Friday, August 19, 2011

The West Memphis Three are Finally Free

Incredibly good news. The West Memphis Three, who have fought since the 1990s for their exoneration, have been freed from prison.

Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in a notorious 1993 murder case were freed from jail on Friday, after a complicated legal maneuver that allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.

A district court judge declared that the three men — Damien W. Echols, 36, Jason Baldwin, 34, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., 36, known as the West Memphis Three — who have been in prison since their arrest in 1993, had served the time for their crime. The judge also levied a 10-year suspended sentence on each of the men.

With his release Friday, Mr. Echols became the highest-profile death row inmate to be released in recent memory.

The agreement, known as an Alford plea, does not result in a full exoneration; some of the convictions stand, though the men did not admit guilt. The deal came five months before a scheduled hearing was to be held to determine whether the men should be granted a new trial in light of DNA evidence that surfaced in the past few years. None of their DNA has been found in tests of evidence at the scene. The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the new hearing in November, giving new life to efforts to exonerate the three men.

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