Opportunity to Retest DNA Evidence from West Memphis 3 Murders Denied by Courts


Sophia Madera

In Arkansas, Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman of Crittenden County denied the motion to re-test recently-discovered DNA found at the West Memphis 3 crime scene. The DNA discovered could have the potential to fully exonerate the 3 men- teenage boys at the time -initially accused of murdering 3 1st graders in 1993.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley (18, 16, and 17 respectively when the murders occured) were charged with and convicted of the slayings and mutilation of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, all 8 year old boys, in 1994. Much of the prosecution’s case was dependent on a false confession coerced out of Miskelley by law enforcement, as well as the assumption that all of the boys- already branded as lower-class, loner, outcast-types who gravitated towards metal music and unconventional religions-were devil worshippers performing Satanic rituals. Despite a lack of physical evidence to implicate the 3 teenagers at the time of the trial, Misskelley and Baldwin were both given life sentences, and Echols was placed on death row.

Following the sentencing, the defense team attempted to file multiple appeals, one of which finally resulted in a hearing in 2010. However, when the new defense team discovered that even the new evidence remained circumstantial, they agreed to settle for an Alford plea, a guilty plea that still maintains the defendant’s innocence. All three boys were granted time served as a result of their pleas, and thus were released from prison after 18 years.

Assuming that Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley truly are innocent, the true perpetrator(s) remain unknown, perhaps still alive. There were numerous other leads that law enforcement outright ignored, such as “Mr. Bojangles”, an unnamed Black man who entered a Bojangles restaurant in the area the day of the murders, incoherent and covered in blood. Some even suspect Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, as a hair found on one of the ligatures used to hog-tie the murdered boys had DNA consistent with Hobbs’.

Since being released from prison, Echols has dedicated a good portion of his life to achieving justice, going so far as to petition the Circuit Court of Crittenden County to allow new DNA testing in 2022, given the leaps and bounds technology has made within the past two decades. The subject of most interest are the shoestrings used to tie the boys up. The method they intended to use to analyze the DNA from the shoestrings is called the M-Vac method, a type of wet vacuum system testing, that allows DNA to be extracted when technology would not previously allow it.

Unfortunately, Chrestman and the other prosecutors involved claim that M-Vac technology would alter the DNA, which violates the court’s policy of permanently preserving physical evidence from violent crimes. The prosecutors suggest that, until further testing gives reason to believe that there is evidence to fully prove Echols’ and the others’ innocence, there will be no budging in the case.

Echols, Miskelley, and Baldwin have all maintained their innocence throughout the duration of all hearings, trials, and appeals.