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Bittersweet Justice

August 20, 2011

by J. Andrew Zalucky

After a sad, despicable, and backward-thinking miscarriage of justice, the West Memphis 3 are finally free.

Back in 1994, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were wrongly convicted for the murder of three 8-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. From the shoddy investigation by the police, to the absolutely ludicrous motive put forth by the prosecution, this case was a complete joke from the start. New DNA evidence has since confirmed that they could not have been responsible for the murders. While I am happy to see these three innocent walk free, I am extremely depressed by the 18 years they have lost in prison. 18 years, encompassing the entirety of their 20’s and most of their 30’s, spent needlessly idle in prison.

I’m still aghast the prosecution used the notion of a “satanic ritual” to establish a motive and that the community condemned the three based on the fact that they listened to heavy metal. In order to be released, the West Memphis Three used an “Alfred Plea” which is a legal maneuver that allows you to “confess” while still maintaining your innocence. It may sound like a last smack in the face, but as a way to get Damien Echols off of death-row, I surely would have done the same thing.

Over the years, the case has attracted a massive swarm of attention, including that of many musical artists. On Pearl Jam: Touring Band 2000, Eddie Vedder replaces some of the lyrics from Do the Evolution to “Free the West Memphis Three”. (Eddie even went to the hearing!) There was also a partial Black Flag reunion which resulted in a benefit compilation that I highly recommend.  So after everything, the documentaries, the recanting of witnesses and of 2 of the victim’s families- its all over. As someone who cares about justice, and yes, as someone who also likes to wear heavy metal band t-shirts, I’m very happy about this. And to think- Damien could have been executed…all on the whim it seems.

Oh- and I highly suggest that MSNBC.com change their headline from “3 convicted child killers freed in plea deal” to “3 wrongly convicted men set free”.

For more opinion on the WM3 and the hearings- check out this article by one of my colleagues at Metal Injection.

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