The West Memphis Three, Still Abused By Unethical Prosecution

Their real killer is still loose, but law enforcement doesn't care: it has the West Memphis Three to blame.

The release this week of the men railroaded into prison as teenagers for the 1993 killing of three young Cub Scouts in West Memphis Arkansas was covered by the news media in superficial and misleading fashion, concentrating on the human interest aspects of the event—a “happy ending” in which three wrongfully accused and convicted men finally get justice. This overshadowed the disgraceful performance of the justice system in general and the Arkansas justice system in particular. The circumstances of the men’s release were only slightly less revolting than their conviction, and the method by which it was achieved was thoroughly unethical.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. had been in jail for 18 years, with Baldwin and Misskelley serving life sentences and Damien Echols languishing on death row. They are almost certainly innocent. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Johnny Depp

Hollywood celebrities frequently lend their prominence and notoriety to causes that are dubious or even harmful; Jenny McCarthy’s passionate promotion of now-discredited links between vaccines and autism are a recent and disturbing example. At other times, celebrities assert expertise on complex topics far beyond their competence or comprehension; this was a theme in Michael Crichton’s attack on global warming hysteria, State of Fear. Johnny Depp, however, has got it right. As his highly anticipated film “Alice in Wonderland” is about to be released and he has the media following his every move, Depp is using his fame and following to focus attention on what may be an egregious miscarriage of justice.

It is the case of the West Memphis Three. In 1993, police discovered the bodies of  three 8-year-olds, and there was immediate speculation that their killings had been part of a satanic ritual. Satanic cults were big in 1993, and long-haired Damien Echols became a suspect as much for his demeanor and reputation as for anything substantive. Indeed, there was no evidence tying him to the crime until a cognitively impaired boy named Jessie Misskelly Jr. told police that he helped Echols and Jason Baldwin kill the boys. Continue reading