names for over a year. We were lied to repeatedly, and now we learn that much of the evidence has been destroyed or lost. This motion asks the court to get involved and find out what if any evidence still exist, what caused the destruction of the evidence, and who is responsible. We are innocent now; nearly 30 years ago when we were convicted; and ten years ago, when we accepted an Alford plea.”
West Memphis PD Never Turned Over Evidence and Stopped Responding to Inquiries Over the past year, Echols and his attorneys have tried on numerous occasions to contact the West Memphis Police Department as well as Prosecutor, now judge, Scott Ellington to plan to transfer the forensic evidence to a special laboratory for M-Vac testing.
Recently, Echols attorney in Arkansas, Patrick Benca, reached out to Crittenden County acting Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman seeking to review the evidence when he learned from him that after the plea, in 2011, some of the evidence ended up lost and missing, and some of the evidence ended up in a building that burned down.
He agreed at first to review the remaining evidence with Benca, but now, according to news reports, Chrestman is now saying “he told Echols’ attorneys that if they wanted that evidence tested they would have to seek a court order.” Attorney Stephen Braga said, “The West Memphis PD agreed to facilitate the testing of some of the evidence, but then the West Memphis police as well as Prosecutor Ellington stopped communicating with us over the past year.
We have now learned that much of the evidence has been lost, destroyed or both. We are deeply concerned about the sequence of events. Was the evidence lost after we requested advanced DNA testing?
What evidence is left?
Where does that evidence reside now? Bottom line is that we want to submit the remaining evidence for advanced DNA testing to hopefully obtain new DNA results that can help fully exonerate the three men.”