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West Memphis Three: A Critical Analysis

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The murder of three little boys: a terrible thing in and of itself, but the tragedy in West Memphis didn’t stop there. On May 6, 1993, three young boys were found dead in a West Memphis creek after being reported missing a day earlier. With leaps to judgement, West Memphis law enforcement quickly put three local teenagers into the spotlight of the investigation; Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. It was a strong belief of the local law enforcement that the murders of these young boys was part of a satanic ritual, and Echols and his friends fit the bill by being a bit different. The misguided prejudice at the start of the investigation was just the beginning of the issues with the case that came to be known as the “West Memphis Three. ” In conjunction with the many issues with this case, the flaws in the judicial system shone through brightly, with more than unfortunate consequences for the three friends. And while it has taken more than enough time, in recent years the Three were released from prison as the result of new evidence found in DNA testing, but that doesn’t excuse the injustice dealt to them. There were major flaws within this case, stemming from a poorly conducted investigation, that should never have led to the false conviction and imprisonment of three teenagers who have now lost over eighteen years of their lives.

Of the many issues with the West Memphis Three case, one of the most major was the very poor investigation that was conducted by the police. From the very beginning, the police officers involved in the investigation felt that the crime was some part of a cult ritual. This lead the investigation on a one-track path from the very beginning – towards Damien Echols and his friends. Due to his interest in the occult, it was easy for the police to target him and place him in like with their beliefs that a satanic ritual was the reasoning for the deaths of the three boys. Following on their one-track path, police not only interrogated Echols once or twice, but they interrogated him a multitude of time over the course of a month. (Leveritt) In fact, police interviewed Echols with more frequency than they interviewed anyone else, all the while asserting that he wasn’t an actual suspect, just a means of information. When their continued pressing of Echols didn’t serve their purposes, they finished their terribly misguided investigation by targeting Misskelley for interrogation. Despite the fact that Misskelley had a recorded IQ of 72 – which categorized him as borderline intellectual functioning – they pressed on. If that wasn’t enough, the police questioned Misskelley alone, without the presence of his parents. His interrogation went on for 12 hours, where he ultimately confessed, but later revealed that he was intimidated, coerced, threated, and was suffering from fatigue during that time. Misskelley also very clearly states that he was “scared of the police” during his confession. Not only was the investigation conducted extremely poorly, there was a lack of actual evidence pointing to Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley. No DNA from the three friends was recovered from the crime scene or the bodies of the victims. Overall, the investigation was conducted very poorly and unfairly, with the police having their sights set from the very beginning.

To add on to the issues already present within the case itself, flaws in the justice system were blatantly present as well. First of all, the police involved in the investigation should have never been allowed to conduct themselves in the manner that they did. They harassed Echols for a month, based solely on their prejudices and preformed ideas that they had about the case. When that didn’t work for them, they targeted a borderline mentally ill teenager for their investigation. As I mentioned previously, the police also questioned Misskelley alone. Not only was Misskelley alone, without legal representation or his parents, the police were never given explicit permission by his parents to question him. Furthermore, when Misskelley recanted his confession and said that he was coerced, he also stated that he never fully understood his Miranda rights, which is a requirement by law. On top of this, the case against the West Memphis Three was never founded or supported by concrete evidence. The case against the Three was founded on a false confession, coerced by the police. The prosecution also relied heavily on the testimony of a coroner whose investigation was found to be very ill performed. With all of these factors present in the case, the jury still found the defendants guilty. This itself is evidence that there are flaws in the system, and it can even stem from the jury. Jurors are not legal experts, nor have any jurors lived the same life and had the same experiences as another. They come from all different backgrounds, that have formed the way that they approach problems and ideas differently, and they are all humans who can make mistakes.

There will never be a time where these false convictions and flaws within the system are completely gone, but steps can certainly be taken to lessen the possibility of its occurrence. One of these, that is more easily done now with improvements in technology, is the requirement of concrete evidence. With many technological advancements that have come about, and are continuing to be developed, it is much easier now to find evidence that proves the guilt of a defendant(s). Regardless of the case, it should be a baseline requirement to convict someone that there is some evidence that proves that the defendant(s) committed the crime beyond a shadow of a doubt. Additionally, I feel that there should be some improvements made to the jury system. One such way that might advance the system – if implemented properly – is by allowing jurors to ask questions to witnesses during a trial. Yes, this is drastically different than the traditional conduct for a jury, and you may argue that jurors are asked to take a passive stance during trials, but I think that it could improve the system. If properly put into place with the right rules and restrictions, and jurors were able to ask questions during a trial, it could help the jury to reach a further understanding of the case they are a part of – and a more informed verdict.

After all of this, on August 19, 2011, Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were freed from prison as the result of a plea deal they made with the District Attorney’s office. Their plea deal took the form of an Alford plea, where they plead guilty while still maintaining their stance that they were innocent. Under the deal, they were sentenced to time served for 18 years and 78 days, and they were given a suspended sentence for 10 years. The implications of this is that if they have another offense within 10 years, they can be sent back to prison for 21 years. This is finally a step in the right direction for the case. Most importantly, as Echols puts it, “[The deal] is not perfect, it’s not perfect by and means, but [they] can still try to clear [their] names. The only difference is now [they] can do it from the outside, instead of having to sit in prison and do it. ” (West Memphis Three) It is overwhelmingly apparent that most of those who have followed or reported on the case believe that there were great injustices present, and that the conduct of the police in the investigation – as well as the prosecution – was outrageous. While that might be the case, there are some who believe their guilt, and that justice was served. But, in conjunction with the prejudicial investigation, the people of West Memphis were quick to place blame on the three friends as well, which acted to fuel the initial belief that Echols and his friends were responsible. Even so, many of those who originally believed in the guilt of the West Memphis Three ended up supporting them in their fight for freedom, and were pleased with the release of the Three -including the adoptive father of one of the murdered boys.

The plea deal for the West Memphis Three was less than ideal, but at least it freed them from prison. In my opinion, the Three should have been completely exonerated of all charges. It was possible for the defense and the prosecution to look at the evidence present and say with little to doubt that it was likely not the West Memphis Three responsible for the crimes they were charged with. In addition to this, justice was not served in any form in this case. The families of the three boys who were murdered have never, and likely will never, receive justice for the murder of their children. The families of the West Memphis Three will never receive justice for what they have gone through over the years. And most importantly, Echols and his friends will never get back the eighteen years of their lives that they served in prison.

All these factors came together to create a terrible display of the United States justice system. The misguided, terrible conducted police investigation lead to the arrest and conviction of three innocent teenagers, who have now earned their freedom due to their innocence. And while this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t excuse what has happened. Flaws like this within the judicial system are crushing, and they need to be addressed. Precautions and careful processes need to be taken in the future to reduce the likelihood of events such as this happening again, and I think that they will be. But, the result remains the same; the West Memphis Three were dealt a great injustice, and they can never reclaim the eighteen years of their lives that they lost.

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GradesFixer. (2019, November, 26) West Memphis Three: A Critical Analysis. Retrived February 24, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/west-memphis-three-a-critical-analysis/
"West Memphis Three: A Critical Analysis." GradesFixer, 26 Nov. 2019, https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/west-memphis-three-a-critical-analysis/. Accessed 24 February 2020.
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