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.

Jason and the warden

I visited Jason Baldwin in his new digs at the Tucker Maximum Security Unit a few weeks ago. It was great to see him, as always. But this visit came with a twist. We’d barely sat ourselves down in the hard plastic chairs in the concrete-block visitation room when in walks the warden, who also pulls up a chair and sits down.

I’ve known Warden David White for many years. As a long-time pro in the Arkansas Department of Correction, he’s had plenty of opportunity to answer media questions. Our past encounters were polite, if not always cordial. But this meeting was different. As Jason sat courteously by, White addressed himself to me and started talking about Jason and about the West Memphis case in general. He said Jason had been a fine inmate since arriving at his unit, and that he didn’t have to stay there. He said that after the investigation that had led to Jason’s being placed in the state’s Supermax facility, Jason had been cleared and sent to the Max, without any loss of class. In short, Jason could request to be sent to another unit, but had not. Jason nodded in assent. He said he was pretty satisfied where he was.

Then White said that a number of folks in the department had read my book. He said there’d been a lot of talk about the case since the announcement that DNA found at the site did not link to Jason, Damien or Jessie, but did match that of one of the stepfathers and his friend. It was a rather strange experience, having this friendly chat about the possibility that Jason was innocent while Jason sat there with us, wearing the prison whites that he has had to wear for almost 15 years.

In the end, the warden seemed to acknowledge the possibility that he was imprisoning an innocent man. Holding up his hands, White told me, “I don’t send them here. I just look after the ones the state tells me to take care of.”

With that, he said goodbye and let Jason and me resume our conversation. Jason was his usual cheerful self. We didn’t talk about much that was important, until the subject of Dustin McDaniel came up, and the attorney general’s comment that it might be two years before the state could come to a decision as to what to do about the increasingly ticklish West Memphis case. Suddenly, Jason became very serious. “I don’t know what would take them so long,” he said. “But I know one thing, and that is how long is too long to keep an innocent person in prison.” Here, he slammed his hand on the metal counter. “One minute!” he said. “One minute is too long to deny an innocent person his freedom.”

I drove back to Little Rock with two images playing on my mind. Jason’s passion on one hand and Warden White’s dispassionate hey-it’s-just-my-job congeniality on the other. What we supporters of the WM3 are trying to do is bring the passion of this to the cool marbled halls of state government. To his credit (and unless I misread him), White came closer to acknowledging the possibility of injustice in this case than any state official I know of. It’s time now for McDaniel and members of our tarnished court system to go the rest of the way: admitting the wrongs and setting about, without delay, to correct them.

On second thought, it’s not time. As Jason so clearly expressed it: it’s way past time.

Hobbs 1982 assault underlines weaknesses in WMPD investigation

It is shocking—yet not really surprising—that West Memphis police failed to find an arrest report on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the three children murdered in 1993, as part of their investigation.

Worse, if they did find it, the report was suppressed. It was not part of the police file.

The arrest in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was entered into the national crime information database to which all police agencies have access. West Memphis police had only to search.

Assuming that they did not, the failure highlights the inattention West Memphis investigators paid to the families of the three eight-year-old victims.

It is a sad reality that most murdered children die at the hands of people they knew. Most police investigators realize that and focus their earliest and most intense efforts on the backgrounds and activities of those adults who were closest to the victims.

That did not happen in this case. But this neglect only adds to what we know about the pitiful—nay, disgraceful—performance of the WMPD in this roundly tragic case.

Who can forget the failure to track down the bloody, muddy man who was reported cleaning up in the Bojangle’s restaurant on the night of the murders, and the subsequent admission by West Memphis police that blood-stained items he left behind, which had been belatedly collected, were inexplicably “lost”?

There are too many other oversights, ommissions, and errors to try to list them here. But the cumulative effect is not lost on all of us who have bothered to examine the department’s conduct with regard to this investigation.

The trials that followed were notable for their own remarkable omissions, most significantly that of any actual evidence linking the three accused to the crime.

It is for these reasons that so many of us, around the world, the U.S., and especially here in Arkansas respond with outrage when we read, as we did today, that our state’s attorney general persists in defending the atrocity that is this case.

Today, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued a statement that read like the cant that state officials have been uttering for years.

Noting that attorneys for Damien Echols had a habeas corpus petition in federal court yesterday, McDaniel said that, ”[W]hile the state will look at the new allegations and evidence objectively, it stands behind the conviction of Mr. Echols and that of his codefendants and does not anticipate a reversal of the jurys’ verdicts.”

Such a knee-jerk approach to “justice” does not do this state proud. Sooner or later someone in authority is going to have to admit that this case was botched from beginning to end.

Regrettably, it does not appear that Mr. McDaniel is the one to rise to that occasion.

Challenging times for police and a prosecutor

On June 22, a 12-year-old West Memphis boy, DeAuntae Farrow, was shot and killed by a city police officer. Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen said the child was holding a toy gun and made “furtive motions” towards the officer, at which point, the officer shot.

Relatives of DeAuntae Farrow have said the boy did not have a toy gun. The Arkansas State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are reportedly examining the circumstances surrounding the death.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at DeAuntae’s funeral, which was attended by an estimated 1,500 people. “We want to send a message,” he said. “If you thought you’d make this only local and sweep this under the run, you cannot put boundaries on how far this will go.”

In early July, Brent Davis, the prosecuting attorney for the district that includes Crittenden County, said that he would seek to have a special prosecutor appointed to review an independent investigation of the boy’s shooting.

That’s a good idea. As Davis himself noted, he and his deputy prosecutor had worked many cases in Crittenden County, often with the involvement of the West Memphis police. “We want to have as much objectivity [in] this investigation as possible,” Davis told reporters.

Amid this sadness comes new word concerning the killings 14 years ago of three other West Memphis children. Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, said this week that he had been questioned anew by police. He also said he’d been told that his DNA had been found in the knots binding one of the boys.

The West Memphis police investigated that case and Brent Davis prosecuted it. Two teenagers were sentenced to life in prison; another was sentenced to death.

It’s time to seek a special prosecutor in this renewed investigation, as well. And while we’re looking for objectivity, let’s see that this case also goes before a new judge.

“Three Little Boys”

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.

Supporters from 14 states observe WAD at the Crittenden County Courthouse

Sixty-five people stood hand-in-hand on Saturday in front of the Crittenden County Courthouse in a show of unity with the West Memphis Three. The event in Marion, Arkansas, a few miles north of West Memphis, was one of several organized for World Awareness Day.

It was a beautiful, Arkansas afternoon. Big trees shaded the courthouse lawn and breezes freshened the air as supporters arrived from across Arkanas and from 13 other states.

About half the participants were from Arkansas, including one from West Memphis. Jessie Misskelley, Sr., of Marion, also attended with a friend.

Other states represented were Tennessee, Mississippi, Delaware, Arizona, Louisiana, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey, and California.

(That’s me above with Jessie Misskelley, Sr., his friend Kathy Barton from Marion, and supporters from Nashville, TN.)

The rally began with brief remarks, first by me and then by Rebekah Kennedy, a civil rights lawyer from Fort Smith, Arkansas, who is also a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate.

All of us then joined hands to stand for 14 minutes in silence—each minute representing a year of the time that Damien, Jason and Jessie have now been imprisoned. Their presence was symbolized by people holding onto three sets of handcuffs.

Television crews from Memphis and Jonesboro reported the event. Video is available here: WMC in Memphis and KAIT.

After the silence, two other Arkansans—Kelly Duda, a documentary film maker from Little Rock, and Lanette Grate, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas—spoke about the case’s importance. The mic was then available to everyone who wished to symbolically address the court.

Several who rose to do so noted how easy it had been to reflect, while standing there silent, on how much freedom they had enjoyed—and how much Damien, Jason and Jessie had missed.

Others pointed to the inscription on the courthouse, “Obedience to the Law is Liberty,” and said it seemed a mockery.

I think all of us were heartened to see so many dedicated supporters, from near and far, at that important site on this important day. It was great “reunion” for many of us who have met just briefly in the past, or only met on-line.

As we left the courthouse, no one said, “See ya next year.” We hope that there will be no “next year.” But if the WM3 are still in prison this time next year, we will be there.

For anyone who’s interested, I’ve posted my remarks below.

Hello, Everyone. Thank you for coming. I’m Mara Leveritt.

To all of you who have come from other states, welcome to Arkansas. I wish it were for another purpose. But since we’re all because of three murders–and the troubling convictions that followed them–I thank you out-of-staters for representing the concern about this case that has spread across America.

To my fellow Arkansans–glad you’re here. We all know that at least one prominent state official–our former governor, to be exact–expressed the belief that the only people who cared about this case were people from outside of Arkansas, who didn’t know what they were talking about. Well, we’re proving that wrong, aren’t we! We are Arkies. And we do know what happened in this case. And we are standing with other Americans–and others from around the world on this World Awareness Day–to say it was not right.

I see members of the media here. To all of you, thanks very much for coming. If we can help you in any way, let us know.

This is a somber event. We remember the children–Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore–who were murdered, not far from here, 14 years ago last month. Had they lived, they would be young adults by now. We remember them and we demand justice, however belated, on their behalf.

The children are not all we remember today. We stand in front of the courthouse where Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., were arraigned for their murders–fourteen years ago this week. Of course, scheduling this for a Saturday, when working people would be able to attend, we knew that the courthouse would be closed. Still, its locked doors and looming silence adequately represent the response that protests about this case have received from the Arkansas judicial system. Our state Supreme Court affirmed sentences of life and even a sentence of death based on trials that I believe will be viewed by history as travesties. In their lack of actual evidence and reliance, instead, on testimony about the “occult,” they harken disturbingly close to the witch trials held in Salem.

The most important symbol today, however, is you. You–and I–have come together as citizens–in the finest tradition of democracy–to oppose what happened here–the charade that began in this courthouse and that is trying to pass for justice. In standing before this court, we stand in union with people all over the world who have been appalled enough by what happened here to take time out of their own lives to oppose it. Together, we have written thousands of letters, we have sent hard-earned money for the defense, we have made posters and many long journeys. And in 14 years, we have not weakened and given up the fight. Our ranks have only grown.

We stand here today, in Arkansas, in union with the three young men who were brought before this court so many years ago–and have been imprisoned ever since. Our message to the court’s officials is that we wanted justice when the children were murdered, not scapegoats. To the extent that the West Memphis Three have been wronged, we have all been wronged. We want justice, and you have not delivered it. Mistakes, as they say, have been made.

I know about mistakes. As a reporter, I have worked hard to be accurate. But I have made mistakes. I can tell you off the bat about three I made in Devil’s Knot, my book about this case. All of them have been pointed out to me by readers–and though I cringed at each of them, I appreciate the corrections.

For example: A reader in Memphis, who I believe is here today, pointed out that I’d gotten the name and the location of the jewelry store where Melissa Byers worked wrong. That affected some other calculations I’d noted, so that that whole footnote was off. Not good.

The first error I learned of came almost immediately after publication. A reader wrote to say that a poem I’d printed at the start of a chapter and attributed to Damien Echols had actually been written by the well-known author Dean Koontz. Believe me, that’s not the kind of news anyone wants to get. My publisher contacted Mr. Koontz and we explained that the poem had been found among Damien’s writings, copied in his own hand, and that I, like the police and attorneys, had believed that it was his original work. Still, not good.

And here’s one closer to home. I made not one, but three mistakes in describing the background of Circuit Judge John Fogelman, who at the time, was a prosecutor in this case. I said he had once served as a juvenile judge. He had not. I said his father had served on the Marion school board. It was his grandfather. I said his father had been president of the Arkansas Bar Association. That had been his uncle. I learned of these errors a couple of years ago, and when I did, I wrote to Judge Fogelman and apologized.

I don’t like standing here before you admitting such mistakes. But I accept that I am human, and that I did make some errors in a book of many facts. Those errors do not discredit the entirety of the book. In fact, I think that the book’s integrity is strengthened by my acknowledging them.

That is all we ask today of this state’s justice officials–from this courthouse and judicial district to the offices of the state supreme court. Accept responsibility and review what was done in this case.

I consider a book an important thing. But it is nothing compared to the legal proceedings that led to the sentences here. The accuracy of what I write matters a lot to me, but it pales next to the processes of this court–process that deal in life and death.

We know that attorneys for the convicted men are meeting with court officials, seeking a re-examination of this case. We stand outside the court, demanding the same thing. The stakes–for this community, this state, and our nation–could not be higher.

And so we say to this court: Do the right thing. Revisit this case. Re-examine what passed for evidence. Reverse this wrong.

And then, perhaps, we can together begin to seek real justice for the children who were murdered here.

John Lennon’s piano plays against violence at the Crittenden County Courthouse

What a modest, incongruous sight. A plain upright piano—a Steinway—standing in the grass, a few dozen yards from a courthouse.

Inside the courthouse, people were curious. “It’s a piano that John Lennon used to own,” I said. “He used it when he composed ‘Imagine.’”

Some asked, “What’s it doing here?”

“Well, there’s this project, to take the piano to places where terrible violence has occurred. And the people who organized it want to have someone play ‘Imagine’ in all those places. They want to respond to the violence with peace—and maybe soothe some pain.”

The ensuing silence told me I hadn’t really answered the question, so I added, “It’s here because of the three little boys.”

Everyone remembered. 1993. Stevie Branch. Michael Moore. Christopher Byers.

Of course, there was more to the story. Some of us who’d come to Marion this morning to see John Lennon’s piano on the lawn of the Crittenden County Courthouse also believe that the violence that began with those murders 14 years ago continues to this day.

We see violence in the rush to judge three teenagers who were found guilty of those murders, even without evidence.

We see violence in the sentence of death that was handed to one of the accused, and to the slow death sentence of life in prison that was dealt the other two.

We remember the images of people lined up at this courthouse, snarling and shouting at the three when they were brought here for arraignment. Fear replaced by hatred.

But on this May morning, all that seemed far away. In the shade of magnolia trees, everything seemed placid.

The violence must have felt similarly distant when the piano was taken to the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was shot, almost a century and a half ago. There was also probably a disconnnect when it was set down at the sites where President Kennedy and Martin Luther King killed.

Life goes on, but it is an illusion to think that the air at such places has not been disturbed. A sense of suffering lingers. There is a need for healing, for something gentle to offset the pain.

And so, John Lennon’s piano.

Imagine.

The British musician George Michael bought the piano in 1970 for $2.1 million. For the past year or so, he and his partner, Kenny Goss, have had the instrument on the road, visiting places with names that resonate in the American consciousness: Waco, Columbine, Oklahoma City—and now, Crittenden County, site of the West Memphis murders.

After leaving Arkansas, the crew hauling the piano was headed to Virginia Tech, scene of another bloody horror. Eventually, it will arrive at the site of World Trade Center.

“By taking the piano to all these sites,” Michael said, “we are reminded that violence has long been a part of our history.”

In Marion, photographers traveling with the piano prepared their cameras. At some point, organizers say, the journey will result in a book—and maybe a DVD.

A musician from Memphis pulled up a stool and positioned herself in front of the piano. She spread out the sheet music to “Imagine.”

Three clerks who worked in the courthouse, came out to join the small gathering around the piano. Everyone else who worked in the courthouse stayed inside.

Newspapers and tv stations in the region had been notified of the event, but no reporters came. In all, fewer than a dozen people, including the clerks, attended the event.

Imagine.

The pianist began to play, and sing. “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try…”

I stood under a tree, joining Lennon in his dream. Then came the words, “Nothing to kill or die for…”

For a moment, everything seemed light—and too heavy to bear.

Letter from Pamela Hobbs, mother of victim Steve Branch

My son Steve Branch was almost a pefect little boy. Everyone that knew him loved him because he had a loving character.He was a leader more than a follower. What happened on the most horrible day of my life was almost more than I could bear until I came to terms with the lost of my son and turned it all over to God. God gives me strength daily. As I also continue to pray if the 3 tried and convicted are not guilty that God will allow them to have another trial. I don’t want innocence men to take the fall for a crime they did not commit. It’s in Gods hands he was there also and in due time if others were involved he will reveal who they are. If the WM3 are not guilty God will allow them to have another trial. So I guess we all must continue to wait and have our own thoughts and theories about my nightmare until God is ready to allow his will to take place! I am honored I have a beautiful angel in heaven that calls me momma!!!!!!!!!

The gang at ‘ground zero’

The crime. The trials. All that went wrong–and the responsibility for getting errors corrected. It all comes down to Arkansas.

The three children who were murdered were Arkansans. So were their families, their neighbors, and the jurors who sat in judgment of the WM3.

The three teenagers were convicted in Arkansas courts. Now men, they are being held in Arkansas prisons. If they are ever to be freed, it will be on orders from an Arkansas judge.

Whenever I speak in my home state, I remind my fellow Arkansans that we, in particular, are straddled with the trials of the West Memphis Three. They are “our case and our disgrace.”

The simple fact is that all the pressures of this case bear down more intensely, more personally, here. We are grateful for every all the outrage that has arisen about this case around the world. That and the work of supporters–all the creativity, effort and funding–remains invaluable. If this case is turned around, it will be because so many have helped that happen.

As I’ve traveled, however, I’ve realized that the view of this case from outside Arkansas is naturally different from the view of it from inside our borders. Supporting the WM3 here can sometimes be tougher than being a supporter somewhere else.

We all have stories. For me, it was learning about how posters announcing a book signing for Devil’s Knot in Jonesboro, where one of the trials was held, had been repeatedly torn down or defaced.

For others, supporting the WM3 has meant facing the disapproval–or even anger–of relatives who remain convinced of their guilt.

For all supporters in this small state, it has meant defying the pronouncements of local and state officials who dismiss us as being misinformed, at best.

I’ve applauded the work of supporters at the University of Central Arkansas, but there are others who should be mentioned:

–Dan Stidham, Jessie Misskelley’s trial lawyer, has been outspoken about this case for years.

–The Arkansas Times has been out-front, among the media.

–Leaders of Arkansas Governor’s School, a residential summer program for high school students, have, for years, encouraged discussion of the case.

And there are others–high school and college teachers, students at various campuses, newspaper and tv reporters, ordinary people from all walks of life.

I don’t know of anyone here, however, who has been more steadfast in support of the WM3 than the founders of ARWAR.org, particularly Amanda Lamb and Wendy Crow of Pine Bluff (in photo above) and Mary Boley of Russellville.

They personally took the thousands of letters written last year by supporters around the world to the Arkansas capitol and to our governor. They have been tireless. I stand in awe.

I also reserve special respect for those supporters who live in the vicinity of West Memphis. That includes all those in east Arkansas, Memphis, and northern Mississippi–the area most directly affected by the horror of the crimes and the sensationalism of the arrests and trials.

People there who stand in support of the men convicted of killing the three children in 1993 face much the same opposition felt by those of us in Arkansas. It takes some fortitude.

Wherever we come from, though, our presence at the Crittenden County Courthouse in Marion on June 2 will make an essential statement. For two hours we will stand at the heart of the storm to show our hope for a better outcome.

We will say by our presence that we believe terrible mistakes were made; that the trials were not fair; and that the actual killer or killers may still be free.

We will stand, quite simply, for justice–for the victims, for the accused, and for everyone in the future who may ever come before the courts of this or any other state.

It’s not a bad job for a Saturday. We hope to see you there.

Kudos to a fine teacher

In January, Lanette Grate, faculty sponsor of the Demand Justice Panel at the University of Central Arkansas, was named a finalist for the Rachel Corrie Award for Courage in the Teaching of Writing. She was nominated for the award in part due to her work with the student panel, which has led discussions on the West Memphis case in different university settings.

The “Rachel Corrie”: Award is given to writing teachers who take professional risks in order to promote social justice through the teaching of writing. Grate did not win the award this year, but said she was proud to have been a finalist.

I too am proud of the work she and her students have done.

Congratulations, Lanette! And bravo to everyone on the panel!

To see what an honor this is, read more about Rachel Corrie.