Freeing West Memphis Three Killers Doesn't Give Kids Justice

west memphis threeIt's not every day you wake to the news that three guys convicted of murdering three kids back in the '90s are going free. It makes me feel like going back to bed. Don't get me wrong -- the story is no snoozer. The West Memphis Three were just kids themselves when they were sent to jail in 1994 for the supposed killings of a trio of Boy Scouts found naked in a ditch in (you guessed it) West Memphis, Arkansas.

As the years have passed, DNA evidence has come up that's not a match to the then-teenaged convicts, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin. Celebs like Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder have jumped on the "not guilty" bandwagon. And now it looks like all three are going to walk out of prison. Justice served? Maybe not.


Rumor has it the boys, well, men now, are going to maintain they never did the deed. BUT they'll cop to the fact that the prosecutors have enough evidence to take them back to court and get another conviction in exchange for release -- Echols from death row, Misskelley and Baldwin from life sentences. Basically, they plead guilty and innocent at the same time. Holy confusion, Batman!

Apparently this is completely legal. It's called an Alford Plea based on a case out of North Carolina in the '70s when a dude named Henry Alford agreed to plead guilty to a crime he said he didn't commit only because he wanted to avoid the risk of being sentenced to the death penalty.

There are plenty of judges who aren't exactly happy with the legality of the Alford Plea, and I don't blame them. It reeks of prosecutorial back-slapping. They get a pass on actually doing their jobs. If they're so darn sure that the West Memphis Three really killed those kids, why can't they take them back through another trial? Get a clean conviction from a jury of their peers?

Sure, trials cost money, but re-trials clear up a lot of questions. And convictions do come out of them. A murderer in my neck of the woods had his first conviction overturned on a technicality, and the second trial resulted in yet another conviction on first-degree murder. It looks like he's in prison for life.

His re-trial was hard on the family of his first victim (yup, he went on a bit of a spree), but there was a relief in my community seeing him put back behind bars. We felt better knowing there was no murderer on the loose. But the release of the West Memphis Three won't offer that sort of relief to the people of West Memphis, Arkansas. There's no clear answer, no person behind bars serving a sentence for the crime of killing those poor little boys.

If these guys are innocent, a town is left wondering who DID do it? But if the prosecution won't let them go free based purely on non-subjective innocence, it won't free the cops up to search for the real killer. How do you arrest someone else for a crime that is considered solved based on an iffy guilty plea? The parents of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore will never have answers about what happened to their children.

If the West Memphis Three are truly innocent, I don't want to see them sit behind bars. But as a mother, as a citizen, I hate to think that three little boys are being forgotten because prosecutors can't cop to making some mistakes along the way.

Should the West Memphis Three walk out of prison in this way? Is there any easy answer here?

UPDATE: The three men have all officially been freed after entering an Alford Plea.

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