The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed and remanded a lower court ruling and has granted Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley a new hearing. “…we reverse and remand for an evidentiary hearing , at which the circuit court shall hear Echols”s motion for a new trial and consider the DNA-test ”with all other evidence in the case regardless of whether the evidence was introduced at trial” to determine if Echols has established by compelling evidence that a new trail would result in acquittal”
Echols”s wife Lorri Davis said, “Damien is thrilled with the court’s decision. It is the best news he has heard in his case in the 17 years he has been on death row.”
Capi Peck, of the advocacy group Arkansas Take Action, added,“We look forward to a full evidentiary hearing that presents all evidence of the innocence of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. These young men were convicted of a brutal crime someone else committed, and we hope the State moves quickly to overturn their convictions and seek to prosecute those responsible.”
DNA testing and other powerful forensic evidence — combined with a sworn affidavit that the original jury foreman engaged in blatant misconduct that contributed to the jury’s decision — prove that these men were wrongfully convicted of the murders of the three children in 1993.
There was no physical evidence, eyewitness testimony or motive tying the three local teens to the murders. They were arrested based on nothing more than a coerced, false confession from Misskelley which he immediately disavowed. Damien Echols was sentenced to death; Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Echols’s appeal before the court sought to overturn the decision of circuit court Judge David Burnett who interpreted Arkansas’s DNA testing statute so narrowly that it drastically limited the possibility of any wrongfully convicted person of obtaining justice using DNA results. In 2001, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law granting post-conviction access to DNA testing. The law passed largely as a result of widespread doubts about the convictions of Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin.
DNA testing of dozens of pieces of evidence found at the crime scene conclusively showed that no DNA from the murders matches Echols or the other two men. DNA testing does, however, link Terry Hobbs, stepfather of murder victim Steven Branch, to the crime scene. A hair found in the knot used to bind Michael Moore matches Terry Hobbs. DNA also links a hair at the murder scene to another man, David Jacoby, who was with Hobbs on the day of the crimes and who provided Hobbs with an alibi. Of the scores of people the three victims were seen with on the day of their murders, the only DNA matches are Terry Hobbs and the man Hobbs was with on the day of the murders.
Additionally, three eyewitnesses have come forward and provided sworn statements that they saw Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, with Terry Hobbs, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5, 1993, before the boys disappeared and were murdered. According to sworn affidavits by the three witnesses, Hobbs was hollering at the children and ordering them to return to his house. The new evidence establishes that Terry Hobbs was the last person to have physical custody of the three boys before they disappeared and were murdered.
According to the nation’s leading forensics experts, scientific evidence also demonstrates that most of the wounds on the victims were caused by animals at the crime scene, after their deaths – not by knives used by the perpetrators, as the prosecution claimed and was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case. Moreover, these experts also completely discredited the prosecution’s insinuation that a knife recovered from a lake near Jason Baldwin’s home caused the wounds on the victims. As well, these forensic experts deemed the testimony of a jailhouse informant and a faux “expert” in “occult studies”—a man who admitted on the witness stand that he had received his “Ph.D.” from a mail-order diploma mill without attending a single class—to be completely unreliable.
Lloyd Warford, a prominent Arkansas attorney who is a former prosecutor and state official, has presented a sworn affidavit to the Arkansas Supreme Court detailing the contents of improper conversations that the jury foreman, Kent Arnold, had with him while the trial was in progress. In those conversations, the jury foreman told Warford that he had prejudged Echols’s and Baldwin’s guilt and that to ensure that the other jurors would convict the defendants, he exposed the jurors to news reports of Jessie Misskelley’s confession. During one conversation, the jury foreman told, “…the prosecution had presented a weak case, and that the prosecution had better present something powerful the next day (the end of the prosecution’s case) or it would be up to him to secure a conviction.”
The case will return to the lower court and a judge will soon be assigned to hear the new evidence.