If you saw the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills , (1996) or the 2000 follow-up, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, you already know about the West Memphis Three; Damien Echols, sentenced to death, and Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, sentenced to life in prison for the murders of three young boys in the Robin Hood Hills section of West Memphis, Arkansas. If you don’t know about the case, the wiki article is a concise overview, and the WM3.org site has much more detailed technical information about the legal history. There is also a blog and a Myspace page which are more concerned with networking supporters and fund raising.
If you think 1993 was a long time ago, you’re right – and be glad you haven’t spent these last fourteen years in prison. But there isn’t anything stale about the ramifications of this case. In essence, an unusually horrendous triple murder was committed and a small town, quite understandably, panicked at the horror of the deed. Their fear, fed by “satanic ritual abuse” hysteria, coupled with the abysmal incompetence of the State of Arkansas during the investigation and the weighty intransigence of its prosecution, led to the railroading of three teens who the local populace apparently felt were disposable.
This is a story about misfits and the price they can pay when they are less lucky than most, and that is the relevance of the WM3 to this blog. Pontificating as we do from the patrician heights of the ARChive’s comfortable Chesterfield, we often celebrate the far out and the just plain out of fashion; poets and hillbillies; those who have spent a life pursuing art so unique that they are exalted as the living acme of their form, or they sleep in doorways. Heavy metal, in its Christian™ and Satanic™ incarnations, is a source of joy in these pages, as are ukulele numbers about wanking. We revel in novelty and rebellion but we don’t like to remember the taunts and abuse each of us has endured in our own experience as the designated scapegoat, misfit, punk, nerd, hippie, freak, creep (I won’t list any of the popular epithets that can get you killed, for obvious reasons, and you can supply them without my help). Nowadays, according to all reports, everyone is “cool” (what a pathetic, impotent word that’s become) with the result being none of us can imagine there are any true outcasts left, let alone that there can still be grave consequences to simply never fitting in. And meanwhile, a decade and a half after the WM3 convictions, the country as a whole descends ever deeper into a quagmire of irrationality that calls itself Christian fundamentalism – perfect emotional weather for another witch hunt, so don’t be surprised campers, it will happen here. There will always be a wrong place to wear black clothes, or listen to the wrong music, or check the wrong books out of the public library (the mistakes that landed Damien on death row) or hang out with weirdos (Jason’s great sin) or a bad time to be borderline mentally retarded (which was Jessie’s mistake). Your homework, dear reader is to reflect on the evil inherent in the mob – regardless of the name under which it operates: Church, State, Pep Club, Future Farmers of America, etc.
This has all been lovely and cheery, I know, but is there a reason for this post? There’s the spinach factor, of course, meaning it’s good for you to remember that the classic miscarriage of justice does happen. We can’t forget these kids, and I mean all six, the murdered and the unjustly convicted, not to mention their families. There’s another potentially satisfying reason, however. New DNA evidence is in, after many months of costly analysis, and there are upcoming court dates which folks close to the WM3 defense team describe as encouraging. The Baroness and I have a friend who has been deeply involved in the case for many years. Nothing specific has been revealed to us but there appears to be some optimism regarding the DNA in as much as none of it belongs to any of the Three. The next month or so will really tell, the case has gone on for so long that this finally may be the last chance for justice. Visit the website and donate something for the last push – it’s now or never.