Categories: Essays
Written By: Billy Sinclair

          This past year brought closure to two of the most celebrated death row cases in the nation: Troy Davis and Damien Echols. Davis, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 killing of a Savannah, Georgia police officer, was executed on September 21, 2011. One month earlier, August 19, Echols, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 killings of three 8-year old Cub Scouts in West Memphis, Arkansas, was released from death row following an extraordinary Alford plea deal brokered by his high powered defense team.

            The controversy, even celebrity, surrounding both cases was fueled by national and international supporters who vehemently professed the innocence of both men. The Echols case, known as the “West Memphis Three,” drew support from a laundry list of celebrities: Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, and awarding-winning actor Johnny Depp. The Davis case drew support from an equally diverse group of celebrities: Def Comedy Jam’s Russell Simmons, designer Kim Kardashian, and comedian Sandra Bernhard. Both cases enjoyed warm media support from CNN, the New York Times, documentary filmmakers, and a slew of political commentators/bloggers.

            I have expressed my belief in the guilt of both men in a number of posts on this website, although I stated both men should not be executed because new evidence of their innocence was compelling enough to cast “legal” reasonable doubt about their guilt.

            So why was Davis executed and Echols freed? The evidence of guilt, and the questions about the quality of that evidence, was essentially equal in both cases. So the answer as to why one was executed and the other set free is quite simple.

           Troy Davis, a black, killed a white police officer while Damien Echols, a white, killed three white kids. The racial component is obvious. Blacks who kill whites are far more likely to receive the death penalty and have it carried out than whites who kill whites, even when the victims are children.

           We are a class-conscious society. Since the Founding Fathers, we have a long, pitiful history of placing classes of people on a totem pole measured by race, wealth, profession, culture, even age. The death penalty reflects these class biases. Killing a police officer is considered one of the worst (if not the worst) crimes in America, and the heinousness of the act is significantly increased when the offender is black and the victim is white. Thus, the life of a white police officer in Savannah, Georgia, extinguished by a black street thug was worth more than the lives of three 8-year-old children in West Memphis, Arkansas, extinguished by a white devil-worshiper.

           The final action taken in both cases, the execution of one and freedom for the other, not only speak volumes about the inequities of our criminal justice system but the state of race in our Southern society. Three-fourths of all executions since 1977 have occurred in the South, most involving black offenders.

           White police officers in the South have always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Southerners. They stand as a shield between the lawless and the law-abiding. At different points in the South’s ugly history the police worked hand-in-hand with lynch mobs, as they did on August 17, 1915 in Marietta, Georgia with the lynching of Leo Frank; and joined criminal conspiracies to kill black civil rights workers in the civil rights era such as James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Nashoba County, Mississippi on June 21, 1964. So Southerners, many of whom still long for the “good old days,” owe a special allegiance to the man with the gun and the club.

           But the same Southern mindset has never been overly concerned about its children: the South has the highest (or near the highest) rates of child homelessness, children in poverty, child hunger, child physical/sexual abuse by family members, and a host of other social ills affecting millions of children. Most of these children are from racial minority families. Black, Hispanic, and poor white children are really low on the Southern class totem pole.

           Put simply: a white police officer’s life is more valuable than three small children—and that’s why Troy Davis was executed and Damien Echols is walking the streets of New York. A helluva way to do business in the death penalty industry.


  1. Thomas R. Says:

    Right on Mr. Sinclair. Hopefully your assessment will leak elsewhere. If only these execution-happy pols in Texas had a half a brain to understand your post.

  2. Lonnie Soury Says:

    Your comments on the guilt of Damien Echols are simply wrong. With little knowledge of the case, i don’t know on what basis you insist on his guilt. You have no information on the case other than what you see on the many erroneous chatrooms that muse about the guilt of the WM3, have never spoken with anyone involved in the case and yet you post your opinions as if they are based upon real knowledge or research. I led the pubic campaign to free these guys over the past three years and helped develop new evidence of their innocence. You might spend a few minutes reviewing it before your next post.
    lonnie soury

  3. Fishmonger Dave Says:

    There is, of course, another explanation, but it doesn’t fit neatly into a one page blog posting.

    Read the case files. I did. Reading the 125+ page report from the Federal District Court following the US Supreme Court instruction that Troy Davis’ case be reviewed in a hearing shows that, while there was in my opinion too much doubt to execute him, there was also too much evidence to overturn his conviction. He may well have been guilty.

    Now read the West Memphis Three case file (http://www.wm3blackboard.com ) and Jessie’s multiple, frustrating, internally inconsistent and just plain crazy statements that don’t align with the evidence ( http://www.dpdlaw.com/jmstatements ). There’s diddly squat nada that would convince a reasonable person that they were guilty, and a whole lot of jury misconduct, exonerating evidence, etc.

    Again, doesn’t fit neatly into a blog post, but then again we are talking about life and death, incarceration and freedom, justice and injustice, so anyone interested might take the time…. Or, better yet, devote your efforts to those still out there (opposing Mumia’s BS efforts to get away with murder and supporting Darrell Edwards and/or other Innocence Project clients’ bids for justice and freedome).

  4. Fishmonger Dave Says:

    Correction to site with Jessie’s statements:


  5. AJFA Says:

    Hey Dave – where’s the link to Jessie’s multiple, post conviction confessions? Particularly the one where he had his hand on the bible and his defense attorney was begging him not to? You are an imbecile.

  6. Billy Sinclair Says:

    Lonnie Soury: You speak about my lack of research in WM3 case; that my opinion of their guilt is not an informed one. I suggest you read all the blogs I have posted about WM3 case, and you will see the reasons why I believe in their guilt. Now if you think those reasons are misinformed, that’s fine. Your opinion, and one I respect. But I have formed an opinion of guilt in the case and have more than adequately put forth my reasons for that opinion. I did not just snatch that opinion out of the air, as your comments suggest.

  7. Thomas R. Says:


  8. Andrew Says:

    What a braindeas knee-jerk editorial.

    Damien got lucky because the success of the Paradise Lost documentaries gained him global attention. Also, in his case, the crime was much more heinous and the prosecution’s case (devil worship) more ridiculous. It was the fervor generated that ultimately freed him. Those films are the reason he’s alive today.

  9. AJFA Says:

    I don’t think the editorial is knee-jerk at all, but I agree that if it weren’t for the Paradise Lost franchise, those 3 murdering fucks would still be in prison.

  10. LLcoolS-A Says:

    First off, thank you Billy Sinclair for all the articles you have written on the WM3. Secondly, Lonnie Soury, aren’t you just a PR person? Your job as I understand it was to make these murderers look good in the media. For the past few years this PR campaign that you and the defense attorneys put on has trumpeted to the world that there was DNA evidence that proves the WM3 were innocent. Wow, too bad we never got to see it, because the WM3 asked for a plea deal just months before an evidentiary hearing was to take place. I’m guessing it wasn’t enough evidence to get them a new trial and their butts would still be in prison where they belong. Congrats on your successful PR campaign though. You must be proud to know your efforts contributed to the release of three baby killers.

  11. kelly Says:

    I don’t know how anyone can maintain that the wm3 are guilty. If you look objectively at all of the evidence (not just what was mentioned in the documentaries) it is CLEAR that they did not commit this crime. Victoria Hutcheson has admitted that she lied, Aaron Hutcheson to this day cannot recall what occurred, probably because of everything everyone wanted him to say, Michael Carson admitted that he lied, and if you listen to the confession you can tell that the police are leading Jessie Misskelley. Not to mention the fact that not only was Terry Hobbs’ DNA found at the scene, but he lied about his alibi!! Why would an innocent person lie about their alibi? I could go on forever.

    What you people don’t seem to get is that they took the alford plea FOR A REASON!!! It was an immediate resolution, whereas a hearing could go on and on, and a hearing has no guarantees. They can still work towards full exoneration.

  12. Interested Party Says:

    Its very sad billy that you are so stuck on their guilt considering it is almsot a absolute that they were going to get a retrial and with the expert testimony and new evidence as well as the disputed old evidence they would have easily be let free and given millions from the state. However, why wait possibly 10 more years for it to happen when you can just go home ! and no offense but your a paralegal and your wife works in pr that hardly makes you educated on the law or the actual practice of it.

  13. BOB Says:

    This is a bizarre article because , whilst it points out some uncomfortable stats regarding executions and ethnicity , it places it’s entire argument on a widely disputed assumption ; that both men were guilty.

  14. Billy Sinclair Says:

    Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story, A Journey from Murder to Redemption Inside America’s Worst Prison System. Re-released in hardback in March 2012 and now available on your Kindle in less than a minute. The New York Times Book Review called it a “numbing tale of crime, punishment, and redemption.”

  15. Winston Says:

    Loonie Soury has drank the punch!

  16. dacDavid Andrew Cairns Says:

    I just finished watching the HBO special on the WM3 for the first time. I am a former Can.P.O. and was appalled as to how these three young men were convicted of this heinous crime based on the evidence presented in court. People have to understand that if the evidence is not there then you cannot convict and clearly in this case it was not. I also feel the police in this investigation did such an incompetent job, they all should have lost their jobs. They lost valuable real evidence, how the hell do you do that? They interrogated that young Jessie boy for 12 hours without legal representation unbelievable! The American Justice system is what it is, a sad reality and a high risk game of life living in the so called best country in the world, shameful! As for the step father Byers, he or his wife, maybe together were responsible for those children’s death? However, the police were only focused on three young lads who just happen to be a little different than most people, but had no history of violence, unlike Byers! USA is a very sad example of Democracy and the Rule of Law.

  17. Crossball Says:

    You made the valid point at the beginning of your post. At the end, you point at the stepfather Byers. Byers has been proven innocent with valid alibis etc.
    The other stepfather is a suspect. You will agree with me after doing a little more DD on the case. Since you are an ex police officer from Canada and use to DD, I will anxiously await your investigative response. Yours truly, a medical transcriptionist from Canada.

  18. Billy Sinclair Says:

    ANNIE: Two things. First, Terry Hobbs was interviewed by the police in 2007 after the “single hair” evidence was found. As they did not consider him a suspect in 1993 when the crime occurred, they did not consider him a suspect in 2007. Second, as for the search of Hobbs’ home, the police must have “probable cause” to apply for, and secure, a warrant in order to search someone’s home. There was absolutely no cause to believe Hobbs was involved in the crime in the days or weeks after it happened. It should be pointed out that Pam Hobbs, Stevie’s mom, could have “consented” to a search of their home if she truly suspected Hobbs was involved in the murders as she now claims. You suggest that the WM3 were too stupid to pull off an evidence free crime. It is not uncommon for stupid kids to pull off horrific crimes and not leave any “evidence” as you suggest. There is more evidence (especially the torturing and hog-tying) that multiple persons, like the WM3, killed those boys than a single individual like Hobbs. Finally, I understand police misconduct – I have written about the subject quite often. Yes, I believe the West Memphis police botched the case in many respects–and I argued on this website before the WM 3 were release that they they were entitled to a new trial. But the WM 3, and their attorneys, decided to opt for a guilty plea because there was more evidence to tie them to the murders than there was to tie someone like Hobbs. Thank you for your continued interest.

  19. Crossball Says:

    “There was absolutely no cause to believe Hobbs was involved in the crime in the days or weeks after it happened. It should be pointed out that Pam Hobbs, Stevie’s mom, could have “consented” to a search of their home if she truly suspected Hobbs was involved in the murders as she now claims.”

    I don’t understand why you say this. If they had talked to the houses around one of the victims house, we would have been able to find out if the “heresay” testimony was heresay.
    What I don’t understand is why you are “convinced” the WM3did this.
    There is FAR TOO MUCH circumstantial evidence to be convinced.
    You should at least be on the fence in this horrific crime.
    I find this case mind bending.

  20. Crossball Says:

    Your article is sad but true about “since the founding fathers, America has been a measured totem pole.” The country was founded by rich land owners who searched for freedom but had no problem with slavery. Not a good start in my mind.

  21. Billy Sinclair Says:

    Crossball: Sorry about the delay in responding to your 02/15/13 comment. But here is why I am convinced of the WM3 guilt. 90 percent of criminal defendants plead guilty. The remaining 10 percent face trial. Of those who face trial, most are convicted by “circumstantial” evidence. That is why they elected to face trial, to roll the dice. Our laws recognize circumstantial evidence as a sufficient basis for a finding of guilt. But as I have said in the past, I believe they are guilty based on their own conduct before, during and afer the trial, especially Echols. The deal was sealed for when they chose the Alford guilty plea – a plea deal that was so eagerly embraced by Echols who had the most to gain from their celebrity. At the end of this day, and every day forward, the WM3 will be the guilty parties because of their own guilty pleas.

  22. Crossball Says:

    “I believe they are guilty based on their own conduct before, during and afer the trial, especially Echols. ”

    With this statement……So, you are saying there is a chance of innocence. Is there at least this much. Please tell me. TIA.


  23. Crossball Says:

    The reason I say this is because THERE IS NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE.
    What you have commented about “what they have said”, and I doubt is true, is HERESAY, though their own.
    and I will add, you had no problem denouncing the 3 witnesses coming forward years later as not feasible and simply HERESAY.
    Get where I am going? Should I repost the video.

  24. Billy Sinclair Says:

    Crossball: I have said many times, even before the WM3 were freed, that they deserved a new trial based on constitutional violations. My opinion is that they are guilty. An opinion is different than a factual conclusion. If I were on a jury that heard all the evidence, I could, and probably would. find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The juror next to me would probably find them not guilty. The reason I post my views about the WM3 case on this website is to be part of the “public debate” about the case, and, yes, to provide a forum for individuals such as yourself to join that debate. At the end of the day, we will never know with 100% certainty who killed those boys, but we do know the WM3 plead guilty to avoid a trial at which all the evidence could have been presented. Thanks for your interest in this debate – you bring a healthy, rational view to the table.

  25. Crossball Says:

    I could, and probably would. find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The juror next to me would probably find them not guilty.

    Thanks for your reply. Between you and me, damn that trial would have been, to put it lightly…mind bending and I ask myself would you have still found them guilty or would I have still have found them innocent after it?……back to heresay. ttlol.

  26. cass Says:

    The only reason those three scumbags walked is because of all the bs stars and musicians needed a crusade. Tell me where are all these people when the st.judes ads are on? They’re there on the show asking for our money.And where are they for their real fans who are hardworking parents for the most part and we have our own life sentences where is the cryout for us. Almost 20 years ago i went to prison for 2 1/2 years and ive been following this case from the beginning. In that time i learned i have extremely good intuition about right and wrong, good and evil even guilt and innocence it actually got me a job with my fellow prisoners and i can guarentee you this there are people who are alot more experienced especially in Florida, and if they wouldn’t have been sittin in their 5* hotel rooms in p.c. i guarentee they wouldn’t have walked out alive.And if those would’ve been my kids they’d a lasted longer in gen pop then after their travesty of a release.My heart goes out to the families of the victims.And Rollins iVe been your fan since the start of black flag but i just dont agree on this one.man whats up, i know Vedders angle

  27. Sharon Says:

    If as much money and time would focus on who killed the three boys as trying prove Damien Echols innocence, it seems to me that the crime would have been solved by now. I pray for all concerned.

  28. Billy Sinclair Says:

    Sharon: the crime has been officially solved. It was solved when Echols’s attorneys opened the Alford plea negotiations and allowed their client to plead guilty in open court after acknowledging the State had enough evidence to convict should a retrial take place. The West Memphis Three case was officially “solved” by their guilty pleas. Why should the State pursue the matter any further? Prosecutors got guilty pleas in the case. All the “investigations” conducted by the WM3 supporters did not find any convincing evidence of innocence – if they had, the men would not have plead guilty.

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