Written By: Billy Sinclair
The first time I saw Damien Echols, and encountered the West Memphis Three case, was last year when both were featured on CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery. The title of the program was “A Cry for Innocence.” That’s what captured my interest enough to watch the show. When it was over, my wife asked me: “Well, what do you think?”
“My gut tells me he’s guilty,” I replied. “He plays to the camera, the interviewer. It’s a classic con.”
“But there’s no solid evidence,” she countered, “and the police really botched the case from the start—especially the Misskelly confession.”
There was no doubt in my mind that Echols and Jason Baldwin deserved a new trial. The use of Misskelly’s confession at their joint trial without Misskelly testifying violated their Sixth Amendment confrontation rights.
Still, I had a strong feeling Echols was lying. The problem was he kept basing his “cry for innocence” on the inconsistencies in the state’s case, not about how he could not have committed the crime or his willingness to undergo any truth-seeking examination to prove his innocence. And what was particularly disturbing was the casual manner in which he dismissed his out-of-court statements indicating he had something to do with the crime as “goofing off.”
But I became convinced Echols is a calculating, manipulative liar when he made the claim that he was “raped” by prison guards on death row. I may not know a damn thing about a Porsche but I know prison, and I knew Echols had not been raped on death row. The act itself could not have happened in his cell without the other inmates knowing it, and there would have been a clamor to either stop it or address it afterwards. Rape is a hard thing to discuss in the free world where there is a certain anonymity but it is not something you would openly admit to in the prison setting. Regardless of the circumstances of the rape, an inmate becomes a “punk” (or a galboy) once the rape happens—and in prison, being a punk is the worst possible thing that could happen to you.
But there’s even more evidence of Echols’ casual lying. Jeanne Nuss, an Associated Press reporter, wrote a piece about the “first night of freedom” for the West Memphis Three. Nuss attributes the following quote to Echols:
“I was up all morning and most of the night trying to figure out how to use those IPhone things,” he said Saturday in the lobby of a posh Memphis hotel, just across the river from West Memphis, Arkansas, where the Scouts’ bodies were found. “One minute I’m looking at something about Judge [David] Laser. The next minute, it’s on, like, some hardcore porn site.”
I’m not an IPhone user, but it has remarkably similar features as a computer. There’s no way he was “one minute” looking at something about Judge Laser only to have in the “next minute” a “hardcore porn site.” It’s a classic Echols lie—and it was designed to earn him some “sympathy point” for having to “catch up” with a new technology-driven society. But why say a “hardcore porn site?” I suspect someone (like his wife, perhaps) busted him checking out the porn site and he dismissed at it as, “well, I don’t know how that got there.” If there was a “hardcore porn site” on his IPhone, it was there because he made a specific search for it.
There was a troubling aspect about that big party hosted by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines on the roof of the “posh” hotel that first night of freedom—a celebratory bash not attended by Jesse Misskelly who had not spoken to Echols or Baldwin during his first week of freedom. Misskelly said he wanted to spend the time with his father who had staunchly supported his son during his incarceration. Sounds plausible ..
But that’s not what happened, I suspect. Misskelly was the “snitch” in the group—the one who fingered Echols and Baldwin in the brutal murders. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know there aree “bad feelings” by Echols and Baldwin against Misskelly—always have been, always will be. Echols and Baldwin either dis-invited Misskelly to that party because of the bad blood between them or Misskelly elected not to attend because he understands the lie all three are ensnared in.
And perhaps that is the poetic justice in this case. Misskelly is the only real witness to the lie. Will he one day reveal that most, or all, of what he initially said in his confession was actually the truth; that the West Memphis Three in fact killed the “three Scouts?” I’m sure Echols and Baldwin live in fear of that prospect; that their house of lies could tumble down if Misskelly decides to publicly announce their guilt. Misskelly was, and remains, the key to understanding what happened to those boys.
I suspect one day he will open the door with his key. He is the only one of the three with a conscience.