The West Memphis 3, a group of men that was convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts in Arkansas back in 1994, have been freed after 17 years of being in prison.
The men, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, agreed to a plea deal that somehow let them maintain their innocence while still being convicted of the crimes The legal term for this is an Alford plea, named after Henry Alford, who had been indicted on a first-degree charge, entered a plea deal and got to maintain his innocence. Alford's case was taken to the Supreme Court in the 1960s where the plea was first used.
Even though Baldwin and Echols pleaded guilty for three counts of first-degree murder and Misskelley pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, they were able to maintain innocence. The Judge gave the three credit for time served, since they have been incarcerated since 1993.
The men were believed to be behind the deaths of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore in West Memphis, Ark. Many said the West Memphis 3 performed a Satanic ritual on the boys as they were found naked, with deep lacerations, hogtied with their own shoelaces. The boys' right ankles were tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs.
At the time of their arrest, the West Memphis trio were only teenagers. Police got a tip that Echols was nearby the night the boys disappeared. Later, during a police interview, Misskelley (who's IQ is 72, which makes him borderline mentally retarded) confessed and implicated Echols and Baldwin. The defense attorney said the police coerced him into confessing and took advantage of his low IQ.
The confession along with testimony from Vicki Hutcheson that said Echols openly bragged about killing the boys got them convicted after trial in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death while the other two were sentenced to life in prison.
Fast forward to 2007 when new forensic evidence was discovered that indicated none of the DNA collected at the crime scene matched the defendants. The DNA matched Terry Hobbs, stepfather to one of the victims, and a friend of Hobbs'. After multiple attempts by the defense for a hearing on the new DNA defense, the Arkansas Supreme Court awarded the men new hearings based on this evidence.
Instead of going to trial, the three men agreed to the aforementioned Alford plea deal. However, they are still not satisfied with the result.
It's not perfect, not perfect by any means, Echols told reporters.
The prosecution, however, says this plea agreement brings the case to an agreeable resolution. Prosecutor Scott Ellington said he still believes the men are responsible for the murders.
A documentary was made about the trio on HBO. There were also numerous websites and movements that supported their freedom.