Monday, August 22, 2011

West Memphis Three Released

Not all occultists remember the case of the West Memphis Three, but we should. When three young boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993 police investigators became caught up in what turned out to be one the last gasps of the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" panic. They identified three teenagers who had previously been in trouble with the law based on a rumor that one of the three had an interest in the occult, then obtained a confession from another after twelve hours of interrogation. The teen who gave the confession immediately recanted, claiming that he was coerced and threatened. Out of the twelve hours of questioning only the 46 incriminating minutes were recorded.

Prosecutors went to trial with what any reasonable person would consider a very weak case. They had no physical evidence linking the three teens to the murders, no murder weapon, and the only motive they proposed was "Satanic ritual," even though no evidence of anything occult was found at the scene. They managed to find a woman who claimed one of the teens had admitted killing the boys at a Wiccan meeting, but she could not remember anyone else who had been present or even where the meeting had taken place. Years later she would allege that police had threatened to have her child taken away unless she told them what they wanted to hear, and admit that she had made up the whole story. Despite all this, the teens were convicted of the murders.

After years of fruitless appeals and legal challenges the three were finally able to work out a deal with prosecutors that resulted in their release from prison after more than eighteen years. They changed their original pleas from "not guilty" to "no contest" in return for a sentence reduction to the eighteen years they had already served. Prosecutors likely took the deal because a new trial would require them to deal with more recent evidence, such as their witness recanting her testimony and new testing that shows none of the DNA evidence gathered at the scene match any of the three defendants, and the three likely took it because it meant getting out of prison right away instead of spending another year or more that a new trial could take.

The prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington, said in an interview that the state still considered the men guilty and that, new DNA findings notwithstanding, he knew of no current suspects.

“We don’t think that there is anybody else,” Mr. Ellington said, declaring the case closed.

Asked how he could free murderers if he believed they were guilty, he acknowledged that the three would likely be acquitted if a new trial were held, given the prominent lawyers now representing them, the fact that evidence has decayed or disappeared over time and the death or change of heart of several witnesses. He also expressed concern that if the men were exonerated at trial, they could sue the state, possibly for millions.

So is this finally the end of the "Satanic panic?" Let's all hope so, especially those of us who study occultism and are open to the public about it. These days one would like to think that a case like the one prosecutors brought in the West Memphis Three murders would never result in a conviction, but the fact is that many people still see the occult as something scary and criminal even if all you are interested in doing is reading books on esoteric subjects. And some of those same people can wind up on juries.

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2 comments:

Jack Faust said...

That trial was an abortion of Justice, and may have involved perjury and Juror Bias. The teen who confessed? He was borderline mentally retarded and only confessed after twelve hours of harassment by the Police. At the time he was a minor.

Ananael Qaa said...

Yeah, the whole case was just terrible. I spent awhile studying it a few years back and never came across anything that suggests the defendants committed the murders. You have a coerced confession and coerced testimony, and once you take those away you pretty much have nothing aside from a bunch of moral panic nonsense. The real killer is almost certainly still out there, unless they're dead at this point or in jail for another crime.