(My notes are in Yellow)
There is no evidence of blood or a weapon at the scene. The boys' bicycles and clothing were in the drainage ditch as well, effectively washing away any trace evidence that may have been present. The boys' clothing had been held down with sticks, but these were not taken in as evidence by authorities. (Six months later, police would find two sticks in the woods and claim they were the same sticks used to weigh down the boy's clothing.)Two pairs of the boy's underwear were also missing. The only blood present was where authorities had removed the bodies from the ditch. An area of the drainage ditch's bank and had deliberately cleared, and an impression of a tennis shoe was found. The boys were probably killed elsewhere and then dumped in the drainage ditch in an attempt to conceal evidence.
|Boys' Bikes, Mayfair Apartments in the background. Photo looking South.|
|Cloth found in hand of victim Christopher Byers|
(Cloth never admitted into evidence)
|Crime Scene 1|
|Crime Scene 2|
|Crime Scene 3|
|Sticks used to weigh down clothing|
But it did - and now Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are behind bars. Baldwin and Misskelley and both serving life sentences. Echols is on Death Row (I believe his sentence was based solely on his manner of dress rather than proof of his guilt).
Few towns as sparsely populated as West Memphis have to worry about homicide investigations. When a murder does occur, it is usually a domestic dispute turned ugly or a robbery gone wrong. The leads are often both numerous and obvious. A case like that of the West Memphis 3 is something a small-town cop will stumble upon perhaps once in his life - if at all. From the minute the boys' bodies were found, pontentially valuable evidence was destroyed, lost, or seemingly disregarded. Here is how the case of the West Memphis 3 - the child murders at Robinhood Hills - unfolded.
When word came out that the boys' bodies had been found, officers and curiousity seekers came out in droves. The WMPD had had no prior experience with such a horrendous crime, and as a result the crime scene was hopelessly compromised. Either through negligence or a lack of knowledge, the crime was not properly preserved, evidence not collected, and notes not taken. In the opening scenes of the documentary Paradise Lost, Chief Investigator Gary Gitchell can be seen smoking a cigarette - within the perimeter of the crime scene. Such foibles would compromise a complex investigation. (My question, did the HBO producers come out as soon as the bodies were found? Because there are bodies in the opening scenes. Did they use wax dummies to portray the bodies, or were they, in fact, there for the entire thing?)
One of the first mistakes made was the removal of the bodies from the creek bed before the arrival of Crittenden County coroner, Kent Hale. (Hale himself was nearly two hours late arriving at the scene.) Not only did prematurely removing the bodies from the drainage ditch destroy any possible evidence, it also exposed the bodies to sunlight and dry air, which can throw any estimation as to the time of death way off track. (Before the trial of Jessie Misskelley, the medical examiner would state that it was impossible to even estimate a time of death, because Hale had done such a poor job of supplying the necessary information. Through further research, however, the time of death was narrowed down to between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on May sixth.)
Secondly, investigators did not keep the facts of the crime scene confidential, most nostably the extent of the boys' injuries and the positions in which they were found. By withholding, for example, the mutiliation of Christopher Byers and the shoestring ligatures, police would have had key bits of information that would have helped them eliminate potential suspects. As it were, the information leaked to the general public caused rumors to begin flying, and eventually the media and the townspeople came to take erroneous information at truth. At first, it was believed that Christopher Byers had been emasculated, and that the act was carried out in a meticulous, tidy fashion. Adult human bitemarks on the boys' were initally mistaken as cuts and puncture wounds. Normal postmortem relaxation of the bodies' muscles was mistaken for evidence of sexual assault.
With the bodies discovered and the crime scene secured, so to speak, the search for suspects began with a vengeance. The day after the bodies were discovered, police questioned Damien Echols, then 18, for the first time. Echols voluntarily gave hair and blood samples for comparison - samples that were later lost by authorities.
It is believed that Damien Echols became a suspect in the Robinhood Hills murders because of the bias of the Crittenden County juvenile officer, Jerry Driver, whose past run-ins with Echols had somehow conviced him that Damien was a violent person, not to mention the leader of a non-existent local 'Satanic cult'. (See my post link here for more info on Satanism/Occult) Driver contacted the West Memphis police, and from there the investigation into Damien Echols took off.
The police had no real leads, no real clues, on which to base their investigation. In a rush to judgement and under intense pressure to solve the murders, they focused their attention on Echols. He professed his innocence, so the police began rounding up anyone and everyone who even hinted at knowing Echols. This is where Vicki Hutcheson comes into the picture.
Hutcheson had not lived in West Memhpis for very long before the crime occured, although her son Aaron was a playmate of Steven Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore. In fact, she had moved to West Memphis from Fayetville, Arkansas to avoid outstanding warrants for her arrest for bad checks. On the day the boys' bodies were discovered, Hutcheson was in the nearby Marioin, Arkansas police department for a polygraph test, after money had come up missing from the cash reigster at her place of employment. Her son was with her at the time of the test, and the officer conducting the test struck up a conversation with the little boy. Aaron Hutcheson told the officer, Don Bray, that the missing children were at 'the playhouse'. Bray called the West Memphis police and heard that the bodies had been found near where Aaron described.
However, when the police took the boy to the place where the playhouse was supposed to be, no playhouse was found. To complicate matters, Aaron also told police that he witnessed the murders, and described seeing men speaking Spanish in the woods. He also told authorities that he had seen John Mark Byers kill the boys. The boy could also not identify Jason, Damien, or Jessie from a line-up. His wild, ever-changing stories were eventually discredited, but not before his 'eye-witness account' could be leaked to the press.
Vicki Hutcheson was also a key player in the inital investigation of Damien Echols. She was told by the West Memphis police they would provide help with her own legal problems - if she would help them implicate Damien. She agreed to wear a wire, but her surveillance eventually proved fruitless. Damien never said a word to Hutcheson about the murders. Hutcheson also urged her young son to help with police with the investigation. The boy claimed to have been in the Robinhood Hills on May 5th, and told police he saw people speaking Spanish and riding motorcycles. The boy also told police that he had escaped by kicking the people in the woods and then running. Although he agreed with officers that Damien Echols had killed the three victims, police decided the boy was spinning tall tales and gave up on any reliable information. The boy's mother, Vicki Hutcheson, would also claim to have attended Esbats (which are pagan holiday celebrations,) with Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley. Due to the ignorance of Hutcheson and the police, this was taken to mean that Vicki had attended cult meetings or Satanic rituals with the boys. After the trials were complete, she would say that on the night of the alleged Esbat she was so drunk that she woke up in her front yard and may have dreamed the entire incident. All of this brings us to the involvement of Jessie Misskelley, Jr.
According to Misskelley's attorney, Dan Stidham, Jessie was only four years old when he and his severely retarded older brother were abandoned by their mother. Jessie's father, Jessie Sr., went on to raise Jessie by himself, after the older brother was institutionalized. Jessie Jr. was later diagnosed as mentally retarded, and tests conducted after his arrest for the murders of Chris Byers, Michael Moore, and Steven Branch indicate that he functions at the level of a five year old child. His reading level, however, is considered severely retarded; his overall IQ tests in the range of 72. Further testing indicates that due to his handicap, Jessie was not able to understand any part of his Miranda Rights, which require a sixth grade reading level.
|Sketch of Area|
|Aerial View of Area in 1993, North is the top of the photo.|
View Larger Map
Furthermore, Jessie did not tell the police anything they didn't already know. His statements were led by the investigators in an attempt to coerce an admission of guilt. When the police were able to truly coerce Jessie, they did so by showing this boy who had been diagnosed as mentally retarded, a picture of one of the boys. In Paradise Lost, evidence that he was questioned for 12 hours, but only the last 45 minutes were recorded.
In the states defense of the interrogation, regarding the time the crime was committed, the police said, "he got confused". I doubt that.