Super Bowl Sunday

Hello People of the Blogosphere!

It is Super Bowl Sunday. And since my NE Patriots didn’t make the cut, I’m rooting for Carolina. However I won’t watch the game because three hours of football is just a little too much for me. I’d like to view the commercials but extra-curricular activity in the area makes tv viewing undesirable.

Since I last wrote, I’ve read Cut and Thrust, Paris Match, Insatiable Appetites, Naked Greed, and Foreign Affairs.  All of these were written by Stuart Woods and I’d like to thank the person who sent these to me. Also, I read The First Mountain Man by William Johnstone and I’d like to thank another special person for that. I’m currently reading Chiefs by Woods but haven’t made up my mind if I like it yet or not. I normally read two books at a time to give me something like a channel or movie change. So, the other one I am starting is called A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I have a question for those of you who would like to answer. Why do you read this blog? I’m not under any illusion that everyone who reads this may like me, so I look forward to your replies. I know that there’s at least one of you who feels that I wouldn’t want to hear from you personally. I won’t mention your name without permission. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’d very much like to thank you for your kindness and continued support.

Also my question for the blog is this: how do you feel about our legal system as a whole? Do you think it works? Do any of you out there have personal knowledge of prison life?

I’ll be back soon. Keep in mind that I probably can’t get in but one posting a week because I have to use snail mail to get to a computer.

Send your questions here.

Tim Howard

p.s. All responses are printed and mailed to Tim – your email addresses not is included.

Tim Howard Beginner’s Blog

Tim Howard Beginners's Blog

I’m not totally clear about how to do a blog, so please bear with me.

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you must have some knowledge of who I am and where I am. So what I’ll do is try to give some kind of overview as to who I am and what I like. I’ll answer any questions asked about prison life if I can. I’ll also share some of my personal life. If there’s anything I can’t or won’t answer, I hope you will respect that. If anyone chooses to write, I’ll write back.

I grew up in the Tri-State area. I consider Texarkana-Ogden-Ashdown my stomping grounds. I love horses and cows and pickups and diesels. I’m married. I have no biological children. I have four stepchildren. I dislike the term stepchildren, so I normally refer to them as just my children. One died in a single-car accident at the age of 21 years old. We miss him every day. The other three are by my second wife, who died while I was on the row. I’m married to my first wife again. I haven’t communicated with my three other children in over a decade. I hope that changes one day. Both my parents and grandparents are deceased. I have two sisters. One is 45, the other 48. I’m in the middle. I have a host of cousins that I don’t hear from. My aunt and oldest sister write occasionally I’m blessed to have met some wonderful people who have turned out to be closer to me than family. You will find out more about them as this story unfolds.


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I love reading and listening to music. A few of my favorite authors are: Ken Follett, William Johnstone, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Sandra Brown, Karin Slaughter, Patricia Cornwell, Amarantha Knight, James Patterson, Stuart Woods, John Sandford, Margaret Wies/Tracy Hickman, Terry Goodkind. I could go on but I won’t. I love all genres of books and music. I’m not much on biographies but will read one that sticks in my mind when I’m reading my historical fiction. I really like historical fiction and family sagas.

My tastes in music touch on everything almost. But if I could only listen to one station, it would be playing country music. But luckily I have choices. And here’s the artists I have on my MP4 so far (87 songs): 2 Pac, AC/DC, Adele, Al Green, Albert King, B.B. King, Becky G, Boosie Badazz, Britney Spears, Brooks-N-Dunn, Bruno Mars, Cinderella, Destiny’s Child, Ed Sheeran, George Jones, George Strait, Gerald LeVert, Iggy Azalea, Jason Aldean, Jermaine Dupri, Jerry Reed, Jewel, Jon Conor, K.T. Oslin, Kendrick Lemar, KISS, Lil Troy, Little Big Town,  Little Milton, LSG, Luke Bryan, Maroon 5, Muddy Waters, Nikki Minaj, Ohio Players, Rihanna, Ronnie Dunn Selna Gomez, Shakira, Sia, Sugar Land, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Teddy Pendergrass, Tove Lo, Whitney Houston, Young Jeezy. Just to give you some idea.

I like movies and 30-minute sitcoms. I love old westerns. “The Rifleman” is my favorite. I like all kinds of movies. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of the movies that came from books I’ve read, especially “North and South” by Joh Jakes, “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara T. Bradford, “A World without End” by Ken Follett, and “The Thornbirds” by Colleen McCoulough. There’s more, but I’m itching to see those. I’m told that the days of the video store are gone and no one had DVD movie collections anymore. Well, I intend to have two things: a video collection of my favorite tv and movies and a spot for my own small library.

Well, that’s it for now. This is where I start in what we’ll call Tim Howard Beginner’s Blog. I deliberately left the prison out, so your questons are fresh. So ask away. Send your questions here.

Tim Howard

p.s. All responses are printed and mailed to Tim – your email addresses not is included.

A Theme Of Schemes

Thumbnail for 611Someone asked me today if any theme connected all my books. “Prosecutors and politics,” I blurted. Then: “And maybe a subtext of drugs.”

My first book, The Boys on the Tracks, is about a corrupt prosecutor who manipulated his position to derail the investigation of two teenagers whose bodies were found run over by a train. The mother of one of the murdered boys trusted him, as did everyone–but he betrayed them all.

Of course, Devil’s Knot examines one of the sleaziest prosecutions in American history, though no official in Arkansas has yet been willing to admit that. I hoped that by writing the book, readers would see how slyly the prosecutors (pictured) and the judge worked together to get juries to send each of the West Memphis Three to death.

Dark Spell focuses on Jason, partly because I simply find his story heroic. But there would have been no story if not for a couple of kill-’em prosecutors (shown) and a likeminded judge. Unlike Jessie, Jason had never confessed, and unlike Damien, he’d never speculated about the murders with the police, or even “dabbled in the occult.” When he was arrested, he was a pretty ordinary kid at the end of his junior year in high school, who had a job lined up at a grocery story that he was to start on the following Monday.

Then, after the convictions, prosecutors fought even the DNA tests that state law allowed and all three of the convicted men requested. The state resisted those tests even though supporters were willing to pay for them! That’s part of the reason the men’s “dark spell” in prison lasted so long.

I’ll end this post with three quotes that I placed at the front of Dark Spell:

A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence, and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons.

~ American Bar Association

A prosecuting attorney “may prosecute with earnestness and vigor–indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones.

~ Berger v. United States

A lawyer should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

~ Arkansas Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct

What’s remarkable about the West Memphis case is how people around the world have noticed “the appearance of impropriety” while the state supreme court has seen none.

A Georgia ruling highlights the civil rights abuses ingrained in the West Memphis case

Americans are supposed to be equal before the law. But in practice, racial discrimination was so systemic in this country—and particularly in the south—that it took the sit-ins and marches, beatings and bus rides, speeches and civil disobedience of the 1950s and ’60s  just to begin to curb it. For more than a century after the Civil War, the promise of equality for African-Americans—in schools, voting rights, housing, and even at public water fountains—was empty rhetoric.

As a result, history has tended to link the words “civil rights” to the category of race—and to forget that civil rights are supposed to extend to all. That includes gays and straights, the aged and the mentally ill, eccentrics and middle-of-the-roaders, fat cats and trailer-park kids. Equality before the law extends to religion too. It extends to Baptists, to Jews, to Muslims and to atheists. And it extends, as the Georgia Supreme Court recently noted, to a 15-year-old girl whom prosecutors suggested killed due to “Satanic influences.”

In a ruling issued on May 31, the Georgia court addressed the old but effective courtroom strategy of portraying defendants as guilty, however skimpy the evidence, by stressing that they are different from the good, upstanding jurors. The tactic was artfully presented “To Kill a Mockingbird” when author Harper Lee described how the prosecutor, who had no evidence that a crime even had been committed, reminded the white jurors of the defendant’s status as a Negro in the southern community: “The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered…”

Lee’s book was fiction. But something darkly similar—and real—happened in the both the trial of Courtney Boring in Georgia in 2006 and the 1994 trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin in Arkansas. Boring, Baldwin and Echols were all teenagers accused of murder; 15, 16, and 18 years old. All denied the charge. No physical evidence existed connecting any of them to the crimes. Yet all were sentenced to die in prison—one by execution—based on evidence that prosecutors claimed linked them to Satanism.

[private]The tactic is ancient and familiar. It is called “othering,” and in its ugliest form, it’s the opposite of the Golden Rule.

Othering is psychologically and socially important—to a point. Children must learn to distinguish themselves from others to develop their own identities. This process reaches its natural glory days in and around adolescence, when cliques form in schools, team spirit thrives, sororities and fraternities ease academic transitions, and gangs coalesce around colors. The process can feel fun and inclusive or lead to shunning and murder.

Ideally, the need to link one’s identity to that of a group wanes as one enters adulthood. When that happens, a well-developed sense of self combines with a maturing social conscience, offering grown-ups the ability to recognize and even appreciate others’ differences without derision, rejection or fear.  

Unlike acne, however, the forces that make cohesion so attractive in high school don’t naturally abate with age. Wherever there is insecurity to be exploited, fear to be mongered or opportunity to be ruthlessly mined, there are preachers, politicians and bosses willing to pit one group against another. The phenomenon has scarred human history. It threatens us today.

It arises wherever a group in power identifies other groups as different, not for benign reasons, but  in order to maintain or extend power or to justify its abuse of power. Othering cheered the slaughter of Native Americans. It permitted slavery. It fed the Holocaust ovens. And it was othering that cast Boring, Echols and Baldwin as killers by portraying them—not as local teens to be presumed innocent—but as weird, soulless losers who existed, barely human, outside the dominant culture.

A major difference between the Echols/Baldwin case and Boring’s is that the Georgia Supreme Court reversed her sentence of life in prison and ordered a new trial a mere five years after her conviction. By contrast, Echols, Baldwin, and their co-defendant, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., have spent 18 years in prison, and despite repeated appeals, the Arkansas Supreme Court has never ruled that the evidence purportedly linking them to the occult or Satanism was, as the Georgia court held in Boring’s case, “irrelevant,” “inflammatory,” “improper” and “prejudicial.”

In their unanimous ruling, the justices noted that, over defense objections, prosecutors introduced various items of evidence seized from Boring’s bedroom. According to the court’s opinion, that evidence included “photographs of her with dyed black hair and dark make-up; a document bearing the words of a ‘curse’ to be recited ‘while burning the letter over a black candle’; and seven different inscriptions, one typewritten and the rest handwritten on the bedroom walls, of song lyrics and quotations attributed to various singers and other artists, bearing themes of anguish, enslavement, atheism and violence.”

 “Though the state elicited no elaboration from any of its witnesses regarding the import of these items,” the court wrote, prosecutors “explicitly sought in both opening and closing to link these items with the so-called ‘gothic lifestyle’ and to characterize them as evidence of ‘Satanic influences.’”

Prosecutors Brent Davis and John Fogleman were not so careless at the Echols/Baldwin trial, 12 years earlier in Arkansas. The items they introduced that were taken from the homes of Echols and Baldwin included cover of heavy-metal record albums, a library book on witches, occultish writings by Echols, and black T-shirts owned by Baldwin. But here, the prosecutors did elicit elaboration from a witness: Dr. Dale Griffis, a self-proclaimed “expert” in the occult.

Under questioning by the defense, Griffis admitted that his Ph.D. was bogus. Nevertheless, Arkansas Circuit Judge David Burnett accepted Griffis as an expert. Thus qualified, Griffis testified that, although no physical evidence found with the bodies was related to the occult, the items taken from the teenagers’ homes, combined with what he called significant details from the crime scene (such as the “three” bodies, the blood and water, and the full moon on the night of the murders) did link the accused both to the occult and to the crime.

In his closing argument, Davis made a point of telling the jurors how “foreign,” “strange” and “weird” all this made the defendants. “The Satanic or occult motive thing is kind of a foreign concept to me,” Davis said. “But when you’ve got people that are doing what was done to these three little boys, I mean, you’ve got—the normal motives for human conduct don’t apply. There’s something strange going on that causes people to do this. I mean, you’ve got some weird people.”

The othering went even further for Echols, whom Davis characterized as “nearly emotionless,” into “Satanic stuff,” “bizarre,” and “unfamiliar.” Gesturing toward Echols, he said: “Well, I mean, you can judge him from the witness stand. This guy is as cool as a cucumber. He is nearly emotionless, and what he has done in terms of the Satanic stuff is a whole lot more than just dabbling or looking into it for purposes of an intellectual exercise… 

“And I put to you, as bizarre as it may seem to you and as unfamiliar as it may seem, this occult set of beliefs and the beliefs that Damien had and that his best friend, Jason, was exposed to all the time, that those were the set of beliefs that were the motive or the basis for causing this bizarre murder.”

Fogleman told the jury that wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and reading books by the likes of Stephen King, Ann Rice and Dean Koontz (which were also mentioned at trial), did not necessarily make Echols a killer. But he added, pointing to Echols, that if the jurors “put all that together” and looked at Echols, they would see a person with “no soul.” The Arkansas Supreme Court never noted a problem with any of this portrayal.

More than a decade later, Boring’s prosecutor in Georgia played the same othering card. “We have a bent of mind, things that we think about that make us what we are, our thoughts,” he told her jurors. “We believe there even is a depravity of mind here… We believe you will see some inkling of Satanic influences here.”

He told her jury that, while the evidence taken from her bedroom did not “prove” she killed her mother, actual proof was “not the point.” “The point is that these are pieces of a puzzle and you have to consider all of the evidence together.” Like Davis and Fogleman, he empathized that in a circumstantial case, the items “must be taken as pieces of a puzzle.”

But the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t buy it. In its May opinion that court noted the lack of evidence “affirmatively connecting” Boling to Satanic influences. “Rather,” the court wrote, “that link was forged only via the state’s opening statement and closing argument, which itself was improper.”

The justices observed: “One is left with the feeling that [the evidence in question] was employed simply because the jury would find these beliefs morally reprehensible.” And, “In admitting this evidence, which bore no specific connection with the crime and operated merely to impugn appellant’s character by suggesting she held satanic beliefs, the trial court abused its discretion.”

In reversing Boring’s conviction they wrote, “[B]ecause the nature of this evidence was highly inflammatory, and because the evidence of appellant’s guilt was entirely circumstantial and not overwhelming, we cannot say that it is highly probable that the error did not contribute to the jury’s verdict.”

Prosecutors in Boring’s case now must decide whether to retry her. For now, she remains in a Georgia prison.

In Arkansas, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley await what could be similar juncture. The Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered a judge to decide whether the three deserve new trials. Circuit Judge David Laser will make that decision after an evidentiary hearing scheduled to begin on Dec. 5. Whatever comes of that hearing, their case of the West Memphis Three already has earned a place in the sad history of discrimination in Arkansas, particularly Crittenden County.

The saga of othering there has been nothing short of tragic. Slavery and the Civil War were followed by lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan. African-Americans were slighted at the polls, in the fields, on the streets and in education. As recently as 1949, West Memphis spent an average of $144.51 for each white child’s education and $19.51 for the education of each black child.

As in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” discrimination also extended to justice. Whether by Satanism or color, the othering could lead, almost nonchalantly, to death.

Isadore Banks

In 1954, Isadore Banks, a prominent African-American landowner, was murdered near Marion, Arkansas, the Crittenden County seat. His body was found tied to a tree, mutilated and burned beyond recognition. John Fogleman, an uncle of the man by the same name who prosecuted the West Memphis Three, was the county’s assistant prosecuting attorney at the time.

That John Fogleman is dead now, but his brother, Julian Fogleman, who was Marion’s city attorney when Banks was murdered, was still alive in 2010, when he was interviewed by a reporter for CNN. Julian Fogleman is the father of John Fogleman, who prosecuted the West Memphis Three and who is now a circuit judge.

Julian Fogleman was 89 at the time of the CNN interview and still practicing law. He said he could not remember whether a coroner’s inquiry was ever conducted. “There was some community discussion about who might’ve done it,” he said, “but I never heard any discussion of any name.”

CNN reported that, “Though Julian Fogleman followed his brother as deputy prosecutor in the 1950s, he said he never pursued Banks’ case.” Banks’ descendants do not know how the hundreds of acres Banks owned were disbursed after his murder.

Another infamous killing occurred less than a decade later. In 1963, a white woman in Crittenden County said she saw Andrew Lee Anderson, an African-American teenager, try to rape her eight-year-old daughter. According to a New York Times report, a mob of white residents, including six sheriff’s deputies, chased Anderson into a soybean field, where the unarmed 17-year-old was shot in the leg.

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University’s School of Law in Boston which monitors developments in “civil rights-era murder cases from 1955 through 1969.” It reports  that, “Anderson’s family stated that he was questioned for several hours after the shooting before finally receiving medical attention. By the time he was taken to Crittenden County Memorial Hospital it was too late.”

T.H. McGough, the same coroner called to the murder of Isadore Banks, ruled that Anderson’s shooting was a “justifiable homicide.” According to the New York Times, McGough said the ruling was based on an Arkansas law that gives any private citizen or officer the right to attempt to capture a felon, and that “there was no testimony during the coroner’s inquest as to who had fired the shot.”

CNN reported that the coroner’s jury consisted of 19 white men who “took just 20 minutes” to decide that the killing was justifiable. At the time of Anderson’s death, Julian Fogleman, then an assistant county prosecutor, told the Arkansas Gazette: “We don’t think the decision was wrong and don’t plan to go any further with it.”

Julian Fogleman’s now-deceased brother John was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court, where he eventually served as chief justice. Last year, his nephew, Judge John Fogleman of the West Memphis case, ran for a seat on the state’s high court. When asked during his campaign about the scarcity of evidence at the teenagers’ trials, Fogleman told a reporter for the Arkansas Times, “I completely stand by every step I took in that case.” He lost the election.

Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are not African-Americans. But they were trailer-parks kids, living on the county’s economic and social fringe. They were kids. They were poor. And, though Baldwin would later recall that he and Echols thought that they were “the coolest people in school,” they were seen by others around Marion as “different.”

In school, Baldwin said, “Others didn’t like us. They’d been accusing me of being a Satanist since the sixth grade. It was because I had long hair and wore concert T-shirts, with bands like Metallica and Guns n’ Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne and U2. Damien and I kind of dressed different. I basically wore blue jeans or Bugle Boy jeans with concert shirts. He liked straight clean black clothes with nothing printed on them. But the way we dressed was one of the things people criticized.

“Most of the other kids, they either wore sports clothes, like Tommy Hilfiger stuff, or if they were country people, they wore flannel shirts and cowboy boots and belts with giant buckles. So we stood out because, even though Damien and I dressed different from each other, we was also different from everybody else.”

In Georgia, police interviewed more than 20 people, including Courtney Boring’s teachers and school officials, but could find no one who said she had any history of violence. On the other hand, according to the Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion: “The condition of the Borings’ home, as observed by responding investigators and documented in photographs admitted at trial, was filthy and, according to the testimony of one investigator, not fit for a child to inhabit.

“A neighbor of the Borings testified that he had on previous occasions heard arguments coming from their home and had seen patrol cars at the house. There was also evidence that Rodney [Boring, Courtney’s father and the victim’s husband, who reported the shooting,] was verbally abusive to both his wife and daughter.”

Nevertheless, police and prosecutors concluded that it was Courtney who murdered her mother. And, without any physical evidence to support that conclusion, photos of the 15-year-old with dyed black hair and dark makeup, a piece of paper with the word “curse” on it, and quotations that prosecutors attributed to the “founder of the Satanic Church” were enough to convince a jury that the girl was not at all like them—that, in fact, she was a killer.

Only othering allows such conclusions. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tried to evoke its opposite when he addressed jurors, whom he knew to be racist, before they decided the fate of the innocent black man he represented.

As he rose for his closing remarks, Finch did something he did not usually do in public. As Lee wrote, “He unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and took off his coat. … Atticus put his hands in his pockets … his voice had lost its aridity, its detachment, and he was talking to the jury as if they were folks on the post office corner.”

He was talking to them on equal terms. He was talking about equal rights.

“Gentlemen,” Finch said, “a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”

Finch was asking the jurors to move beyond othering, to deal his client the sort of justice that they would hope to receive themselves. He was asking them to do something diametrically opposed to what the prosecutors of the West Memphis Three and Courtney Boring asked at those trials.

Finch wanted the jurors simply to remember that, as he had taught his children: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”[/private]

Threatened again: Can the Arkansas Supreme Court hold me in contempt for complaining about shabby justice?

Last week I wrote a letter to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Committee of Professional Conduct, the body that is supposed to make sure that Arkansas attorneys are practicing law as they should. I asked the committee to investigate whether it was proper for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to advocate on behalf of convictions that were improperly obtained.

I specifically cited evidence of serious juror misconduct in the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. In the three years that that evidence has been before Arkansas courts, it has not been refuted. So I asked the committee to investigate the propriety of pressing for an execution, and the continuation of two life sentences, in the face of such important evidence.

Yesterday, I received a form-letter response from the committee acknowledging receipt of my “grievance.” The letter’s second paragraph advised me that “all information” I had submitted to the committee was “confidential.”


This means that I was in contempt of the Arkansas Supreme Court when I published my letter on this site last week. I supposed that Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley became complicit in my alleged crime when he posted a link to my letter on the paper’s Arkansas Blog.

Last evening, I guess my misdeed rose to the level of a veritable crime spree when I spoke to a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about my complaint. In willful violation of the letter’s warning, I did indeed speak with a member of the news media about information I had submitted to the committee.

This morning, the paper carried an article by reporter Alison Sider about my complaint. She reported that McDaniel declined to comment on it and that the committee’s executive director, Stark Ligon, said that “Leveritt could be held in contempt of court for publicizing the letter.”

As to the warning I’d received from the committee, Sider wrote: “Leveritt said the contempt notice was a ‘threat,’ and said she would assert her constitutional right to freedom of speech.”

[private]So far, I have not been charged with a crime. However, this morning one supporter of the West Memphis Three did email me his opinion that my complaint against McDaniel was “frivolous” and “damaging” to serious attempts to have these wrongful convictions overturned.” Tony Kelpine suggested I wage my battles “with the pen…not with legal filings.”

We ended up having a good exchange. I told him that the only way my action could be seen as damaging to the men’s cases would be if we presume that judges and the attorney general will react out of spite; that is, take out their anger at me on the West Memphis Three. If that’s the level of jurisprudence we expect, I wrote, we’re in deeper trouble here than we imagined.

I also explained that I intended to press for clarification about the role of the attorney general because I want to know, as I told the reporter: “Is it his duty to support a verdict in a trial even if it’s illegally obtained, just because the state won? Or is his obligation higher than that?”

Imagine. If McDaniel viewed his job as trying to assure a high quality of justice in this state, he could have dropped his opposition to new trials as soon as the juror misconduct evidence was presented—and he saw he could not dispute it. That single act could have spared the West Memphis Three at least three years of their prison ordeal.

 I also think my complaint is worth pursuing because, it appears, the supreme court attempts to stifle the speech, not only of attorneys in Arkansas, but even of the state’s non-lawyer citizens. There is a reason that until recently, no Arkansas attorney who was not involved in the defense of the West Memphis Three voiced a critical word about the men’s cases. The attorneys know they could be punished—just as the supreme court’s committee advised me I may be.

It’s one thing for the court to threaten the attorneys it licenses. It’s another for the court to threaten an individual citizen merely because she has the audacity to write out a complaint to a public agency and then to speak of that complaint in public. I don’t think it’s frivolous to challenge that.

Arkansas’s legal system has nurtured a culture of secrecy and intimidation—with, of all institutions, the supreme court as its enforcer. This deeply rooted culture is, I believe, why people in Arkansas have been so shy about raising their voices regarding the West Memphis case, while people everywhere else have been hollering.

But what is the court’s basis for its bold-faced threat? What law requires me—a lay person—to be silent? What law forbids me to say out loud what I have written to a public office in a letter? What law bars any ordinary citizen from talking to the news media?

And most important: Does the Arkansas Supreme Court believe the Bill of Rights applies to Arkansas citizens?

The prosecutors of the West Memphis Three exploited the defendants’ right to free expression when they were tried for murder. Books, clothing, music, personal writings—all were used in court to convince juries to convict the men.

For years, the state has insisted that the trials were sound and that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley all should die in prison. So far, no Arkansas court has found a single thing wrong with what occurred at their trials. The state has acted with impunity.

But let one ordinary citizen write a letter questioning a public official’s role—and dare to write or speak about it—and the judicial hammer is raised. I am warned that I may be held in contempt of court “and punished by fine or jail.”

That is a bluff. It is baloney. And it is a shame. Any court that so disregards the rights of citizens—both  to justice and to free speech—can itself be held in contempt.[/private]