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Here’s an interview I did with radio don Pat Lynch in December.
WM3

Somebody let me know, please, if you have any trouble getting it.

Hobbs knives to be tested

A reliable source close to the investigation has reported that Brent Davis, the prosecuting attorney in the case of the West Memphis Three, arranged this week for Arkansas officials to take possession of knives that once belonged to Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of three children murdered in 1993.
The source said the knives were to be transferred to state custody on Wednesday. The knives had been given to an attorney representing one of the teenagers convicted of the murders by Pamela Hobbs, Stevie’s mother, who was at the time married to Terry Hobbs.
The source also reported that Davis has cooperated with defense attorneys in making arrangements to have the knives tested.

Terry Hobbs reports being told his DNA was found at crime scene

Interviewed on July 16, Terry Hobbs said an investigator for the WM3 defense told him recently “that a piece of my hair is in the knots that tied up Michael Moore.”
Hobbs’s ex-wife, Pam Hobbs, interviewed the day before, said she now considers Terry Hobbs a suspect in the murders.
Both the Hobbses said they have been interviewed by the West Memphis police regarding the 1993 murders of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and their son, Stevie Branch.
“I sat in a room the other day and was filmed, videoed and audioed,” Hobbs said. “It kind of aggravated me.”
An article detailing the interviews is online at: Arkansas Times.

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.

WAD goes to Crittenden County Courthouse Join us in standing on behalf of the WM3

In a public display of solidarity, Arkansas supporters of the West Memphis Three will hold a peaceful assembly Saturday, June 2nd, 2007 on the grounds of the Crittenden County Courthouse in Marion, Arkansas from 1pm – 3pm.
During the two-hour event, there will be three 14-minute segments of silence, one each for Damien, Jason and Jessie, the 14 minutes symbolizing the 14 years they’ve spent in prison.

Intermittent speakers and participants will include the author of Devil’s Knot, Mara Leveritt, and more speakers to be announced. Attendees will also be given the chance to speak their own piece during 2-minute open-mike segments between silences.

Supporters worldwide are encouraged to attend this Ground Zero Awareness Day event. Although we realize there may be various concerns due to the location of this event, supporter turnout will be crucial to the level of impact left by this show of solidarity. Local officials have been notified personally by phone and with a follow-up letter. They have not objected to the event. We would also like to assure you that your Constitutional right to assemble on public property does indeed apply in regards to this event.

It is, however, VERY important that there be minimal disruption and that those in attendance behave in a peaceful and respectful manner. Those present should maintain the highest level of conduct, and refrain from engaging in verbal or physical unpleasantness with ANYONE, even if provoked.

Volunteers willing to maintain carpooling lists are needed from each state.
Interested individuals can contact Mary Boley at mary@arwar.org. We also need the involvement of supporters willing to facilitate communication among residents within their own states about travel and lodging arrangements. As the time approaches for supporters to ascend upon Crittenden County in this show of solidarity, YOUR help and participation is essential.

This is our opportunity to demonstrate visible support to the community in which this injustice was cultivated. This is also an opportunity for supporters in that local community to participate and have a voice in World Awareness Day 2007. So throw on your WM3 t-shirt, make your signs, and stand for justice with the friends and family of the WM3 on June 2nd.

Arkansas university students demand ‘Steps toward Justice’

Supporters of the West Memphis Three will assemble at the Arkansas State Capitol on Friday, April 20, in a rally organized by student activists at the University of Central Arkansas. The two-hour event, called Steps Toward Justice, will begin at noon.
Organizers scheduled the rally as a way to give students, whose semester ends in May, a chance to participate early in Worldwide Awareness Day. That event which will be held June 1-3, after most have left the campus.
Members of the university’s Demand Justice Panel are planning the event, which will feature speakers (including me), music, poetry and other activities. T-shirts printed with quotations about justice will be for sale. Anyone may attend.
The Demand Justice panel was formed in 2006, funded by a grant of $3,000 from the UCA Foundaton. Panel members conduct open-forum public discussions about wrongful conviction, particularly as it relates to the West Memphis case.
Since its creation last fall, the panel has made six public presentations at UCA. A final one will be held at 7 p.m., April 4, at the UCA Student Center.
Audiences range in size from individual classes to large groups or clubs. Because the case is multi-faceted, faculty members have found that discussions fit into courses on writing, political science, sociology, journalism, criminal justice, philosophy and religious studies.
Panel members are: Beau Jones, Cory Ingram, Treva Chrisman, Amanda Stewart, and Shari Ervin. UCA faculty members are Lanette Grate and Ted Dias.
I asked some of the panel members why they got so involved. Chrisman, a sophomore majoring in interior design, said she was motivated by the belief that “an injustice such as this one could happen to anyone.”
Stewart, a sophomore majoring in speech/language pathology, said she was concerned that “there was no physical evidence that connected the convicted three to the murders.”
Jones, a graduate teaching assistant in the math department, replied: “The actions of Judge Burnett, the prosecutors, and the West Memphis police during this case make me physically sick to my stomach.”
He continued: “I am appalled that justice was not served for the murdered children. This case, and only this case, makes me ashamed that I am an Arkansan. I will not sit in silence and watch our justice system crumble… I encourage you not to be silent either.”

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.