passerine: Picture of Sparrow from Dykes to Watch For (Default)
[Warnings: prison abuse, epic fail regarding mental illness, complete justice system fail in general]

So, the West Memphis Three are out of prison, under some truly ludicrous circumstances.

Essentially, they - all three of them - had to make an "Alford plea" (maintaining a statement of innocence while acknowledging that there is evidence against them that would likely lead to a jury returning with a guilty verdict). In exchange for this plea, they would be released with time served (18 years) and a 10-year suspended sentence. They are free to go, but any further entanglement with law enforcement could result in 21 years imprisonment.

It all came down to getting Jason Baldwin, one of the three men, to go along with this. Damien Echols was obviously going to take the deal because getting the Hell off of Death Row is the most important thing he can do for himself. Jessie Miskelley was obviously going to go along with this because all he's ever wanted, from the time he gave his blatantly false coerced "confession", was to go home to his mom and dad.

Jason, on the other hand, was much more willing to let the slow-moving appeals process take its course. He was mostly doing OK in prison, all things considered, and he did not want to make anything approximating a guilty plea for something he didn't do.

In the end, he did. Not for himself, but for Damien. He has clearly stated that this is not justice but his best friend's life was at stake and that was more important to him. I admire this guy so much.

Some other thoughts about the case:

As this story correctly points out, it's going to be very difficult for them to re-adjust, given just how fast everything moved. And I actually think that Jason is in for the roughest time. Jessie went home to Big Jessie, and I know they're going to take care of him. Damien married a few years into his sentence - his wife, Lorri, will be there to help him re-adjust to life on the outside. (Though even so I think they're in for more of a struggle than they realized.)

I've heard very little about what Jason is going to do or what resources he has. He's mentioned returning to school and possibly pursuing a law degree. I wonder if Yeshiva University would scholarship him for law school - who better to work on their Innocence Project? :)

Also...just watching some of the comments on both sides (supporters/non-supporters)...they get to me. I've been a supporter since I heard of the case back in 1996 or so. However, I'm not one of the supporters who romanticizes the poor misunderstood boys who were arrested because they listened to Metallica and wore black. It's a bit more complex than that. All three boys did have records as juvenile delinquents, and Damien had a history of hospitalization for mental illness. At the time of the arrest, they were pretty similar to the boys in my case file reviews who are in residential treatment centers for "delinquency and ungovernable behavior" or whatnot.

However, that does NOT, NOT, NOT make them murderers! The people investigating the homicides should have done their damn jobs back in 1993 rather than zeroing in on the local delinquents, and they should do their jobs now and appropriately follow up on the DNA evidence.

I do worry about the suspended sentence part of the deal, though. Quite a lot. There will be scrutiny on them such that even if they live law-abiding lives 99.5% of the time (which, honestly, is better than many of us manage), a bad check or PTSD-triggered altercation could land them right back in jail.

What a bunch of mixed feelings I have about all this.


passerine: Picture of Sparrow from Dykes to Watch For (Default)
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October 2011

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