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Innocent Man On Death Row For 18 Years Says Trial Was 'Over Before He Walked In'

Tom Wood

| Last updated 

Innocent Man On Death Row For 18 Years Says Trial Was 'Over Before He Walked In'

An innocent man who spent 18 years of his life on death row has spoken about how his trial was ‘over before [he] even walked in’ to the court room, as the police officers had decided to ‘pin’ the crimes on him.

The tale begins in 1993 when three eight-year-old boys – Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers – were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The story attracted great media interest and scandal, and eventually the police arrested three young men in connection, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr.

During the trial, the prosecution alleged that the defendants had killed the three boys during some sort of Satanic ritual.

However, Echols claims it all started before that.

Damien Echols before his arrest. Credit: Alamy
Damien Echols before his arrest. Credit: Alamy

"There were three cops, a sort of juvenile task force, who used to harass pretty much every kid in our neighbourhood,” he told The Guardian a few years back.

He went on to explain that one of the police officers had – he says – an obsession with the idea that Satanists were responsible for the ills of the town, claiming that incidents of roadkill were animal sacrifices, amongst other things.

Echols continued: "These cops had been harassing me and Jason for about two years before they finally decided they were going to pin these murders on me."

Upon their arrest, Misskelley – who has an IQ of 68 – was interrogated by police alone for 12 hours, and eventually signed a confession implicating the two others.

At the trial, the prosecution made a point to mention that the defendants wore Metallica band t-shirts and listened to heavy metal music.

Despite this, Echols had an alibi – he was with his mother, grandmother, and sister at the time – and had made three phone calls to different people across the evening.

Still, he was convicted.

Echols on the day he was sentenced to death. Credit: Alamy
Echols on the day he was sentenced to death. Credit: Alamy

"That didn't matter to the jury," he said.

"The local media had run so many stories about Satanic orgies and human sacrifices that by the time we walked into that courtroom the jury saw the trial as nothing more than a formality.

“It was over before we even walked in."

Whilst his two co-defendants received life sentences, Echols was sentenced to death.

He explained: "Even though I'd expected the verdict, part of me was still in denial.

“In the US, from the time you're old enough to speak you hear about how you're innocent until proven guilty and you have all of these rights.

“Part of me was still thinking that someone's going to put an end to this, someone's going to stop and do the right thing."

He spent 18 years on death row before being released. Credit: Alamy
He spent 18 years on death row before being released. Credit: Alamy

He spent the next 18 years in prison, seeing his family only a handful of times and missing the death of his adopted father.

Eventually, Lorri Davis – who later became his wife – took up the case, and even attracted the attention of film director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh.

Then, new DNA evidence emerged, and whilst it couldn’t fully exonerate the three men, it was enough to cast doubt on the conviction, leading to an ‘Alford Plea’ which allowed them to accept a deal whilst maintaining their innocence and – crucially – removing liability from the state for the miscarriage of justice.

Suddenly, they were free men again.

Echols was released in 2011. Credit: Alamy
Echols was released in 2011. Credit: Alamy

Echols added: "You don't get used to being in prison in a single day, and you don't get used to being out of prison in a single day.

“For several months I was in a state of profound shock and trauma.

“I'd been in solitary confinement for 10 years, so I wasn't even used to having human interaction.

“As time has gone by it's gotten better and better."

Echols has since gone on to write about his experiences and has published his diaries in a book entitled Life After Death.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: US News, Crime, True Crime

Tom Wood
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