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Satanic cow dung:

the West Memphis 3 Story

The case of the WEST MEMPHIS THREE proved to be a black hole for moral principals at all levels of criminal investigation and due process within our criminal justice system.

May 5th, 1993, West Memphis, Arkansas: Three 8-year-old boys were brutally murdered. Their bodies were submerged in a shallow, muddy creek running through a wooded area near two interstate highways. The names of those whose lives were so tragically cut short were Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore. This crime embodied the absolute apex of our fears. What could be worse than a senseless attack on innocent children?

Any readers choosing to dig deeper into this case might begin with the book that got me started. Devil’s Knot-The True Story of the West Memphis Three, by the award-winning author, Mara Leveritt. Another book is Blood of Innocents, by Guy Reel. You may want to view the HBO trilogy of documentaries, Paradise Lost-The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, followed by, Revelations: Paradise Lost 2, and much more recently Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. CBS presented their assessment of the story, 48 Hours: A Cry for Innocence. Another valuable source of information is the legal defense website: http://www.wm3.org/

The principal purpose of the article I have written here is to illuminate the outrageous foolishness of the investigative process that occurred after the May 5th, 1993 tragedy. Three teenagers were ultimately imprisoned for a triple homicide that they CLEARLY did not commit.

Anyone familiar with the West Memphis Three case will agree that, in the early 1990’s, the community of West Memphis, Arkansas was unnecessarily preoccupied with a perceived threat associated with a local satanic cult. Please be advised, .......THERE WAS NO CULT.

The satanic cow dung panic was initiated and choreographed by a leader within the Crittenden County Juvenile Probation Office. This man—the town's self-appointed 'Anti-Satan Czar'—leapt into action as soon as he learned of the heinous crime against the three defenseless boys. Anyone in the community who was willing to stop for a moment and listen—especially the local law enforcement officials—were informed by the Czar that the triple homicide could not possibly be the result of anything other than witches and cult-related human sacrifices. The Czar even jotted down a list of ‘local cult-members’ as a reference for the police. This obviously disturbed man GUARANTEED that the police investigation would lead to the imprisonment of juveniles on his list. Have you ever heard of a SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY?

As law enforcement officials insisted that they were NOT centering their efforts, based exclusively on the Czar's irrational hallucinations, ....that was PRECISELY what they did. As the police claimed objectivity, vital details of the case circumstances—many of them inaccurate—were promptly leaked to the media and the public at large. The triple homicide was the 555th local police case of 1993, earning the case number 93-05-0555. Mysteriously, the case number was somehow transformed into 93-05-0666. Regardless of denials to the contrary, case numbers simply do not change by themselves. Trust me on this one, .....I once worked for a midwestern state police force.

During the weeks that followed the homicides, the small community was gripped by an escalating atmosphere of hysteria. This was fueled by a general consensus that satanic killers were prowling throughout the local region. Again, .....THERE NEVER WAS A CULT.

Two hours after the three boys were reported missing, the first opportunity for a breakthrough developed in the case. A call to the police dispatch center came from workers at a local Bojangle’s restaurant just a short distance from where the three 8-year-old boys were last seen. A black man, reportedly covered in blood and mud, was found in the women’s restroom, attempting to clean himself up. The man, clearly in a state of disorientation, had defecated on himself, as well as on the floor. He left the restaurant before the police arrived.

The following day, after the bodies were discovered in the nearby woods, the Bojangle’s manager badgered the police until they agreed to a follow-up visit at the restaurant. The follow-up investigaton revealed that remnants of bloodstains were indeed present in the restroom. Various samples were collected as evidence to be analyzed by the crime lab. Defying logic, none of the collected samples ever made it to the crime lab. Instead, Detective Bryn Ridge later testified that this potentially crucial evidence had been lost.

It is important to note that a hair, identified as originating from an African American, was later recovered from a sheet used by the perpetrator to wrap the body of one of the murdered boys. We will never know if there was a connection between the negroid hair and the African American man at the restaurant. But of course one major flaw in pursuing this coincidental appearance of a demented man at the restaurant, ....on the night of the homicides. The man was NOT listed on the Anti-Satan Czar's List of local teenage misifits. The first opportunity of a case breakthrough was LOST. Nice work guys!

The West Memphis Police mysteriously declined all offers of assistance from the Arkansas State Police. To this day, no reasonable explanation has justified this decision to rebuff the vastly superior investigative resources available from the state agency. Consequently, during the first month after the homicides, the investigation rapidly deteriorated into a chaotic mess. Beyond a month after the crime, the principals studying the case had yet to receive a single autopsy report from the medical examiner.

Typical of most high-profile criminal investigations, one principal inspector emerges to spearhead the historic crusade toward truth and justice for the victims. Enter, stage left, ......a waitress. Not just any waitress, ....but a 32-year-old, alcoholic waitress with a penchant for raiding her employer’s cash register, getting fired, writing bad checks, lying about being afflicted with a brain tumor, and occasionally passing out in her front yard from extreme intoxication.

For those keeping score at home, ....West Memphis, Arkansas, 1993, justice for three murdered children was sought by turning—NOT to the state police—but to the demented nonsense spewed forth by an 'Anti-Satan Czar', ....and now, ....a waitress. If you think I might be putting you on here, please consult Devil’s Knot, view the HBO documentaries, and surf the web. Yes, ....truth IS stranger than fiction.

With her eyes firmly fixed on a promise of $30,000 in reward money, the unemployed waitress went undercover in hopes of the long-anticipated investigative breakthrough. It is amusing to note that the prosecution and the local law enforcement officials actually expressed enthusiastic support for this foolishness. The waitress attempted to get cozy with a teenaged neighbor residing in her trailer park. ‘Get cozy’ translated into providing the under-aged minor with alcoholic beverages. Of course, the authorities simply looked the other way on this felonious glitch. The teenager, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley, was on the Czar's list of local cult members. It was official. The cult hysteria had now evolved into a bizarre, police-endorsed clown act.

At her insistence, young Jessie introduced the waitress to a friend—18-year-old Damien Echols. Damien was the young man that the Czar had proclaimed to be the local cult leader. Soon after the waitress met the leader of a cult that—by the way—DIDN'T EXIST—she reported astonishing allegations to the local police. The booze-mongering waitress claimed that Damien had driven her and Jessie to a nearby town to attend an ‘esbat’—a gathering of witches. At the esbat, the waitress alleged that she had witnessed a drunken orgy. The local police enthusiastically documented her account of the event.

There were just a few fundamental flaws in these allegations. The most hilarious flaw, ....young Damien had never learned to operate a motor vehicle. That is correct: The teenager could not possibly have driven the waitress, Jessie, or anybody else, ANYWHERE. The waitress later felt obligated to admit that she was so intoxicated that evening, she had only a sparse recollection of whom she might have gone with, where she went, or if she was able to see anything once she arrived. She did, however, distinctly remember regaining consciousness the next morning, as she lay in her front yard.

The police later discovered that the waitress was unable to retrace her way back to the site of the 'esbat/orgy'. Nor was she able to identify any individuals who might have been in attendance. The check-bouncing waitress eventually confessed that she might have dreamed the entire episode, rather than actually experiencing it. Most important, she admitted that, in addition to the $30,000 reward, her statements were motivated by promises from local investigators to assist with her various legal problems.

Not to be deterred by the poor showing and improbable tall tales from their stealth waitress, the police believed that they NOW had probable cause to haul in Jessie Misskelley for questioning. This time, Jessie was the 'lucky one' being tempted by the suggestion of a substantial monetary reward for assisting the investigation. With no regard to parental consent, investigators badgered the teenager for 12 hours. The biggest mystery was the fact that *somehow*, only 20 minutes of these vital police interviews were recorded as an audio file. The rest was a jumbled mess of chicken scratch handwritten notes.

As the 12-hour interrogation dragged along, consider the fact that Jessie Misskelley is significantly learning disabled, …..with an IQ documented at 72. As an example of Jessie's limitations, recall that 1993 was the year that saw Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton inaugurated as the 42nd U.S. President. Jessie admitted that he had never heard of the man.

For the majority of the intense interrogation, Jessie insisted that he knew nothing about the triple homicide. He repeatedly stated that he was unaware of any type of local cult, had never attended an esbat, and was completely clueless as to what goes on at an esbat. When presented with an opportunity to take a polygraph test, Jessie did not hesitate. This test was enthusiastically administered, ...despite the fact that the investigators did not have a written waiver of Miranda Rights signed by Jessie’s father, a legal requirement when police interview minors. Jesse did not ask for his parents or an attorney to be present. Jessie passed the examination with flying colors.

Contrary to every standard of decency and ethics, the polygraph administrator, Bill Durham, falsely boasted that “Jessie is lying his ass off.” The other investigators took that as a signal to bear down EVEN MORE with their badgering tactics. Hours later, the professional tormentors (or should I say “unprofessional tormentors”?) ultimately broke the confused teenager’s will. Jessie foolishly attempted to give them the answers that they were demanding from him. He also sensed the possibility of gaining a substantial cash reward as an added bonus.

Unbeknownst to his parents, or an attorney who might have warned Jessie of the disasterous consequences of the story he was fabricating, the young man made statements implicating Damien Echols, 16-year old Jason Baldwin, ….and himself. Jessie was not allowed to go home—as he had previously been promised. Instead, the bewildered teenager was unceremoniously escorted to a jail cell. His repeated efforts to recant his statements were all too late. Finally, the local cops had verified the existence of that elusive satanic cult! Triumphantly, they immediately announced this marvelous breakthrough to the media. You can almost hear the banjos playing in celebration.

The Innocence Project has documented the fact that roughly 25% of the DNA exoneration cases involve innocent individuals who, during intense interrogations, MAKE INCRIMINATING STATEMENTS, DELIVER OUTRIGHT CONFESSIONS, OR PLEAD GUILTY. "These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge of actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.” Skeptical? Examine the most amazing false confession case—which targeted innocent members of our U.S. Navy: THE NORFOLK FOUR. Read up on EDDIE LOWERY, ROBERT GONZALES, FREDDY PEACOCK, JOHN KENNETH WATKINS, ANTHONY JOHNSON, or perhaps the case of BOBBY RAY DIXON, PHILLIP BIVENS, AND LARRY RUFFIN, or the case of JONATHAN BARR, JAMES HARDEN, SHAINNE SHARP, ROBERT TAYLOR, AND ROBERT LEE VEAL. If you wish to dig further, try browsing through this MASTER LIST OF FALSE CONFESSION CASES.

An endless dissertation could be written at this point, focusing on the mountains of rambling inaccuracies associated with the coerced statements from Jessie Misskelley. There were numerous instances, upon which the investigators actually became angry, as Jessie made statements that they KNEW were incorrect. When Jessie repeatedly referred to the murders taking place during the morning of May 5th, their exasperation reached a peak. CLEARLY, the morning time frame presented just an itsy-bitsy discrepancy. The three victims were in school until 2:45 p.m. One of the victims, Christopher Byers, was last seen by his stepfather, closer to 6:00 p.m. The murders had to have occurred sometime between 90 minutes prior to sunset (sunset was 7:50 p.m.) and perhaps well after nightfall. Initial searches of the wooded area—where the bodies were found the next day—began about 40 minutes after sundown. No Jessie, ....the homicides COULD NOT HAVE TAKEN PLACE IN THE MORNING.

The frustrated detectives badgered Jessie, gradually encouraging him to say that the murders may have occurred sometime after noon, rather than before noon. They eventually convinced him to say that the murders were committed closer to the evening, rather than the afternoon. In an attempt to ensure that Jessie’s confession timeline had—at least—a fighting chance of holding water, the detectives ultimately pushed the teenager into saying, “Yes, it was dark.” Anyone reading this must be asking themselves, “Was this young man so mentally challenged, he cannot tell light from dark?”

Jessie told the police that the boys were tied up with lengths of rope and raped by Damien and Jason. This further infuriated the detectives, who knew that the boys were tied up with shoestrings, which to most trial jurors, don’t look at all like lengths of rope. The accusation of rape was apparently due to countless rumors swarming throughout West Memphis, (recall the previously-mentioned police investigative leaks to the public). The medical examiner later testified that there was actually no physical evidence that the boys had ever been raped.

As Jessie’s enormously flawed confession continued to follow it's highly improbable path, a customary investigative exercise would have been to walk the teenager through his timeline AT THE CRIME SCENE. People, ....this is the first thing they teach in Criminal Investigations 101. The interrogators could have verified or refuted an assortment of Jessie’s vague statements by escorting him to the wooded area and asking for specific details. Where and when did each event occur? Where were the bodies placed? Where were the bicycles placed? The detectives decided not to run the risk of bringing a ‘successful’ confession into doubt. Unbelievable.

Please analyze this: Doesn't it seem like quite an undertaking for anybody—let alone three misfit teenagers—to perpetrate such bloody human sacrifices, within the confines of a forest full of vegetation, fallen branches, and leaf litter, while casting off such an amazing LACK of blood or other biological evidence? Any experienced crime scene investigator would expect much more than the minimal residue of blood that was ultimately detected. Prosecutors alleged that the teens had simply done an amazingly meticulous job of cleaning up the crime scene. A widely embraced alternative solution to this riddle is that the creek in the woods was used strictly as a dumping area. The boys were not murdered there.

If the homicides took place at another location, how did the three impoverished teenagers—with essentially no means of transportation—commit three murders, transport the bodies, discard the bodies, and clean up not one, but TWO crime scenes?

Months after the homicides, investigators returned to the forest and randomly collected large sticks that ‘seemed to fit' as possible weapons used during the crime. Despite the absence of blood or any other physical evidence suggesting that these particular items had any vague connection to the crime, the court allowed prosecutors to proudly showcase these items to the jury. Unbelievable.

Somehow, the alleged 'satanic killers' managed to leave behind a nearly pristine crime scene, 100% devoid of their own hair, skin cells, biological fluids, or any other physical evidence. After immaculately covering their tracks, either Damien or Jason allegedly proceeded to toss a vital evidence item, a knife, into the lake RIGHT NEXT TO THEIR HOMES! It is important to pause and emphasize that no form of analysis has ever linked this particular knife to the brutal attack on the three young victims. Why wouldn't such meticulous killers choose to simply clean off the knife and toss it into a nearby muddy creek? This glaring flaw did not discourage prosecutors from waving the knife around in front of the jury, emphasizing WHERE it was found.

Okay, ....so let's discuss exactly HOW and WHEN this knife was found. The prosecutors and the police claimed that their sudden brainstorm to scour the nearby lake, months after the homicides, was kept quiet until Arkansas State Police divers had completed their search. This claim was contradicted by the huge front-page newspaper photo that was proudly displayed the following day. Comically, the photo showed the state police diver neck deep in the lake—moments after finding the knife—triumphantly holding the item above his head. If this 'lake diving search project' was being kept so hush-hush, how did the newspaper staff become aware in time to photographically capture this moment of investigative success?

Why would the investigating officials dare to risk contacting the media BEFORE they had found anything? As dismally poor as the investigation had been stagnating all of those months, the last thing the police needed was a newspaper photographer arriving at the lake, just in time to document yet another disappointing, wild goose chase.

BUT GUESS WHAT!

In a stunning turn of events, ....just when the case looked so hopelessly circumstantial, PRESTO! A vital piece of evidence was revealed, instantly ready for a classic front page photo. One has to wonder, after all of those months in the lake, did the knife smell a bit fishy?

The prosecution eventually admitted that, at the time of Jessie Misskelley’s arrest in June, 1993, they had nothing more than the teenager’s confession and a rumor-driven, satanic cult panic. After many intense months of continued investigation, the prosecution had scarcely added any meat to this flimsy case. Jessie was found guilty anyway, and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. The words spoken by one of the jurors at the end of the trial was a profound representation of the baffling logic behind the verdict. The man stated that he was not surprised that the defense attorney chose NOT to put Jessie Misskelley on the witness stand. “I think that prosecuting attorney could have tore him apart and made him say anything.” Let that sink in for a moment.

Jessie Misskelley was immediately offered a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony at the Echols/Baldwin trial. When Jessie refused to consider this, the prosecutors began sweating bullets. During the several months leading up to the Echols/Baldwin trial, the investigation produced NO tangible proof that the homicides were even vaguely connected to a satanic cult. With no confession from either Damien or Jason, their entire case was built chiefly upon wildly absurd, small town gossip. Oh, .....and they had the 'fishy' knife too.

Prior to the trial, prosecutors offered Jason Baldwin 40 years in prison in exchange for testifying against Damien Echols. Midway through the trial, they came back to Jason and sweetened that offer to 20 years. Jason maintained that both he and Damien were entirely innocent. He stated that he would not lie to the court, and implicate an innocent human being, even if they had decided to offer him his immediate freedom in exchange for his testimony. You won’t find character like this among any of the monsters who kill children.

The knife from the lake was a colossal hoax, but the jury bought it. The testimony from a jailhouse informant was an equally transparent, shameless scam, but the jury bought that too. The claim of a ‘fiber match’ was a joke. Did the jury seriously believe that Jason Baldwin put on his mother’s red bathrobe prior to attending a triple homicide? A so-called expert for the prosecution suggested that fibers, could have become associated with the victims due to ‘secondary transfer’. The police could have searched anyone’s home in West Memphis and found additional ‘similar fibers’. Such fibers are also abundantly present throughout the clothing sections of Walmart, K-Mart, etc.

The jury earnestly soaked up the dull ramblings of the prosecution’s so-called occult expert. This QUACK came to the trial armed with a mail-order Ph.D. from a college degree 'warehouse' that was subsequently shut down for their fraudulent practices. The man had NEVER attended a single class that might have educated him on the occult. Consequently, he offered virtually nothing of scientific value on the witness stand. How this useless individual's testimony was allowed in a court of law is beyond comprehension. In spite of all of this, the two teenagers were found guilty. Jason was sentenced to life in prison. Damien was sentenced to death.

In March of 1997, the 'Anti-Satan Czar' resigned from the Crittenden County Juvenile Probation Office as a consequence of the mysterious disappearance of $30,000, funds which belonged to the county. Three years later, THIS useless individual pleaded no contest to the theft. Ironically, he never spent a day in jail, and was simply ordered to repay the missing funds at a rate of $241 per month.

In 2007, evidence from the West Memphis crime scene was finally tested using modern day DNA typing methods. None of the DNA data showed consistency with Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, or Jessie Misskelley. A hair, consistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather to Stevie Branch, was found in one of the knots used tie up the boys. On January 28, 2010, JOHN FOGLEMAN, ONE OF THE PROSECUTORS IN THE CASE, WAS QUOTED AS FOLLOWS:

“They found a hair that belonged to a stepfather of one of the boys and another belonging to a friend of that stepfather. But what is really unusual about finding a hair from a stepfather on his stepson? I would think that would be something expected.”

More cow dung. Dear Mr. Fogleman: The hair, revealing consistency to Terry Hobbs, was weaved into the binding used to tie up a DIFFERENT CHILD, ....... Michael Moore, …....NOT the stepson, Stevie Branch! If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the banjo players starting up again. Was Fogleman EVER right, ....about ANYTHING? When he made this statement, the man was actually seeking a spot on the Arkansas State Supreme Court. God help us all.

The next article is entitiled: The Tim Masters Case-Colorado 

Michael J. Spence, Ph.D.

January 25, 2012

 

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