Note: Jason sent me the following letter with a request that it be published in the Arkansas Times. It appears there this week.
Hi, my name is Charles Jason Baldwin and 16 years ago I was convicted for a crime I did not commit. I was a 16-year-old boy then, today I am a 32-year-old man and next month I’ll be leaving prison for the Craighead County Jail for two weeks worth of Rule 37 hearings.
Every day life offers us choices—most are mundane, like whether or not I’ll take sugar in my coffee, or tuning into KSSN 96 vs. The Edge 100.3—these are easy choices based simply on personal preference, neither right or wrong, nor life changing, simply life affirming. When I was just 16 I was forced to make a choice the results of which wouldn’t be so innocuous.
On my last day of school for the 10th grade I was taken into custody. For the next 289 days I would not be allowed to hug my mom or my little brothers. The only people I came into contact with seemed powerless to help me as I told them the truth of my innocence. To say I was under pressure would be an understatement.
One day I was offered a choice. I was told the only hope in the world I had was to turn “state” against Damien Echols and testify under oath that he murdered those three boys. The problem with this choice was the fact that I did not know who murdered those boys. For the life of me I did not believe Damien did—and even if I had a “belief” as to who could have done the murders, the simple fact remained that I did not know who committed them. Many people have found themselves in similar situations and chose a different path than the one I did, but 16 years later I do not regret my choice. The one time my choice counted for something real I made the right one—I chose to protect innocent life.
Our worldly and wise forefathers knew very well the dangers and imperfections in any justice system—even and especially ours. Innocent people can fall victim to the fell clutch of circumstance, so safeguards were put into place. Next month I pray those safeguards will perform their duty and that I’ll at last be freed. Tonight I rest easy knowing that when I was confronted with the choice to protect innocent life, I made the right one.
Charles Jason Baldwin
July 10, 2009