WM3 prosecutor Brent Davis predicts hearings on ‘significance’ of new ‘consolidated’ DNA evidence

Brandi Hodges of KAIT in Jonesboro, AR, reported yesterday that Prosecuting Attorney Brent Davis is preparing for new hearings, as a result of DNA testing that has been performed on approximately 180 of evidence from the 1993 murders of three children in West Memphis. Davis told Hodges that, since the three men convicted in the case all had filed motions seeking the DNA testing, the process was “consolidated.” See Hodges’s report at KAIT.

KARK interview

Here’s a short article posted on the Web site of KARK-TV in Little Rock:

Author Speaks Out on New DNA in West Memphis Three Case
Reported by: Sydney Hart, KARK 4 News
02/05/2007 03:53pm

It’s still too early to speculate, but last week the attorney for Damien Echols told KARK 4 new scientific evidence could shed significant light on the case and Monday, a local author following this case closely speaks out.

“I’ve tried to keep attention focused on this case,” admits Mara Leveritt, author of “Devils Knot.”

The murder case Leveritt is talking about is most commonly known as the West Memphis Three case from 1993.

Leveritt even wrote a book, “Devils Knot,” questioning the justice system and criticising court procedures in the case. She is thrilled new evidence will soon be presented to prosecutors.

“We’ve known for a long time the defense attorneys combined with their own investigators have been looking very closely at whatever DNA evidence that survived the time of the murders,” says Leveritt.

The defense attorney for Damien Echols, one of the three teens convicted in this case, admits the new scientific evidence could significantly effect this 14 year old murder case.

“I understand there was a large amount of material reexamined. I don’t know how much or precisely what and we don’t know what, if anything, was gleaned from it,” adds Leveritt.

But Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are serving prison terms for the 1993 killings of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore.

Leveritt hopes the new evidence will shed light on what she considers gray areas reguarding the West Memphis Three, “All they’re saying is they’ve got something. They’ve got something to file and the will be filing.”

As KARK 4 mentioned, we talked to a defense attorny late last week and Monday KARK 4 spoke with prosecuting attorney, Brent Davis

Davis says this is an ongoing investigation and he expects to set an informal meeting with the defense teams to discuss the results and decide what could go forward in possible future court motions.

Defense attorney, Dennis Riordan, says the first meeting could take place as soon as this month in Arkansas. Leveritt has also spoken to the defense attornies and has statements from them on her website at www.maraleveritt.com

Prison scandal update

Four more Arkansas prison employees left their jobs this week, as an investigation into the use of illegal computers and the sale of inmate assignments widened. A prison spokesman said a deputy warden, a field sergeant and a document examiner at the state’s Tucker Unit resigned and another document examiner was fired.

Twelve employees at the Tucker Unit have left their jobs since the illegal activities were discovered there two weeks ago. The loss represents about 8 percent of the unit’s 159 employees. Tyler said the investigation has not concluded.

Echols, Baldwin attorneys: ‘scientific evidence’ under review

Attorneys representing Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin wrote in separate emails today that DNA testing in their clients’ cases is essentially complete. They said they are now arranging to discuss the DNA findings and other “scientific evidence” with Arkansas officials, in preparation for future court filings.

In response to a question about the status of DNA testing and future court actions, Dennis P. Riordan, who represents Echols, wrote:
The DNA testing is largely completed. We are scheduling a meeting soon with prosecutor [Brent] Davis to discuss the results in advance of filing a court action concerning it. Suffice it to say that while the results are technical and subject to more than one interpretation, I consider them highly significant and even more so when taken in conjunction with other new scientific evidence to be presented in the coming months to Mr. Davis and the courts.

John Philipsborn, one of the attorneys representing Jason Baldwin, wrote:
All parties received the latest DNA information in the latter part of January. There is still some more DNA data review being undertaken. There is also a fair amount of work being done in other areas of the scientific evidence arena unrelated to DNA. Speaking only for Jason’s case, Blake Hendrix [Baldwin’s other attorney] and I do not intend on filing any amended Rule 37 petitions until the litigation of the scientific evidence issues is completed.

In Arkansas, Rule 37 petitions are claims that counsel at the original trial provided ineffective assistance. Philipsborn continued:
As you know, Arkansas post-conviction litigation statutes allow some degree of litigation of innocence claims that are based on ‘new’ scientific evidence. We expect further filings in the latter area after all parties have met, and have communicated with the court, on pending issues that include fiber, fingerprint, and other crime scene related analysis [sic]. We are in the process of setting up the meetings. The Baldwin team believes that there are some important issues, perhaps more important than the DNA results, that require further evidence analysis.

Baldwin placed in ‘administrative segregation’

The prison investigation chronology to date

Sometime on or before Jan. 19, Arkansas prison officials moved Jason Baldwin from the Tucker Unit to the state’s Supermax Unit, apparently as part of a sweeping internal investigation into a number of illegal activities, including the use of illegal computers. Though physically separate, the Supermax Unit stands on the same property as the lower-security Varner Unit, and the Arkansas Department of Correction lists the Supermax as part of the Varner Unit.

On Jan. 22, prison spokesman Dina Tyler confirmed that Baldwin had been placed on “investigative status.” She wrote in an email: “The inmate tracking system shows that he [Baldwin] hasn’t been charged with a rule violation and that his class has not changed. He is still a 1-C, which is the highest class that he can attain. (He can’t be a 1-A or a 1-B because he has a capitol conviction.) He is not on punitive status. But apparently, something has happened that is being looked into. He may or may not be accused of a rule violation when the investigation is done.”

On Jan. 24, Charlie Frago of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that two prison employees had been fired, one had resigned and four others had been suspended for allegedly accepting cash from inmates in exchange for job transfers or access to contraband computers. Tyler said investigators had confiscated at least six contraband computers and additional components. According to Tyler, most of the contraband items were found in out buildings—small structures not connected to the main building—on the prison’s 4,420-acre farm. Tyler said investigators were trying to determine whether inmates had access to the computers and if they paid money to play game or watch movies.

Baldwin was assigned to a job in one of those buildings late last year. He and one other clerk worked for a major on the prison staff in charge of farming operations. In an interview last November, Baldwin said his job nvolved keeping track of “time, tools and training” for the approximately 875 inmates who worked on the hoe squads under the major’s supervision. Baldwin said he liked the new assignment, away from the main prison building, because it afforded him “a lot of peace and quiet.”

Baldwin had been scheduled to be married in a ceremony at Tucker on Jan. 24. The wedding did not take place.

In an email Jan. 25, Tyler said that 19 inmates had been transferred and placed on investigative status. She said that, as far as she knew, none had been charged with a crime or rule violation, though, “That will likely change at some point.” Asked whether Baldwin remained under investigation, she said he did. “I can’t say at this point that he’s part of the big investigation,” she wrote, “but feel free to connect the dots.”

On Jan. 27, Frago reported that another employee at the Tucker Unit had resigned and that the probe had expanded to other prison units. The discovery of illegal computers constitutes a major security breach within the prison department. The seriousness of the breach would be compounded if inmates using them gained to access the Internet or email.

Also on Jan. 27, Baldwin’s fiancee Jen, (who has asked that her last name not be released), reported that she had met with Baldwin the day before. She said he was in good spirits and that the wedding will be rescheduled.