Thursday, April 10, 2008

West Memphis Three

I have had a bit of an obsession with the West Memphis Three lately. My Norms, Deviance, and Social control class watched a movie called Paradise Lost. The HBO documentary depicted the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early 90s. I wouldn't have known of the tragedy at the time because I was so young, but now that I do, I can't ignore it. With no real physical evidence against them, three boys--Jessie Misskelley Jr, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols---were convicted of three charges of murder based on a motive of satanic worship. Echols was sentenced to death, while the others received life sentences.

Essentially, they were targeted as suspects because they were outcasts. They wore black, listened to Metallica, stayed to themselves. Echols believed in Wicca, which was shocking to the bible thumping community in which he lived, but certainly has no ties to Satanism. Miskelley provided a confession, but only after hours and hours of interrogation and being directed in what to say by the police. The boy has an IQ of about 72. Getting a false confession out of a mentally retarded kid doesn't seem too noble to me, nor enough evidence to rest a trial on.

The DAs at the time had no money for forensics or experts. Now that those things are coming into play with appeals, the evidence continuously suggests that none of these men (they were teens when sentenced, but now are in their early 30s) were tied to the crime. However, careers were built on this case, and all involved seem reluctant to admit that they made a mistake.

I could rant on and on about the injustices of this case, but I'll leave it at that for now, and suggest some of the following to look into further if you are interested:

Since first watching Paradise Lost, I watched its sequel, Paradise Lost 2, and read a book on the case, Devil's Knot. I am currently reading Damien Echol's autobiography, written from death row, called Almost Home. (I suppose on death row you have nothing to do, so there's plenty of time to read and write a lot, and Echols seems to have done just that--if you look at the books purchased for him on his Amazon Wish List through, he has received 48 pages worth of books.)

Like I said, I'm a bit obsessed. But if you do not know about this case, you should take some time to learn about it. Three teens have lost their freedom because of the accusations put against them, and I think it's rather frightening that anybody who stands out can be put to death or eternally imprisoned as a scapegoat, simply because the crime has to be pinned on somebody.

Personally, the teens that I hope to work with clinically will often fit this bill. They are kids who are different, who don't conform, and who are angry at the world. They are the ones that are targeted when something goes wrong. And I'd hate to see another witch hunt against any of them.

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