The West Memphis Three -- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. -- who spent almost two decades in prison for the killing of three young boys, were freed by the court on Friday. The three men were tried and convicted of the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 5, 1993. During the trial, the prosecution put forth the idea that the only purported motive in the case was that the slayings were part of a satanic ritual.

Echols was sentenced to death and Misskelley Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences while Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. They pleaded guilty of the murders while proclaiming innocence, at the court on Friday.

According to the terms of a deal reached with prosecutors, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley leave as men who maintain their innocence yet who pleaded guilty to murder, as men whom the state still consider to be child killers but whom the state deemed safe enough to set free, reported San Francisco Chronicle.

The three men used Alford plea, under which a defendant may choose to plead guilty, not because of an admission to the crime, but because the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to obtain conviction in court.

They were sentenced 18 years and 78 days in prison, the amount of time they had already served.

About the Crime:

Three eight-year-old boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers were reported missing on May 5, 1993.

The following day, the investigators found bodies of the missing boys in a major drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis. They were stripped naked and had been hogtied with their own shoelaces: their right ankles tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs. Their clothing was found in the creek, some of it twisted around sticks that had been thrust into the muddy ditch bed. The clothing was mostly turned inside-out; two pairs of the boys' underwear were never recovered. Christopher Byers also had deep lacerations and injuries to his scrotum and penis. Medical examiner concluded that Byers died of blood loss and the other two boys of drowning.

At the time of their arrests, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was 17 years old, Jason Baldwin was 16 years old, and Damien Echols was 18 years old.

The trio admitted to the crime after a 12-hour police interrogation, when Misskelley confessed and named Echols and Baldwin.

The case, which met with accusations of negligence from authorities and investigative criticism, culminated in convicting the West Memphis Three, though police had initially nabbed more suspects. However, a DNA test at the crime scene, held in 2007, couldn't find any genetic material belonging to any of the convicts.