Remembering the ‘real’West Memphis three
Horrific child murders took place 29 years ago this Thursday
[email protected] On May 5, 1993, three 8-year-old West Memphis boys left their homes and never returned.
Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers were reported missing later that evening. The first report to the police was made by Byers' adoptive father, John Mark Byers, around 7 p.m. The boys were allegedly last seen together by three neighbors, who in affidavits told of seeing them playing together around 6:30 that evening they disappeared, and seeing Terry Hobbs, Steve Branch's stepfather, calling them to come home. Initial police searches made that night were limited. Friends and neighbors also conducted a search that night, which included a cursory visit to the location where the bodies were later found.
A more thorough police search for the children began around 8 a.m. the next morning, led by the Crittenden County Search and Rescue personnel.
Searchers canvassed all of West Memphis but focused primarily on Robin Hood Hills, where the boys were reported last seen.
Around 1:45 pm, juvenile Parole Officer Steve Jones spotted a boy's black shoe floating in a muddy creek that led to a major drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills.
A subsequent search of the ditch revealed the bodies of three boys. They had been stripped naked and were hogtied with their own shoelaces: their right ankles tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs. Their clothing was found in the creek, some of it twisted around sticks that had been thrust into the muddy ditch bed.
The clothing was mostly turned inside-out; two pairs of the boys' underwear were never recovered.
Christopher Byers had lacerations to various parts of his body, and mutilation of his scrotum and penis.
The autopsies, by the forensic pathologist Frank J. Peretti, indicated that Byers died of 'multiple injuries', while Moore and Branch died of 'multiple injuries with drowning'.
Police initially suspected the boys had been raped.
Trace amounts of sperm DNA were found on a pair of pants recovered from the scene. Prosecution experts claim Byers' wounds were the results of a knife attack and that he had been purposely castrated by the murderer. Police believed the boys were assaulted and killed at the location where they were found.
Ultimately, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were convicted, twice (in 1994 and again in 2011) for the mur-
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File photos WEST MEMPHIS THREE (cont.)
ders. The case generated widespread controversy and has been the subject of several books and documentaries.
On Aug. 19, 2011, Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were released with 10-year suspended sentences, having served 18 years.
The case has never fully left the collective conscience of those who live in Crittenden County. Late last year, Echols’ legal team sought to examine evidence that West Memphis police officials but was ultimately found to still be on hand, filed away in the WMPD evidence room.
The team was able to gain access to the evindence and moved to have it tested using more modern methods. They believe that the evidence will point toward someone other than Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley.
“Echols’ legal team was mysteriously misinformed and actually stonewalled for 18 months by the West Memphis Police Department and other law enforcement entities in Crittenden County,” said Lonnie Soury of Soury Communications, Inc., in a news release. “After 18 months Echols was informed that the evidence was likely not available, but after a state court order, Echols’ team was invited to the West Memphis Police Department to review what evidence remained. What they discovered was a very organized, catalogued and intact body of evidence.”
Added Beneca, ““We are pleased that the evidence is intact. We are planning to move ahead and test this evidence using the latest DNA technology available to hopefully identify the
Photo by John Rech WEST MEMPHIS THREE (cont.)
Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley.”
Echols submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request in 2020 seeking all records relating to the missing evidence in the West Memphis 3 case. That FOIA request had gone unanswered (a violation of Arkansas state law).
Echols, seeking tohave his team 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 request” and “direct the WMPD to respond to the FOIA request within three days.”
In explaining his desire to have the evidence properly reviewed, 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 killers. Once we made inquiries to the West Memphis Police to turn over the evidence in the case for advanced testing, we were told that the evidence disappeared.”
“We did not give up, and hopefully now we can move ahead with all due haste to have this evidence DNA tested,” said Soury.”
Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman ultimately declined to have the evidence tested using the MVac DNA testing method in February of this year, citing the relatively new technology’s untested reliability and questioning whether “M-Vac uses scientifically cound methods consistent with forensic practices.”
Determined to get ahold of the evidence, an appeal by Echols’ team to the court resulted in a hearing, scheduled for June 23, to determine if the prosecutor will be required to hand over evidence to Echols’ team to be tested.
Byers, Moore and Branch — the true “West Memphis Three” — would all be turning 36 years old this year.