Monday, October 15, 2012

Three freed under an Alford plea now aiming for complete exoneration

Alford pleas are just ass-covering for the authorities

It was a case that stunned the nation including, it would seem, Johnny Depp. Few failed to be gripped by the gruesome tale of three eight-year-old boy scouts, killed in Arkansas almost 20 years ago, and the teenagers charged with their deaths.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were sentenced to death in 1993 but have staunchly maintained their innocence ever since.

Last year they gained their freedom, with the help of the Pirates of the Caribbean star and other high-profile names who developed an interest in their case. The three became the subjects of a series of documentaries called Paradise Lost which captured Depp's attention and inspired him to help pay the legal fees to free them.

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, musician Henry Rollins, and filmmaker Peter Jackson also contributed to the fund and the trio were released in August 2011.

They got involved in the case after reading Echols' 399-page memoir, Life After Death, penned from his death row cell.

Jackson has since produced another documentary, called West of Memphis, which premiered last month.

Echols and his two co-defendants stepped free from jail after agreeing to an Alford plea, allowing them to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty, though not fully exonerating them.

Echols still has three counts of capital murder on his record, he said, which has caused him trouble trying to enter Canada and will restrict his right to vote next month.

Exoneration is now his main focus as he works to rebuild his life in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Lorri Davis with whom he will be promoting his book mid-November.

The first battle for Echols and his legal team will be to force the exposure of 200 pages of FBI documents connected tot he case that have never before been seen. They also want some pieces of evidence to be revisited, echoing claims made in 2007 that DNA taken from the crime scene did not match any of the three men convicted.

'I do know that they never had any physical evidence attaching me or [Misskelley and Baldwin],' he said.

'They actually had physical evidence putting [Hobbs - one of the murdered boys' stepfather] at the crime scene and we have several witnesses who have come forward who said relatives told them he did it.'

Aside from legal issues, Echols is still learning how to deal with his freedom, which has brought with it 'crushing anxiety and stress'.

He described how he 'constantly trips down stairs,' the result of spending 15 years with chains on his feet, and struggles to use cutlery having not been allowed to use knives during mealtimes.

'I have to learn all of that, sometimes over again,' he said. 'Now I’m just trying to find my way from point A to point B.'

Original report here

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