West Memphis Three - Trials

Trials

Misskelley was tried separately, and Echols and Baldwin were tried together in 1994. Under the "Bruton rule", Misskelley's confession could not be admitted against his co-defendants and thus he was tried separately. They all pleaded not guilty.

Misskelley's trial

During Misskelley's trial, Dr. Richard Ofshe, an expert on false confessions and police coercion and Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, testified that the brief recording of Misskelley's interrogation was a "classic example" of police coercion. Critics have also stated that Misskelley's "confessions" were in many respects inconsistent with themselves and the particulars of the crime scene and murder victims, including (for example) an "admission" that Misskelley "watched Damien rape one of the boys." Police had initially suspected that the victims had been raped because their anuses were dilated. However there was no forensic evidence indicating that the murdered boys had been raped and dilated anuses are a normal post-mortem condition.

On February 5, 1994, Misskelley was convicted by a jury of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. The court sentenced him to life plus 40 years in prison. His conviction was appealed and affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Echols and Baldwin's trial

Three weeks later Echols and Baldwin went on trial where the prosecution accused the three of committing a Satanic murder. The prosecution called Dale W. Griffis, a graduate of Columbia Pacific University, as an expert in the occult to testify the murders were a Satanic ritual. On March 19, 1994 Echols and Baldwin were found guilty on three counts of murder. The court sentenced Echols to death and Baldwin to life in prison.

At trial, the defense team argued that news articles from the time could have been the source for Echols' knowledge about the genital mutilation, but the prosecution claimed that Echols' knowledge, which Echols said was limited to what was "on TV", was nonetheless too close to the facts, since there was no public knowledge of drowning or that one victim had been mutilated more than the others. Echols testified that Ridge's description of the conversation (which was not recorded) regarding those particular details was inaccurate (and indeed that some other claims by Ridge were "lies"). The author Leveritt argues that Echols' information may have come from police leaks, such as Detective Gitchell's comments to Mark Byers, that then circulated amongst the local public. The defense team objected during cross-examination of Echols when the prosecution attempted to question him about his past violent behaviors, but were overruled.

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