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.