It took nearly two decades, but the West Memphis 3 are finally free.
Three teenagers – outsiders in their own community – were convicted of a heinous crime, the brutalization and murder of a trio of 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin spent 18 years in prison with Echols on death row. On Friday, the three men, no longer teenagers, were freed after pleading guilty in an Alford plea.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal describes the Alford Plea in this way, “Each entered an Alford Plea, a legal maneuver that allows a defendant to plead guilty — even if he maintains his innocence — because it is in his best interest to do so. Although an Alford Plea allows a defendant to profess innocence, and each did in brief statements to the court, the plea carries the same legal weight as a regular guilty plea.”
For their first night out of captivity, Echols and Baldwin celebrated together with friends and family in Memphis, while Misskelly went to his father’s home. For Echols and Baldwin, after spending half of their life behind bars, it was a look at a whole different world. Echols’ lawyer Steven Braga described the scene as “kids at their first Christmas.”
Imagine the changes in technology since they were incarcerated. They handled their first iPhones and marveled at the ability to take pictures with a phone.
And documentary directors Joe Berlinger and his collaborator Bruce Sinofsky suddenly had a different ending to the third film in their Paradise Lost trilogy. Upon hearing the news a few days ago that they might be released, the film makers rushed to Arkansas to capture the moment. The duo were putting the final touches on the latest installment to prepare it for the film festival circuit. The work of Berlinger and Sinofsky, along with the activism of celebrities Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines and Johnny Depp, have kept the case in the public eye for the past 18 years.
As someone who has kept up with this case throughout the years, it’s been an emotion-filled saga for all involved. Hopefully, the men who actually committed the crimes will one day be brought to justice.