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The Robin Hood Hills murderer(s)

Echols' hearing. DNA breakthrough.

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Damien Echols' Hearings:

On 1998-MAY-5, Damien Echols was granted a hearing to determine whether he deserves a new trial. It is alleged that he received ineffective counsel at his original trial. "Echols' [current] attorney, Edward Mallett, contends that his...legal rights were compromised by his lawyers who sold his story to a movie producer in order to cover legal costs." It is also alleged that the state did not provide the defense attorneys sufficient funds to hire expert witnesses.

A Forensic Analysis & Psychological Profile has been prepared by Brent E. Turvey, a Forensic Scientist & Criminal Profiler from Knowledge Solutions, LLC. It was entered into the record. An abridged version is available on-line. 1 Some of the conclusions reached by Turvey are quite different from those of the investigating police:

bulletthe location of the bodies, "in a drainage ditch, in a heavily wooded area called the Robin Hood hills," is only one of four crime scenes involved in the case.
bulletthere are obvious wounds on Steve Branch's face that appear to have been caused by biting. The investigators apparently missed them.
bulletthe boys were not murdered at the location where they were found.
bulletthree additional crime scenes were involved:
bulletwhere the boys were abducted,
bulletwhere the murders happened, and 
bulletin the vehicle used to transport the bodies to the woods
bullet"This crime does not present at all as a satanic ritual, or cult related, homicide."

At the hearing, the Judge granted a defense request that bite mark impressions be taken from the West Memphis 3 so that they can be compared to Steve Branch's face wound. Bite marks can be positively associated with the teeth of a perpetrator, much like fingerprints.

The hearing was scheduled to continue on 1998-SEP-2 in Jonesboro, AR. It was deferred until OCT-26 because of witness transportation difficulties. 

The first day of the hearings, Monday, OCT-26, appear to have been given over to procedural matters. Forensic scientist /profiler Brent Turvey described how he became aware of this case; the prosecution attempted to trash his educational attainments. News sources appear to have shifted their presentation. During the original trial, the media was heavily biased against the defendants; now, they seem to be concentrating on reporting the facts as they develop.

The second day of the hearings, Tuesday OCT-27: Media coverage of the hearing was pathetically incompetent; filled with misinformation. Reporters had only a shallow understanding of the case. Thomas David, a Board certified forensic odontologist, produced a large color photograph of victim Stevie Branch's face, with the obvious bite marks on his forehead and eye. This triggered a disturbance by Steve Branch Sr., the biological father of the victim. He was quickly restrained and escorted out of the court room. The three dental impressions of the Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were produced. None of the impressions matched the wound on the victim's face. Dr. David stated that in his professional opinion, none of the three youths convicted of the crime had made the bite mark wound. Damien Echols later commented about the new evidence: "It means that somebody bit them, and it wasn’t me."

The third day of the hearings, Wednesday OCT-28:  Dr. Joseph Cohen, a medical examiner from New York city gave testimony. He has performed over 1,300 autopsies. This was the first time that he testified as a witness for the defense. He stated that many of the statements made by the county coroner in his autopsy report were "absurd," "speculative" and had "gone too far." He said: "I think it's wrong... I think it's misleading to suggest specific mechanisms of injury. I disagree with the wording in Dr. Peretti's report. The words 'gouging' and 'cutting' are misleading, and describe an act as opposed to a wound. I would have used different terminology. Most of these wounds are nondescript." Detective Bryn Ridge was the first witness for the prosecution. He claimed to have researched the occult and occult related crimes. When pressed for details, he indicated that he had read a book on the subject and talked to a coroner in Little Rock who had experience with occult crime. He was not certain whether photographs were taken of the crime scene. He seems to have been an effective witness for the defense! Ron Lax was the next prosecution witness. He is an investigator that was originally convinced of the guilt of the three youths. However, after his investigation, he was convinced of their innocence.

The second hearing had been continued until early 1999-JAN. It was further delayed until 1999-MAR-18. Two days of testimony in Marion AR revealed a comedy of errors and oversights by the police and forensic investigators. The presence of fly larvae and absence of mosquito bits appears to indicate that the three boys were killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped into the river where they were found. Burk Sauls who witnessed the hearing commented: "Many people who heard the testimony were confused by the contradictions and the almost desperate attempts to defend sloppy work." It was revealed that the body of one of the victims, Michael Moor, had a strip of cloth in its hand. It could have been torn from the clothing of the perpetrator. Unfortunately, the evidence was subsequently lost.

Judge Burnett denied the appeal on 1999-JUN-17. He concluded that the defendants had not proven that the bite marks were human in origin.

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Activities, 2002 to 2007:

All three defendants launched numerous additional appeals. None were successful. A request for DNA testing was made by Echols during 2002-SEP. On 2004-JUN-02, the Circuit Court of Craighead County, AK, ordered DNA testing on hairs, nail scrapings, etc. found at the crime scene. The defense attorneys' theory was that the murder scene showed such violence that the DNA of the murderer(s) would definitely have been left at the scene.

Unfortunately, DNA testing destroys the samples, making them unusable for future evaluation. As of the end of 2005-MAR, the State and the Defense were still discussing the problem. When the DNA testing was finally done, none of the DNA of the accused was found to be present. This threw very serious doubt on the guilt of the WM3.

Of even greater interest is the DNA that was found at the murder scene. Alice Whitman Leeds of Public Relations in the Public Interest wrote on the West Memphis Three web site:

"DNA testing has been conducted on dozens of pieces of evidence. The DNA results show no link whatsoever to Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley or Jason Baldwin – and all of the experts agree that, under the prosecution theory of how the crime was committed, their DNA would be present at the crime scene if they were guilty. Instead, the DNA results match Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims. Our new filing also includes strong evidence from Pam Hobbs (the ex-wife of Terry Hobbs and the mother of one of the victims) implicating her former husband in the murders." 2

The phrase: "the DNA results match Terry Hobbs" is not 100% accurate. The DNA proves rather conclusively that the West Memphis Three are innocent. However, it is not a perfect match for Terry Hobbs. It is only a match for about 1.5% of the population which includes Terry Hobbs.

A WM3 Worldwide Awareness Day was held in at least 30 cities on 2005-JUL-23.

A "Second Amended Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus" was filed on behalf of Damien Echols on 2007-OCT-29. His defense team argued that new evidence, including the testimony of several prominent forensic pathologists, would convince any reasonable juror of the innocence of the WM3. Assisting his defense team are leading pathologists and odontologists -- Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Vincent Dimaio. John Douglas, a former FBI profiler also assisted. He has stated that Satanic elements were not present at the murder scene, and that the actual murder was prone to rage and probably lived closed to the crime scene. The investigators also concluded that the cuts on the bodies of the victims were caused by animals -- not by a knife as claimed by the prosecution.

Leeds continues:

"... the writ that we just filed in federal court completely undercuts every argument and piece of 'evidence'” that was used to convict Damien, Jessie and Jason. Our lawyers and other legal experts say that any one piece of evidence in our filing, by itself, would be enough to overturn these convictions – and that, combined, all of the evidence makes it clear that this was a grave injustice that the federal court must step in and correct." 2

The press conference can be viewed in six videos on YouTube. 3 This is the first of the six videos. The audio is uneven so you will have to ride the volume control.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Brent E. Turvey, "Forensic Analysis & Psychological Profile," at: http://www.wm3.org/html/profile.html
  2. Alice Whitman Leeds, "Free the West Memphis Three," at: http://www.wm3.org/splash.php
  3. "WM3.org - Damien Echols - Defense Press Conference," YouTube, 2007-OCT, at: http://www.youtube.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2014-FEB-14
Author: B.A. Robinson
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