“Three Little Boys”

by Mara Leveritt on June 7, 2007

Here are the remarks made by filmmaker Kelly Duda at the Crittenden County Courthouse for World Awareness Day for the West Memphis Three June 2, 2007

Fourteen years ago three little boys were murdered.

Dragged out of a drainage ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas were the bodies of eight year-old Steven Branch, Christopher Byers, and James Michael Moore.

I cannot imagine what it must have felt like for the bereaved, for the families, and how much pain they must all still feel today.

As a parent, and I am a parent, how do you heal from such a horrible crime? How do you heal from such a brutal loss?

On May 6th, 1993, West Memphis, a community that borders the great Mississippi River, known for its dog racing and blues great Sonny Boy Williamson II, among other things, had been cursed.

Not only by the brutal murders of three little boys, but also by an evil that over took its residents and filled them with suspicion, fear and hatred.

For a small bible-belt town, the mindset was anything but Christ-like. The attitude was not which would foster the pursuit of the truth, and the truth is necessary for real justice.

Now, when people all over the world hear the words “West Memphis” they think of the murders of three little boys and the wrongful convictions of three other boys… Fourteen years later, a dark cloud hangs over the Crittenden County Courthouse because a great wrong occurred here and has not been righted. But the day is coming….

Today as an American I stand in fear. And so should you all. I stand in fear because I know how easy it is in the United States of America to be minding your own business and get snatched up off the street and locked away for the rest of your life, or worse, sentenced to death for crimes you did not commit. …

All law enforcement and prosecutors need is a coerced statement from an alleged eyewitness and you’re in deep trouble because then they don’t need direct evidence to put you away.

That’s what they did with 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley - coerced a confused boy with an IQ of 72 to say whatever they wanted of him. And then told him he’d be able to go home afterwards. Well, Jessie Misskelley didn’t go home. Armed with this “confession” – one riddled with inconsistencies—the authorities proceeded to round up two more teenagers, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols, and with no physical evidence, no weapon, no eyewitnesses, and no motive had them tried and convicted of the murder of three little boys.

“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote those words from a Birmingham jail in 1963 while fighting racial intolerance and prejudice in Alabama, but he could have been talking about similar prejudices and intolerance in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993 – where because you wear long hair, black clothes, and listen to heavy metal music, you could be branded a child killer. Prejudice and intolerance can never be tools used in the service of justice.

Fourteen years later, justice has not been served.

Not for Jessie, Jason or Damien. Not for Steven, Christopher, and Michael.

Not for the children of Crittenden County, the State of Arkansas, or the United States of America.

Thousands of children throughout this country are learning from this example about the injustice system of America…. But the day is coming…

Since the advent of DNA analysis more and more people are being let out of prison for crimes they did not commit. In more than 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty. In the past year alone 25 people have been freed due to DNA exoneration.

I predict Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols, known as the West Memphis Three will soon be set free. I predict that new evidence will help exonerate them and rational minds will finally prevail.

Yet, when this happens, the battle will not be over.

Then the search for the real killer or killers must begin. For that search to be successful, as it must be, the people in this community must face each other without the fears and prejudices that have been the hallmarks of this whole tragic affair.

I hope for its children and grandchildren’s sakes, the city of West Memphis, Crittenden County, and the State of Arkansas will be able to rise to the occasion…. God have mercy on us all if they don’t.

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