Friday, August 19, 2011
West Memphis Three Freed!
In the past I have discussed the tragic case of the three young men known as the West Memphis Three who were convicted and imprisoned for eighteen years for allegedly engaging in a satanic or occult crime on three boys in Arkansas. This link includes my analysis, and this one is an interview with Dan Stidham, the defense attorney for one of the men.
Although the evidence against them years ago was weak to non-existent, and later DNA evidence failed to link them to the crime (even pointing toward another individual), the legal system and politicians in Arkansas seemed content to refuse to reconsider the case. The, seemingly out of the blue, a meeting was called involving the young men, their families, and the legal system. Today, we watched with a mixture of amazement, shock, and happiness, as the men were released after a plea deal was agreed to. The deal makes no sense in that the three had to plead guilty, and yet were allowed to maintain their innocence while recognizing the court had sufficient evidence to convict them at a new trial. They are also barred from filing a civil suit against the state. This strange plea deal seems aimed less at justice and fairness in the case, and more toward the Arkansas legal and political system saving face and covering their asses as the conviction and sense of injustice became an international incident.
As we rejoice over the freedom of the West Memphis Three this is time to remember that facts and evidence are not interpreted in a vacuum, but take their meaning and plausibility in social and cultural contexts. When this is tainted by satanic panic it can have dire consequences.
For those interested in learning more about this case see the book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt (Atria Books, 2003)), and the documentaries Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2.