Attorney general claims “Echols and Baldwin both confessed”

Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley posted an item critical of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on the paper’s blog this morning. Here’s what Brantley wrote:

Don’t confuse him with the facts

“Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has made it clear he’s not open to reason in the case of the West Memphis Three convictions. Not surprising. The necktie party built on bogus Satan hysteria that led to their convictions was deeply rooted in the Northeast Arkansas legal establishment from which he sprang. Friends and allies were part and parcel of it.

“But he offered a straw man argument yesterday. Nobody directly invovled in the case has said DNA evidence exonerates anyone. But they have said new inspection finds not a speck of DNA from the convicts at the crime scene, but unexplained DNA from unknown others. It’s a significant development and important, had it been available at trial, in the standard of proof necessary for a conviction. Disappointing. Not surprising.”

This afternoon, McDaniel responded. Here’s what he wrote to the Times:

“I read your blog entry. It is not accurate for you to suggest that I am not open minded or interested in facts. I said very clearly in today’s paper that if anyone presented me with compelling scientific evidence of their actual innocence, I would lead the charge to the Governor’s door seeking pardons. No such evidence exists, and it is a complete falsehood to suggest otherwise.

“There has been new DNA testing of old evidence, but it does not get close to exonerating the defendants. Furthermore, it does not inculpate anyone else. A very small hair in a child’s shoelace that does not exclude (nor definitively identify) his stepfather is the crux of the “new DNA evidence.” I hugged my daughter when I dropped her off at school. It is very possible that my hair could now be found on her scarf. Most parents can understand that. The other hair that has been recently tested was found in the area of the crime scene (not on any one of the bodies) 30 days after the bodies had been recovered. This was, of course after press, police, and dozens of people had been there. That hair did not exclude, nor did it positively identify, a man who was part of the search party with many others looking for the bodies. That’s it. That is the extent of the “new DNA evidence” we have now. There may be more to come, and I will be very open-minded to anything that comes in.

“It is not insignificant, however, that Echols and Baldwin both confessed to the murders more than once each to multiple people in compelling detail. Echols described the mutilation to detectives before that information was publicly released. Echols parents had him institutionalized because they were afraid not only that he was going to kill them, but the other children in the house. Echols was linked to the crime scene by fiber evidence from his clothes. Baldwin, more than once and without leading questions or coaxing from police, described in detail how they removed the skin from Christopher Byers’ penis and scrotum, sucked the blood from the little boy’s penis and scrotum, swallowed his testicles and watched him bleed to death.

“Do you really think they were convicted because they wore black? Do you think their confessions, the knife that matched the wounds, their unique knowledge of the crime, the fiber evidence, and the eye witnesses who saw them near the scene at the time of the murders should be ignored (then or now)?

“Logic is out the window for those who are obsessed with this case, but I am driven only by facts, evidence and justice. I had no part in prosecuting these defendants, and I would have not one minute’s hesitation in leading the charge to release any wrongfully convicted person. However, simply because a website says someone is wrongfully convicted does not make it so. Simply because a defense lawyer (which I once was myself) insists, “my client is innocent,” does not make it so.

“You said I am not open to facts. The only ones twisting the facts are those who say the following: “new DNA evidence proves innocence of WM3.” That is a completely dishonest statement. I wish that conclusive DNA evidence one way or the other did exist. However, without it, the totality of the evidence that was considered by the jury must be given weight.

“I only offer this in defense of the many honest, honorable people who are working on this case. They are open minded, justice minded and diligent.”

My reaction: Mr. McD, if you’re going to dare to claim that you are “driven only by facts, evidence and justice,” you’d better get your facts straight.