Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Act of Freedom

Hello fellow bloggers, readers and passers-by,
It was a cloudy day outside the Craighead County Courtroom as news channels arrived with their eager reporters ready to catch the breaking news of the short notice hearing of the West Memphis Three. But for many, it would be a waiting game, relying on tweets, texts and iphone radio apps to hear what was being said inside the courtroom. Though it was a public hearing, seating was especially limited and only a few citizens were able to make it in time to get a seat. While I was not one of the lucky few, a chance meeting with a lady from Paragould would see to it I stayed informed.

     Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing her and getting the details that many were not privvy to. The following is the interview between myself and April Pillow, a resident of Greene County.

LE: Hello.
AP: Hello, How are you today?
LE: I'm doing ok. I'm, I'm trying to, trying to just still get a grip on the whole thing. It's, it's been very, very surreal almost.
AP: I know (inaudible). You know last night they was [sic] in Memphis, did you see that?

Freed West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, high atop
Madison Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee 8/19/2011

LE: Yes I did, and I saw some pictures on line from it. Did, did you see the picture of, of Damien on  top of the roof at the hotel?
AP: No, I wish you'd send it to me.
LE: It's, I think, I think I posted it on my wall, if you will go to my Facebook page and look on my wall, I think I posted it on there.
AP: ok. Does he look happy?
LE: Oh he does. He, well, you remember, I can't remember if it was in an interview that he'd done outside of the documentary or if it was on the documentary, but he had said the only thing he wanted, the thing that he missed the most was seeing the stars at night. And, the sun was setting it was such a beautiful, just a beautiful sunset, and you could see the bridge in the background and, oh it was just, it was, it was a very beautiful picture - it was breath-taking.
LE: ok. Well, uh, let's go ahead and get started.

AP: ok
LE: um, can you describe the trial room for me, what did it, um, what was it like in there, as far as the lighting?
AP: It was really bright. It was very quiet as they come in. Everybody was real calm and uh, acted really good.
LE: ok. So there weren't any um, you know like, no outbursts from, from people sitting in the room.

Steven Branch, SR in 1993

AP: Uh, yes.  At the end, Steven Branches dad screamed, "You're opening up Pandora's box" (inaudible) … screamed to the judge.  And then another man was escorted out that was sitting there with Branch, and then a woman was escorted out after she screamed something out. She said "this is Bull [expletive]" is what she said.
LE: ok.
AP: I'm sorry.
LE: no, no {laughs} that's ok. I can put an expletive censor in there.  Can you tell me what the mood was like for the defendants? Did any of the West Memphis Three, um, were they very calm, were they relaxed, what can you tell me about their mood?
AP: They were very calm, but they looked very, very sad when they had to say that they were guilty. They all, every one of them said "I am innocent of this crime, but I am pleading guilty to get out of jail. And uh, (inaudible) looked sad. You know even though they were happy they were getting out, it was a sad day they were having [sic] to plead guilty to something they didn't do.
LE: ok.  And I know I asked you outside the courtroom yesterday uh, but would you tell me again, did the defendants appear healthy?  Were they, did they look, uh, in your opinion, did they look mentally fatigued or did they carry any type of ambiance of depression or would you say overall they looked healthy?
AP: I mean – they looked tired (Inaudible)… I really don't know how to explain it. They looked exhausted. (Inaudible) They looked good physically, but then you could tell they just looked exhausted from all of this.
LE: ok. And you mentioned that someone got upset in the court room. That was Stevie Branches father, Steven?
AP: yeah
LE: And you said another man and a woman.
AP: yeah, that was with him. He was warned before. I was standing there when the police officer came up to him and said the judge said that if you make any outbursts you'll have to leave the entire courthouse (inaudible) you better be good. No, it was Pam Hobbs that walked up to them and said that. She said, you better be good while we're in there. He just shook his head. And he sat there with his arms crossed the entire time we were in there. He had the look of, I don't know, maybe an 'I'll kill you look'. It was just this wild crazy look on his face.
LE: ok. And that was Steven Branch that done that?
AP: yes
LE: and, how did the defendants react to the disturbance, were they shocked?
AP: Damien put his head down and shook his head. Jason and Jessie just looked straight forward. Damien just shook his head and they patted him on the back and said, "Don't worry about it" … and they escorted him out – they actually threw him right out of the courtroom.
LE: OK. And what about other members of the victim’s families, I know um, Mark Byers was there in the courtroom, did he, um, did he express any type of sympathy for any of the defendants?
AP: He didn't. He was just quiet.
LE: Just quiet?
AP: yeah, he was quiet. At the very end of the hearing, after they had said they were being released, Pam Hobbs' daughter had got up to go walk out of the courtroom and the judge told them to sit back down.
AP: Which I thought that was kind of, I don't know. Thank God for that Judge though, thank God for  that Judge.
LE: so your opinion of Judge Laser was very high.
AP: yes it is.
LE: Alright.  That leads me to my next question, what was the Judge's demeanor like? Did he, in regards to the case, did he seem to show concern for the entire issue or did it appear as though he had already decided before everyone had come into the room, did it look like he had already decided how he would carry the opinion of the court?
AP: It looked like he had already decided what was going to happen. Of course, they had the closed session right beforehand. But um, he was very sympathetic to both sides. He thanked the all of the people who had come together for the West Memphis 3 and he thanked everyone for standing behind them. Then he apologized to the families and said there is no way that (inaudible) … was just really good to everybody.
LE: OK.   Alright, um, what were the attorney's demeanors? Did anyone from the state appear angered or kind of confused at the entire thing?
AP: yeah, I don't know his name, but I seen him on an interview last night. Um, he's the one that read the charges out loud in the courtroom and he just seemed aggravated, really aggravated. And he was just kind of whispering and the judge said speak up, you know and he started talking a little bit loud and, uh, he just didn't sound very nice about it.
LE: ok, but you don't remember his name?
AP: I don't remember his name. I know he gave an interview right after the hearing -- was right before the boys came out and the parents came out.
LE: And um, in what order did the defendants go before the judge when they made the plea?
AP: Damien, Jason and then Jessie.
LE: ok
AP: the judge asked Jessie, did your attorney read everything aloud to you and explain things to you. He made it, he kind of put an emphasis on it, do you understand what you’re doing, you know and Jessie said, yes sir.
LE: ok. Do you think that maybe Judge Laser had done that because of the issue with his being mentally retarded and because of his low IQ?
AP: I do. I do. Yes, that is what it appeared to me exactly.
LE: alright. And were any of the defendant’s emotion, did any of them show tears?
AP: They did not.
LE: No tears?
AP: They did not. No they were all straight-faced. The only time any emotion was shown was when Steven Branch made the outburst screaming and yelling, and Damien just looked down at the ground and shook his head.
LE: ok. And um, I know that you said this earlier, but I'm just now to that question, but did the defendants say anything in their defense?
AP: they – every one of them said I am innocent of this charge, but I am going to plead guilty to get out of prison. And they all said it, they were very sad. I mean you could tell on their faces they didn't want to do that (inaudible).
LE: ok, and after the hearing is over, after they have made their plea, did any of them seem happy or relieved. Could you see a change in their facial expression or their moods?
AP:  Jason and Jessie were both smiling as big as they could. But um, I think it upset Damien when Stevie Branch's dad said that, and it was just right before they announced the verdict and um, he was just, I don't know how to explain, just exhausted or fed up maybe, I don't know.
LE: ok, alright. And what would you say was the most vivid image for you of their day in court. If you could pick one scene, if you can try to describe it to me and tell me what you felt when you seen it.
AP: My favorite image was when all three of them walked out of the courtroom. Even though Jessie went one way, he went across the street to the old courthouse.
LE: sure.
AP: and Jason and Damien, when they came out they were just smiling and it was just great! That was my favorite part.
LE: Great. Now, just a couple of opinion questions for you. Do you believe the Alford plea was the best option for them based on what you know about the case and how the case has kind of taken a turn with the trial that was scheduled for December?
AP: It was the only option for them. (Inaudible) I thank God for it. I hate that they had to admit they were guilty but they all said in court, I'm innocent. I'm pleading guilty to get out of prison (inaudible).
LE: Suppose they hadn't taken the plea, do you believe they would have been released in December following the evidentiary hearing? Or do you think that the state does have enough to possible get a second conviction?
AP: No. I don't think they have enough to get a second conviction. I don't think they had enough to get a first conviction.
LE: ok. And was anything said in court by the three that you'd like to share with the readers. Anything the press, you feel should have reported on more. I've seen a lot of references of 'if they say they are guilty, they are guilty'. Do you think the media could have highlighted they maintain their innocence even though they had to plead guilty.
AP: not really, I mean, the media, everything that I've seen, they are pretty much saying that, you know, they said they are innocent.  
LE:  ok. Are there any final statements that you would like to make about the events that happened in Jonesboro yesterday?
AP: Thank God for Judge Laser.

     April was a godsend in obtaining this information and I thank her very much for the interview. As I told her in a thank you letter, "The views you described sound wonderful and the thought of being a part of history in the making is a very surreal moment that many do not have the pleasure of experiencing, but those who do cherish them for decades." While many may feel this was not a part of history, I beg to differ. All too often I've heard this country leans towards freeing the guilty before jailing the innocent. Finally, after 18 years, the innocent have been freed!

     Until tomorrow,

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