satanic panic in the south
Satanic Panic in the South On the evening of May 5, 1993, three boys from West Memphis, Arkansas, were last seen riding their bikes together. In the early evening, Chris Byers’ stepfather, John Mark Byers, reported that his stepson had not come home and he was becoming worried. The police were also notified of two other boys who had been with Chris and were considered missing, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch. The police and the parents of the missing children searched the neighborhood unsuccessfully until 3AM the next morning. The bodies of the three eight year old boys were discovered in a wooded area in Robin Hood Hills the next day at 1:30 PM. The boys had been hog-tied and severely beaten. Their naked bodies were located in a shallow creek in an isolated patch of woods behind the Blue Beacon truck wash. However, the question that remains until this day is whether justice was served in this case. Perhaps you are not familiar with the West Memphis Three, otherwise known as the Robin Hood Hill Murders. Most people would not of heard of this case unless they were citizens of the small town; however, HBO produced a documentary, “Paradise Lost,” which graphically showed this case in a different light. This Peabody Award winning documentary brought the story of this crime and its aftermath into the national spotlight in 1996. The implication it left was that satanic panic, public hysteria and media sensationalism was responsible for the convictions in the case, not solid evidence. This is a shattering account of what a fundamentalist community in the south can accomplish toward the blatant destruction of American justice.
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West Memphis is a predominantly Southern Baptist town in Eastern Arkansas. Most citizens of West Memphis are typical of other small towns across the country- poor, undereducated, and unwilling to accept anything that appears to be unlike them. The actions and reactions to this crime are classic examples of how rumors are passed on as the truth. Webster’s defines ‘witch hunt’ as an intensive effort to discover and expose those who are disloyal, subversive, etc.…. on the basis of slight or doubtful evidence. The case and trial of the West Memphis Three was a present day ‘witch hunt’.
Since the early 1980’s, many police officers have attended seminars on Satanic Ritual Abuse and Murder. People have been taught that an underground network of Satanic cults kidnap, torture, and kill children in their rituals; however, there has been no evidence found to substantiate these claims. A juvenile probation officer that was present at the crime scene behind the Blue Beacon felt this scene was a prime example of Satanic Ritual Murder. This officer had recently attended a conference on Satanism in today’s society, so the thought of satanic criminals was fresh in his mind. The officer immediately felt there was only one person in their community that would be capable of committing a crime that revolved around satanic worship. From this point forward, the prime suspect was Damien Echols. The police investigation focused on the belief that Damien was a leader of a satanic cult. The parents of the murdered children were becoming angrier by the day because the police did not have any leads in the case. Although there was no hard evidence linking Damien Echols to this crime, the police felt a conviction would be easy as long as they could prove Damien was involved in devil worshipping.
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The focus of the investigation was on an unconventional 18-year-old who was considered “weird” by this conservative community. He often dressed in black, wore his naturally black hair long, and listened to heavy metal music. When Damien was interviewed from prison, he said, “ People assumed that I was guilty and had made up their minds beforehand simply based on my taste in clothes, music, etc. In a larger city, I would never have been noticed but I happen to live in a small, conservative, traditional town where I was looked at as a freak.” (PL 2). Damien was questioned three days after the bodies were discovered, on May 9, but was released after his interrogation did not provide any clues.
One month later, without any leads in the case, the police question an acquaintance of Damien’s. Jessie Misskelley, a 17-year-old with an IQ of 72 was given a lie detector test, which concluded that he was innocent and had no knowledge of the crime. This did not conclude anything with the police though. Jessie was interrogated for over 6 hours without representation of any kind. He “ was not allowed to go to the restroom, have a sip of water, call his parents, or have any legal counsel present.” (PL 1). The detectives told Jessie that “they knew he was in a satanic cult that Damien Echols was the leader of” (PL1). They told Jessie that “ he would not be allowed to leave until he told them what happened to those three little boys.” (PL1). The detective even testified that he had “laid out the pictures of the dead boys to get a reaction out of Jessie”(PL1). After about six hours of this interrogation, Jessie confessed to the crime. He said he “had not committed the crime, but had been there while Damien and another

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friend, Jason Baldwin, had” (PL 1). No records of this interrogation exist, except for the last 45 minutes after Jessie confessed. Once Jessie realized he was not going to be able to go home, he retracted his confession. With Jessie’s low IQ, he was unable to comprehend the extent of this false confession. The confession was incorrect on two main points: the material used to bind the boys, and the time the killings supposedly took place. However, the police told Jessie different details of the crime scene and Jessie subsequently changed his story to go along with the police. Jessie claimed that he caved in under pressure of the interrogation. When given another polygraph, on whether he had ‘made up the confession’, he passed. The damage was already done. Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin were both arrested later that evening.
For the next nine months, the media fed the public with stories circulating rumors about Satanic worship in their community. They printed stories on blood drinking, devil worship, and demon orgies. The media also wrote about the Wicca religion, but never differentiated between the two. They preached that Wicca, Satanism, heavy metal music, and astrology were all linked together and part of a grand conspiracy that involved human sacrifice. The encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft defines Satanism as the worship of Satan, or the Devil, the god of evil in Christianity. This belief is far less common than many would believe. In contrast, Wicca (commonly confused with Satanism) lives by a common creed:
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill; An it harm none,
Do what ye will.


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This translates into the right of all people to choose their own paths, as long as their choices do not bring injury to another. Wiccans are not devils or Satanists. Wicca is a pre-Christian religion devoted to nature. When the Catholic Church wanted to take over the European’s public worship of pagan gods, they adopted the image of the Wicca consort as the devil. This image still survives today. The Wicca religion does not acknowledge the existence of Satan. If Wiccans do not acknowledge Satan, then how can they worship him? No evidence, even to this day, has been found to support that Damien Echols has ever participated in any type of satanic activity.
Jessie Miskelley went to trial first. Since his confession implicated Damien and Jason, he was tried alone. There was zero evidence convicting Jessie. The prosecution’s case was built entirely on Jessie’s retracted confession, which he said was “coerced” from him. An expert for the defense testified that “Jessie was a prime candidate for false confession considering his low IQ.” (PL 1). The inconsistencies in the confession were pointed out in the trial, but it was obvious no one was listening. The jury felt this was a boy who was involved in some type of occult activity and needed to be sent away. Jessie was even offered a reduced sentence if he testified against Damien and Jason, but he refused. He said he “did not want to get up there and lie”(PL1). Jessie was found guilty of one count of first degree murder, and two counts of second degree murder. He was sentenced to life plus 40 years without the possibility of parole.



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One month after Jessie’s conviction, Damien, and Jason went to trial. This time the prosecution treated the case as Satanic Ritual Murder. Much of the case centered around Damien’s interest in black clothing, heavy metal music, his long black hair, and his belief in the Wicca religion. The prosecution relied heavily on Jessie’s retracted
confession. The only physical evidence presented was: a red robe that was Jason’s mothers, fifteen black T-shirts from Jason’s wardrobe, a red T-shirt of Damien’s, a Metallica T-shirt of Damien’s, and a book of Damien’s on the history of white witchcraft, otherwise known as Wicca. There was also a knife found in a lake behind Jason’s trailer;
however, this knife was later ruled out as the murder weapon after a forensic specialist profiled the case. The prosecution also found two girls who said they heard Damien “bragging” about killing the three boys at a baseball field. When the girls testified, they could not recall the rest of the conversation Damien was having. They stated they were “too far away to hear the conversation.” (PL1). Then, the girls gave a date that this “bragging” had occurred as a date that Damien was already in police custody. The police records proved Damien was in jail on the alleged date of this “bragging”. The prosecution called Dr. Dale Griffis as an expert witness in “occult killings.” Dr. Griffis testified that the main satanic indicators were “ black fingernails, black dyed hair, tattoos, and wearing black clothing.” (PL1). He mixed elements of Satanism with elements of Wicca. He showed his own religious prejudices against non-Christian religions. The defense brought out the fact that Dr. Griffis had obtained his Ph.D. from a mail order college without taking a single class or doing any type of schoolwork. On April 18, Damien and Jason were both found guilty on three counts of capitol murder. The next
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day, Damien was sentenced to death by lethal injection and Jason was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The prosecution had used theory instead of evidence to convict three teenagers on rumors of cult activities. The jury, swayed by these rumors and hysteria over Satanism, convicted all three of these boys without one
piece of evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. Damien said, “ the public already convicted me before the trial even started.” (PL1).
After the convictions had already taken place, HBO premiered the documentary “Paradise Lost,” which highlighted this trial. Instead of outrage over the murders of the three young boys, the outrage poured out because of the convictions of these three teenagers. People from all around the world were outraged. A group of individuals from California formed a support group called Free the West Memphis Three (FWM3), to help spread the word about all of the inconsistencies with the case. “During the original trial, the defense was only allotted $1000 from the state to represent the teenagers.” (PL2). The defense could not afford to have any type of forensic testing done. The FWM3 spoke out against this and got the attention of Brent Turvey, a forensic specialist, who decided to volunteer his time, and profile the case with the entire original crime scene documents, and autopsy reports and photos. Turvey’s criminal profile revealed “many areas of physical evidence, which were either missed or misinterpreted by the medical examiner and coroner on this case” (.. /HTML/body_profile.html). If all this information would have been available when the investigation was initiated, then the outcome may have been very different. The most important piece of evidence Mr. Turvey noticed was bite marks all over the face of Stevie Branch. This opinion was confirmed by Dr.
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Thomas David, a board certified forensic odontologist. These were “definitely human adult bite marks” (PL2). Bite marks hold up just like fingerprints in the court of law because of their uniqueness. Dental impressions were taken of the three boys sitting in prison convicted of the murder, but none of them matched. Mr. Turvey also stated, “this
crime does not present at all as a satanic ritual, or cult related homicide.” (PL2). There was no blood at the scene, although at least one of the boys had bled to death. None of the bodies had mosquito bites on them, although they had been found in a wet area. All of the inconsistencies were shown in a different light and it only outraged the parents of the young victims. Dr. Joseph Cohen, a medical examiner from New York, was also consulted on the autopsy report. Dr. Cohen’s first testimony for a defense would be Damien’s appeal. He stated that the comments made by the county coroner were “absurd” and had “gone too far.” He stated that “the entire report was misleading”(PL2).
After all of this new information, a new suspect came into light. John Mark Byers, the stepfather of Chris Byers, had a few points against him. He never had an alibi for the night that the boys were first reported missing. Byers also gave the producers of “Paradise Lost” a knife that appeared to have blood on it. The producers turned it over to the police, and the knife did test positive for human blood consistent with his blood type and his stepson’s. Yet, this evidence mysteriously disappears. During the original trial, it was proven that whoever had sexually mutilated Chris had to “have the skill of a surgeon” (PL1) and Byers was a jewel cutter. In 1994, Byers was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and burglary. That summer his neighbors had a restraining order placed on him for whipping their son and firing a gun at their home.
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In March of 1996, Melissa Byers died mysteriously. Her death still has not been ruled on whether it was a suicide or homicide. Chris Byers had been prescribed the drug Ritalin for his hyperactivity. Chris was supposed to be taking this medicine daily, but his autopsy report showed that there was not a trace of Ritalin in his system. On the
contrary, Melissa Byers’ autopsy report showed Ritalin in her system, although it was not a drug prescribed to her. Ritalin has been shown to cause a ‘speed’ effect in adults, while it ‘calms’ hyperactive children. Another interesting point is how John Mark Byers somehow lost all of his teeth after the new bite mark evidence was released. At different times, he had different stories on how he lost them. Byers claimed they fell out because of medication he was on and that they were knocked out during a fight before the murders ever occurred. However, his dental records show that he “had them voluntarily removed” (PL2). An entire mouth of healthy teeth was extracted from John Mark Byers four years after the murders had taken place. The drug that had allegedly made his teeth fall out was Tegretol. Byers took the Tegretol to help with violent outbursts he had due to a brain tumor. In his stepson’s autopsy report, there was an acute amount of Tegretol in his system. Why did an 8-year-old boy have a potentially lethal sedative in his system when it was prescribed for his stepfather? No one knows exactly how to take John Mark Byers. Currently, Byers is in prison for selling drugs to an undercover police officer.
The same judge who sat for the original trial denied the first appeal. In preparation for the second appeal, HBO decide to make another documentary to update the situations surrounding the case. “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” debuted this past March, right after the decision was made in the second appeal. Revelations showed all
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this new forensic evidence and the suspicions surrounding John Mark Byers. However, the decision would still be up to the original trial judge, Judge Burnett. Judge Burnett denied the appeal. He personally concluded that the “bite marks were not human origin” (wm3.org). This man has no training in any type of forensic science. Nevertheless, to
admit the original trial had been a travesty would damage the police and Judge Burnett himself. It would not be politically convenient to do this in an election year.
I am neither a lawyer nor a police officer. I do not profess to have more knowledge than the attorneys, prosecutors, or investigators of this case. However, I do have a brain and I am capable of logical thought. I have yet to see one piece of evidence to convict Jessie, Jason, or Damien of this vicious crime. What I see is plenty of reasonable doubt. The trial was not fair. The jurors were biased because of the media’s influence between the trial and the murders. The defense was short-funded. The police were completely negligent in all aspects of the case. They ignored any other possible suspects while they made every effort to find these three teenagers guilty.
What happened in this case was a jury convicting for all the wrong reasons. They convicted for three primary reasons: the brutality of the crime, the victims were children, and their own beliefs and fears surrounding Satanism. The prosecution had a weak case, full of inconsistencies; yet, they won because they played upon the emotions of the jury. The jury listened to their emotions instead of their logic, and ignored everything that showed reasonable doubt. It would seem obvious that the West Memphis 3 are not guilty of this murder. The actual murderer(s) could possibly be running free. Every appeal made by the three convicted individuals has been denied. Even after the dental
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impressions did not match up to the bite marks that were all over Stevie Branch, Judge Burnett still refuses to admit any misleading in the original trial. Damien has one last chance to convince the judge to hear his appeal. If this appeal is denied, he would most likely die by lethal injection later this year. I support the innocence of the West Memphis
Three. It feels good to be on the honest side. I do plan to be present when the last appeal goes before the judge later this year to show my support against this injustice that has occurred. These three convicted young men could be anyone of us if the judicial system allows personal prejudices to sentence people to death. How can someone’s own beliefs interfere with a matter of life and death? This tragedy never should have occurred. The real West Memphis Three that need the attention are Michael Moore, Chris Byers, and Stevie Branch. The rest of the attention needs to focus on finding out what actually happened on the evening of May 5, 1993. The new evidence that does implicate possible suspects needs to be investigated by professionals who are experienced with crime scene evidence. By doing this, the future of these three young men might possibly be a little brighter than they are right now.











Satanic Panic in the South
On the evening of May 5, 1993, three boys from West Memphis, Arkansas, were last seen riding their bikes together. In the early evening, Chris Byers’ stepfather, John Mark Byers, reported that his stepson had not come home and he was becoming worried. The police were also notified of two other boys who had been with Chris and were considered missing, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch. The police and the parents of the missing children searched the neighborhood unsuccessfully until 3AM the next morning. The bodies of the three eight year old boys were discovered in a wooded area in Robin Hood Hills the next day at 1:30 PM. The boys had been hog-tied and severely beaten. Their naked bodies were located in a shallow creek in an isolated patch of woods behind the Blue Beacon truck wash. However, the question that remains until this day is whether justice was served in this case. Perhaps you are not familiar with the West Memphis Three, otherwise known as the Robin Hood Hill Murders. Most people would not of heard of this case unless they were citizens of the small town; however, HBO produced a documentary, “Paradise Lost,” which graphically showed this case in a different light. This Peabody Award winning documentary brought the story of this crime and its aftermath into the national spotlight in 1996. The implication it left was that satanic panic, public hysteria and media sensationalism was responsible for the convictions in the case, not solid evidence. This is a shattering account of what a fundamentalist community in the south can accomplish toward the blatant destruction of American justice.
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West Memphis is a predominantly Southern Baptist town in Eastern Arkansas. Most citizens of West Memphis are typical of other small towns across the country- poor, undereducated, and unwilling to accept anything that appears to be unlike them. The actions and reactions to this crime are classic examples of how rumors are passed on as the truth. Webster’s defines ‘witch hunt’ as an intensive effort to discover and expose those who are disloyal, subversive, etc.…. on the basis of slight or doubtful evidence. The case and trial of the West Memphis Three was a present day ‘witch hunt’.
Since the early 1980’s, many police officers have attended seminars on Satanic Ritual Abuse and Murder. People have been taught that an underground network of Satanic cults kidnap, torture, and kill children in their rituals; however, there has been no evidence found to substantiate these claims. A juvenile probation officer that was present at the crime scene behind the Blue Beacon felt this scene was a prime example of Satanic Ritual Murder. This officer had recently attended a conference on Satanism in today’s society, so the thought of satanic criminals was fresh in his mind. The officer immediately felt there was only one person in their community that would be capable of committing a crime that revolved around satanic worship. From this point forward, the prime suspect was Damien Echols. The police investigation focused on the belief that Damien was a leader of a satanic cult. The parents of the murdered children were becoming angrier by the day because the police did not have any leads in the case. Although there was no hard evidence linking Damien Echols to this crime, the police felt a conviction would be easy as long as they could prove Damien was involved in devil worshipping.
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The focus of the investigation was on an unconventional 18-year-old who was considered “weird” by this conservative community. He often dressed in black, wore his naturally black hair long, and listened to heavy metal music. When Damien was interviewed from prison, he said, “ People assumed that I was guilty and had made up their minds beforehand simply based on my taste in clothes, music, etc. In a larger city, I would never have been noticed but I happen to live in a small, conservative, traditional town where I was looked at as a freak.” (PL 2). Damien was questioned three days after the bodies were discovered, on May 9, but was released after his interrogation did not provide any clues.
One month later, without any leads in the case, the police question an acquaintance of Damien’s. Jessie Misskelley, a 17-year-old with an IQ of 72 was given a lie detector test, which concluded that he was innocent and had no knowledge of the crime. This did not conclude anything with the police though. Jessie was interrogated for over 6 hours without representation of any kind. He “ was not allowed to go to the restroom, have a sip of water, call his parents, or have any legal counsel present.” (PL 1). The detectives told Jessie that “they knew he was in a satanic cult that Damien Echols was the leader of” (PL1). They told Jessie that “ he would not be allowed to leave until he told them what happened to those three little boys.” (PL1). The detective even testified that he had “laid out the pictures of the dead boys to get a reaction out of Jessie”(PL1). After about six hours of this interrogation, Jessie confessed to the crime. He said he “had not committed the crime, but had been there while Damien and another

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friend, Jason Baldwin, had” (PL 1). No records of this interrogation exist, except for the last 45 minutes after Jessie confessed. Once Jessie realized he was not going to be able to go home, he retracted his confession. With Jessie’s low IQ, he was unable to comprehend the extent of this false confession. The confession was incorrect on two main points: the material used to bind the boys, and the time the killings supposedly took place. However, the police told Jessie different details of the crime scene and Jessie subsequently changed his story to go along with the police. Jessie claimed that he caved in under pressure of the interrogation. When given another polygraph, on whether he had ‘made up the confession’, he passed. The damage was already done. Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin were both arrested later that evening.
For the next nine months, the media fed the public with stories circulating rumors about Satanic worship in their community. They printed stories on blood drinking, devil worship, and demon orgies. The media also wrote about the Wicca religion, but never differentiated between the two. They preached that Wicca, Satanism, heavy metal music, and astrology were all linked together and part of a grand conspiracy that involved human sacrifice. The encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft defines Satanism as the worship of Satan, or the Devil, the god of evil in Christianity. This belief is far less common than many would believe. In contrast, Wicca (commonly confused with Satanism) lives by a common creed:
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill; An it harm none,
Do what ye will.


McNeal 5
This translates into the right of all people to choose their own paths, as long as their choices do not bring injury to another. Wiccans are not devils or Satanists. Wicca is a pre-Christian religion devoted to nature. When the Catholic Church wanted to take over the European’s public worship of pagan gods, they adopted the image of the Wicca consort as the devil. This image still survives today. The Wicca religion does not acknowledge the existence of Satan. If Wiccans do not acknowledge Satan, then how can they worship him? No evidence, even to this day, has been found to support that Damien Echols has ever participated in any type of satanic activity.
Jessie Miskelley went to trial first. Since his confession implicated Damien and Jason, he was tried alone. There was zero evidence convicting Jessie. The prosecution’s case was built entirely on Jessie’s retracted confession, which he said was “coerced” from him. An expert for the defense testified that “Jessie was a prime candidate for false confession considering his low IQ.” (PL 1). The inconsistencies in the confession were pointed out in the trial, but it was obvious no one was listening. The jury felt this was a boy who was involved in some type of occult activity and needed to be sent away. Jessie was even offered a reduced sentence if he testified against Damien and Jason, but he refused. He said he “did not want to get up there and lie”(PL1). Jessie was found guilty of one count of first degree murder, and two counts of second degree murder. He was sentenced to life plus 40 years without the possibility of parole.



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One month after Jessie’s conviction, Damien, and Jason went to trial. This time the prosecution treated the case as Satanic Ritual Murder. Much of the case centered around Damien’s interest in black clothing, heavy metal music, his long black hair, and his belief in the Wicca religion. The prosecution relied heavily on Jessie’s retracted
confession. The only physical evidence presented was: a red robe that was Jason’s mothers, fifteen black T-shirts from Jason’s wardrobe, a red T-shirt of Damien’s, a Metallica T-shirt of Damien’s, and a book of Damien’s on the history of white witchcraft, otherwise known as Wicca. There was also a knife found in a lake behind Jason’s trailer;
however, this knife was later ruled out as the murder weapon after a forensic specialist profiled the case. The prosecution also found two girls who said they heard Damien “bragging” about killing the three boys at a baseball field. When the girls testified, they could not recall the rest of the conversation Damien was having. They stated they were “too far away to hear the conversation.” (PL1). Then, the girls gave a date that this “bragging” had occurred as a date that Damien was already in police custody. The police records proved Damien was in jail on the alleged date of this “bragging”. The prosecution called Dr. Dale Griffis as an expert witness in “occult killings.” Dr. Griffis testified that the main satanic indicators were “ black fingernails, black dyed hair, tattoos, and wearing black clothing.” (PL1). He mixed elements of Satanism with elements of Wicca. He showed his own religious prejudices against non-Christian religions. The defense brought out the fact that Dr. Griffis had obtained his Ph.D. from a mail order college without taking a single class or doing any type of schoolwork. On April 18, Damien and Jason were both found guilty on three counts of capitol murder. The next
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day, Damien was sentenced to death by lethal injection and Jason was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The prosecution had used theory instead of evidence to convict three teenagers on rumors of cult activities. The jury, swayed by these rumors and hysteria over Satanism, convicted all three of these boys without one
piece of evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. Damien said, “ the public already convicted me before the trial even started.” (PL1).
After the convictions had already taken place, HBO premiered the documentary “Paradise Lost,” which highlighted this trial. Instead of outrage over the murders of the three young boys, the outrage poured out because of the convictions of these three teenagers. People from all around the world were outraged. A group of individuals from California formed a support group called Free the West Memphis Three (FWM3), to help spread the word about all of the inconsistencies with the case. “During the original trial, the defense was only allotted $1000 from the state to represent the teenagers.” (PL2). The defense could not afford to have any type of forensic testing done. The FWM3 spoke out against this and got the attention of Brent Turvey, a forensic specialist, who decided to volunteer his time, and profile the case with the entire original crime scene documents, and autopsy reports and photos. Turvey’s criminal profile revealed “many areas of physical evidence, which were either missed or misinterpreted by the medical examiner and coroner on this case” (.. /HTML/body_profile.html). If all this information would have been available when the investigation was initiated, then the outcome may have been very different. The most important piece of evidence Mr. Turvey noticed was bite marks all over the face of Stevie Branch. This opinion was confirmed by Dr.
McNeal 8
Thomas David, a board certified forensic odontologist. These were “definitely human adult bite marks” (PL2). Bite marks hold up just like fingerprints in the court of law because of their uniqueness. Dental impressions were taken of the three boys sitting in prison convicted of the murder, but none of them matched. Mr. Turvey also stated, “this
crime does not present at all as a satanic ritual, or cult related homicide.” (PL2). There was no blood at the scene, although at least one of the boys had bled to death. None of the bodies had mosquito bites on them, although they had been found in a wet area. All of the inconsistencies were shown in a different light and it only outraged the parents of the young victims. Dr. Joseph Cohen, a medical examiner from New York, was also consulted on the autopsy report. Dr. Cohen’s first testimony for a defense would be Damien’s appeal. He stated that the comments made by the county coroner were “absurd” and had “gone too far.” He stated that “the entire report was misleading”(PL2).
After all of this new information, a new suspect came into light. John Mark Byers, the stepfather of Chris Byers, had a few points against him. He never had an alibi for the night that the boys were first reported missing. Byers also gave the producers of “Paradise Lost” a knife that appeared to have blood on it. The producers turned it over to the police, and the knife did test positive for human blood consistent with his blood type and his stepson’s. Yet, this evidence mysteriously disappears. During the original trial, it was proven that whoever had sexually mutilated Chris had to “have the skill of a surgeon” (PL1) and Byers was a jewel cutter. In 1994, Byers was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and burglary. That summer his neighbors had a restraining order placed on him for whipping their son and firing a gun at their home.
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In March of 1996, Melissa Byers died mysteriously. Her death still has not been ruled on whether it was a suicide or homicide. Chris Byers had been prescribed the drug Ritalin for his hyperactivity. Chris was supposed to be taking this medicine daily, but his autopsy report showed that there was not a trace of Ritalin in his system. On the
contrary, Melissa Byers’ autopsy report showed Ritalin in her system, although it was not a drug prescribed to her. Ritalin has been shown to cause a ‘speed’ effect in adults, while it ‘calms’ hyperactive children. Another interesting point is how John Mark Byers somehow lost all of his teeth after the new bite mark evidence was released. At different times, he had different stories on how he lost them. Byers claimed they fell out because of medication he was on and that they were knocked out during a fight before the murders ever occurred. However, his dental records show that he “had them voluntarily removed” (PL2). An entire mouth of healthy teeth was extracted from John Mark Byers four years after the murders had taken place. The drug that had allegedly made his teeth fall out was Tegretol. Byers took the Tegretol to help with violent outbursts he had due to a brain tumor. In his stepson’s autopsy report, there was an acute amount of Tegretol in his system. Why did an 8-year-old boy have a potentially lethal sedative in his system when it was prescribed for his stepfather? No one knows exactly how to take John Mark Byers. Currently, Byers is in prison for selling drugs to an undercover police officer.
The same judge who sat for the original trial denied the first appeal. In preparation for the second appeal, HBO decide to make another documentary to update the situations surrounding the case. “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” debuted this past March, right after the decision was made in the second appeal. Revelations showed all
McNeal 10
this new forensic evidence and the suspicions surrounding John Mark Byers. However, the decision would still be up to the original trial judge, Judge Burnett. Judge Burnett denied the appeal. He personally concluded that the “bite marks were not human origin” (wm3.org). This man has no training in any type of forensic science. Nevertheless, to
admit the original trial had been a travesty would damage the police and Judge Burnett himself. It would not be politically convenient to do this in an election year.
I am neither a lawyer nor a police officer. I do not profess to have more knowledge than the attorneys, prosecutors, or investigators of this case. However, I do have a brain and I am capable of logical thought. I have yet to see one piece of evidence to convict Jessie, Jason, or Damien of this vicious crime. What I see is plenty of reasonable doubt. The trial was not fair. The jurors were biased because of the media’s influence between the trial and the murders. The defense was short-funded. The police were completely negligent in all aspects of the case. They ignored any other possible suspects while they made every effort to find these three teenagers guilty.
What happened in this case was a jury convicting for all the wrong reasons. They convicted for three primary reasons: the brutality of the crime, the victims were children, and their own beliefs and fears surrounding Satanism. The prosecution had a weak case, full of inconsistencies; yet, they won because they played upon the emotions of the jury. The jury listened to their emotions instead of their logic, and ignored everything that showed reasonable doubt. It would seem obvious that the West Memphis 3 are not guilty of this murder. The actual murderer(s) could possibly be running free. Every appeal made by the three convicted individuals has been denied. Even after the dental
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impressions did not match up to the bite marks that were all over Stevie Branch, Judge Burnett still refuses to admit any misleading in the original trial. Damien has one last chance to convince the judge to hear his appeal. If this appeal is denied, he would most likely die by lethal injection later this year. I support the innocence of the West Memphis
Three. It feels good to be on the honest side. I do plan to be present when the last appeal goes before the judge later this year to show my support against this injustice that has occurred. These three convicted young men could be anyone of us if the judicial system allows personal prejudices to sentence people to death. How can someone’s own beliefs interfere with a matter of life and death? This tragedy never should have occurred. The real West Memphis Three that need the attention are Michael Moore, Chris Byers, and Stevie Branch. The rest of the attention needs to focus on finding out what actually happened on the evening of May 5, 1993. The new evidence that does implicate possible suspects needs to be investigated by professionals who are experienced with crime scene evidence. By doing this, the future of these three young men might possibly be a little brighter than they are right now.


























 
 
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    Some topics in this essay  
 
    Damien Echols | Damien Jason | West Memphis | Jason Baldwin | Judge Burnett | T-shirt Damien’s | Mark Byers | Jason Damien | Chris Byers | Ritual Murder | west memphis | john mark byers | original trial | mark byers | john mark | damien echols | satanic ritual | judge burnett | stevie branch | crime scene | autopsy report | heavy metal music | jessie’s retracted confession | satanic ritual murder | marks stevie branch |  
   
 
 
 
 
   
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