Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., known as the “West Memphis Three,” were 18, 16, and 17 years old, respectively, when they were arrested for killing three young boys in Robin Hood Hills, Arkansas, in 1993. Mr. Echols, a self-described Wiccan who wore all Black and listened to heavy metal, was convicted and sentenced to death. Mr. Misskelley, a mentally challenged youth from whom police obtained a confession after a 12-hour interrogation, and 16-year-old Jason Baldwin, were sentenced to life imprisonment. All three consistently asserted they were innocent. On August 19, 2011, after new forensic testing showed that DNA evidence at the crime scene did not match any of the three, they appeared in court and continued to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty in exchange for time served.
The three teens were convicted in 1994 amid a nationwide panic about satanic cult activity among teenagers. Documentaries, books, and benefit concerts brought national attention to the case, but appeals failed until last November, when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that new forensic test results required a hearing to determine whether to grant a new trial.
Since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.