Written By: Billy Sinclair
The West Memphis Three case is a problem for anyone trying to research it: to wade through nearly two decades of misinformation, slanted perspectives, and “new evidence” on both sides of the spectrum, guilt and innocence. Neither side will ever convince the other of the merits of their views and “evidence” about the case. In effect, the guilt or innocence of not only the West Memphis Three defendants or any current (or future) suspects in the brutal triple murder of Stevie Branch, Christopher Myers, and Michael Moore—all three of whom were 8-year-old boy scouts—on May 5, 1993 in an area known as “Robin Hood Hills” in West Memphis, Arkansas will probably never be truly determined.
The most recent suspect is Terry Hobbs, the former stepfather of Steve Branch. Local suspicion in some areas apparently centered on Hobbs shortly after the boys’ bodies were discovered on May 6, 1993. These rumors were apparently fueled by Hobbs’ wife and Steve Branch’s biological mother, Pamela, according to what Hobbs told police investigators in June 2007 interview. Yet she continued to live with Hobbs until 2002 at which time their marriage began to unravel. It was at this point that Pam Hobbs give the West Memphis Three defense team 14 or 15 knives owned by her husband—one of which she identified as belonging to her son; that the boy carried it with him at all times; and that he would have had on him the day he was killed. This further fueled suspicions that Hobbs was the killer (or one of the killers) of the boys.
The “Hobbs-as-the-killer” theory reached critical mass in 2007 when DNA testing of evidence recovered from the crime scene excluded the West Memphis Three as its sources. Two hairs—one found in the ligature that bound Michael Moore and another hair found on a tree stump near where the boys’ bodies were recovered—were consistent with Terry Hobbs and his friend, David Jacoby. Terry Hobbs was at Jacoby’s residence in the late afternoon of the murders, and the West Memphis Three defense team theorized he could have picked up the Jacoby hair while at the residence. The defense team apparently does not believe Jacoby was involved in the murders.
The new DNA evidence, which indicated the none of the West Memphis Three had been at the crime scene while Terry Hobbs may well have been, was bolstered by additional “new evidence;” namely, six nationally prominent forensic experts who examined photos and evidence in the case and uniformly concluded that the mutilation wounds found on the boys’ bodies had been caused by animal predation, not knife wounds as state prosecutors had alleged throughout the trials of the West Memphis Three. This evidence was critical because the prosecution had presented the theory that the three boys were killed as part of a Satan ritual with mutilation of their bodies being part of that ritual.
But let’s examine these four indicators of guilt-evidence against Hobbs. The initial rumors by Pam Hobbs can easily be discounted because she continued to live with the man for the next nine years. Why would the mother of a murdered son continue to live with the man she suspected of killing her son? Defies logic.
Next, there’s Pam Hobbs’ identification of one of the 14 or 15 Terry Hobbs knives she turned over to the West Memphis defense team in 2002 as belonging to her son. This evidence is also highly suspect. She knew her husband had knives all over their house. Why did it take her nine years to realize that one of them was her son’s favorite knife? And why was the discovery made during a time when she was embroiled in a bitter separation with her husband? The Pam Hobbs so-called evidence against Terry Hobbs is simply not credible, either in a courtroom or a barroom.
As for the two hairs found at the crime scene, I do believe one belonged to Terry Hobbs and the other belonged to David Jacoby. I also believe Hobbs at some point probably picked up the Jacoby hair while visiting the Jacoby residence (as the defense team theorized) but probably not on the day the murders occurred. Just as the West Memphis Three defense theorized that Jacoby’s hair was transferred to Hobbs, I believe both strands of Hobbs’ and Jacoby’s hair could have been transferred to Steve Branch at the Hobbs residence or inside the Hobbs vehicle days before the murders occurred which could account for their presence at the crime scene. In other words, the hairs could have been to the crime scene by Steve Branch, not the killer(s).
As for the animal predation issue, the prosecution could also easily find six “nationally prominent” forensic experts to examine the same photos and evidence examined by the West Memphis Three forensic experts and reach the opposite conclusion; namely, that the mutilation to the boys’ bodies had been caused by a knife, not animal predation. Forensic evidence, and the experts who promote it (either for the prosecution or the defense), is in a state of professional dispute (here, here, here, here, here) and this evidence really has no business in a court of law until all of its specific protocols are validated. In this case, animal predation. I would have to know what scientifically recognized protocols these so-called “forensic experts” used to reach their wild animal predation conclusion based on photo analysis. Their “opinions” alone are worth about as much as a three dollar bill at a bank teller’s window.
The only “wild animals” in the West Memphis area are raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and occasional coyotes. The three boys were last seen alive about 6:30 p.m. on May 5 and their bodies were discovered at approximately 9:00 a.m. the following morning. That’s not a lot of time for wild animals to inflict the kind of damage to the bodies which has been described in various media accounts and evidence photos—and certainly not by the kind of “wild animals” which may have been in the Robin Hood Hills area. Raccoons may have done some of the damage but their diet in spring and early summer is mostly insects and worms, and while opossums will eat carrion, the bodies of the boys did not have sufficient time to start the decaying process where it would have been a carrion food source.
Regardless of whether the mutilation to the boys’ bodies were caused by knives or animal predation, the possibility that they were killed as part of a “satanic ritual” killing is not necessarily eliminated by either theory. Satanic rituals, and the popular belief that human sacrifice and killings were associated with them, was a national phenomenon in the 1980s through the first half of the 1990s. There is some evidence that “satanic meetings” occurred in West Memphis in the early 1990s. Did Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin or Jesse Miskelley attend any of these meetings? There is no concrete evidence that they did; however, there is credible evidence that Echols had an interest in the occult and Satanism. Does this mean Echols had to be involved in the murders? Certainly not. It is simply a point of interest worth noting—just as the strands of Hobbs/Jacoby hairs recovered at the crime scene, standing alone, are points of interest worth noting.
While they are under no legal obligation to prove their innocence, Terry Hobbs and David Jacoby have a social responsibility to the West Memphis community and the Arkansas criminal justice system to do whatever they can to disprove the rumors and suspicions about their possible involvement in the murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. The West Memphis police department, in conjunction with the local district attorney’s office, should request that Hobbs and Jacoby undergo polygraph examinations, truth serum tests, and truth seeking evaluations in a controlled environment approved and monitored by the West Memphis Three defense team. West Memphis police and prosecutors, who have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in this case, have an ethical obligation to do everything they can to clear up the suspicions against Hobbs/Jacoby in order to protect the integrity of their case against the West Memphis Three. By eliminating Hobbs/Jacoby as possible suspects, the incriminating evidence against the West Memphis Three—and there is a significant amount of it—can be better weighed and analyzed.