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West Memphis Three: Free At Last

The West Memphis 3 have been set free after 18 years in prison, but justice still has not been served. The West Memphis 3 have been set free after 18 years in prison, but justice still has not been served.

By now you have probably heard that the West Memphis Three have been set free from prison. The case of the West Memphis Three was one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice in the US, and celebrities including Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Steve Earle lent their support to cry out on behalf of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were originally sentenced to death, in Echols’ case, or life in prison plus 40 years for Baldwin and Misskelley (for the definitive story of the west Memphis Three, check out the documentaries Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2). However, although this is good news, justice has still not been served, and the injustice of the West Memphis Three defendants having spent their adult lives in prison may never be addressed.

First of all, the conditions of the release of the West Memphis Three are far from exonerating them. Rather than having been proclaimed innocent, the three were allowed to change their pleas and leave prison on probation. This is just a few months in advance of a new hearing that was to determine whether the men deserved a new trial based on DNA evidence that could clear their names.

In other words, the state of Arkansas thinks it found a way to keep itself from being shamed for wrongfully imprisoning three kids. But to the public, the shame can’t be shifted that easily. Everyone knows the West Memphis Three were innocent. This move by the courts just keeps their mistake from becoming official.

And then there’s the case of the three 8-year-olds who were murdered. Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley took the fall for those murders, but the real killer has yet to be brought to justice. With the Casey Anthony fiasco in the headlines earlier this summer, the USA looks like it’s having a real problem bringing child-killers to justice. Not to mention the fact that the West Memphis Three were all teenagers at the time of their imprisonment 18 years ago, which means you’ve got a whole bunch of kids’ lives ruined, and no justice for any of it.

And that’s the most frustrating thing – the injustice. There’s some way in which we, as a society are able to cope with the fact that murder is never going away, that there have been evil people since the beginning of time. But we do expect the systems we’ve put in place to protect us to work - to deliver retribution, punishment, or rehabilitation, as the case may be. But when you see cases like the West Memphis Three or Casey Anthony, you can’t help but lose faith. And that level of frustration is difficult to bear. It makes you feel unsafe. It’s depressing enough to live in a world filled with evil without having to cope with the fact that it will often go unchecked.

But for today, let’s try to focus on the positive: The West Memphis Three – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley – are free at last. Here’s hoping they can find some peace in all this.

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Paradise Lost is the definitive documentary about the case of the West Memphis Three.
Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 15:06

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