Memphis Three


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Memphis Three

  1. 1. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis ThreeTori Kelly24 March 2012CJ251 CriminalisticsDr. Donald McCoy KGA CHAIN OF CUSTODY AND PRESERVATION OF EVIDENCE EXONERATION OF THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE 1
  2. 2. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis Three Abstract:In 1993, authorities discovered three missing eight-year-oldboysmutilated in the woods of WestMemphis. The next day, three teenage youths were prime suspects, later to be convicted of themurders. Seventeen years later the evidence that put these men behind bars wascontested,resulting in their release from prison. So what went wrong? The system?The evidence?Or thechain of custody and preservation of that evidence? Analysis of the case reveals the answer tothese questions creatingan even bigger question: Does our system really work? 2
  3. 3. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis Three Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were last seen together on 5May 1993. On May 6, 1993, the town of West Memphis, Arkansas was horrified by thediscovery of the mutilated bodies of these three eight-year-old boys. The town put so muchpressure on law enforcement to solve the case those three teenage youths, Damien Echols, JessieMisskelley and Jason Baldwin were brought in for questioning the next day. This pacified thecitizens and alleviated the heavy burden put upon the police. In 1994, all three youths were triedand convicted of these murders. Then, after seventeen years of incarceration, these young menwere finally able to prove their innocence. Analysis of this case reveals why they were unjustlysentenced to prison to begin with, and what evidential factors aided in their release(WestMemphis Three , 2012). The citizens of West Memphis were convinced this atrocity could have only been committedby devil-worshipers. Unfortunately, Damien Echols who listened to then considered satanicmusic and practiced the Wicca religion, fit the profile. Several weeks later, his friend JessieMisskelley confessed to the murders, implicating Jason Baldwin as well. Rumors of Satanicrituals abounded this community and the press fed into their suspicions of these threeadolescents, with stories of satanic scandals occurring on a regular basis. Only circumstantialevidence, rumors, and the coerced confession of a mentally challenged youth, interrogated to thepoint of exhaustion, were all prosecutors had to charge these young men withmurder.Unfortunately then, that was all they needed(West Memphis Three , 2012). During the trial, defense attorneys are denied attempts to dismiss evidence on grounds thattheir admission was improper. Crime Lab Criminalist Lisa Skevicius testified that fiber samplestaken from the Baldwin and Echol homes would be of minimal evidentiary value because thevictims’ clothing were retrieved from the water, thus making a match inconclusive.Furthermore, items of said clothing were described as having been hung to dry in offices of thepolice department, thus leaving them vulnerable to tampering(West Memphis Three , 2012). 3
  4. 4. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis Three Three sticks found at the crime scene were admitted on grounds that they could have beenused to inflict injuries, though these were never forensically connected to the accused. A knifefound by an Arkansas State Police scuba diver in the lake behind Baldwin’s residence wasadmitted, as well as testimony as to the manner in which it was found, despite the fact that it wasirrelevant because it could not be connected to Baldwin or the crimes(West Memphis Three ,2012). Testimony was admitted concerning the allegation or theory that sexual assault could haveinvolved, due to castration of one of the victims, despite the fact that stronger evidence indicatedthis could have been a result of animal predation. It is known that wildlife will consume thesoftest parts of the body firstbefore decomposition occurs. This factor was also attributed to theslash marks found on the victims as possible claw marks by defense that prosecution linked to aknife, based on Dr. Frank Peretti’s testimony that some of the knives shown to him could haveinflicted the wounds he viewed on all three bodies. He also indicated that he did not detect anysperm consistent with sexual activity(West Memphis Three , 2012). The evidence, though improperly processed, was enough to convince twelve West Memphiscitizens of the town’s suspicions concerning these three juveniles. Damien Echols spentseventeen years on death row professing his innocence and repeatedly denied appeals. JessieMisskelley was denied attempts to have his confession suppressed and spent seventeen years ofhis life sentence without parole professing his innocence. Jason Baldwin spent seventeen yearsof a life sentence with parole after 40 years professing his innocence. Five years after all threemen’s outcries of injustice, thousands of Americans, including criminal justice professionalsbegin to finally listen, and are convinced they were wrongfully tried and convicted(WestMemphis Three , 2012). 4
  5. 5. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis Three In 2001 (7 years later), Baldwin moved to preserve evidence and have access to it forretesting. Ark. Code Ann. 116-112-201 entitles him to the issuance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus.Echols motions for DNA testing in 2002. Misskelly files similar motions on his behalf. Being asthe State has had custody of this evidence and the testing sought here was not available asevidence at the time of the trial, all three motions were granted in accordance with Ark. CodeAnn. 16-112-202(a)(1)(A) and because chain of custody could be established (Ark Code Ann.16-112-202(b)(2)) in order to show that it has not been substituted, tampered with, replaced oraltered (b)(1)(West Memphis Three , 2012). In 2009, the evidence was reevaluated in court. As it turns out, the knife acquired belonged toJohn Mark Byers, stepfather of one of the victims Chris Byers, and he could not account forblood found on it matching the victim. Dr. Duke Jennings testified rebuttal as to Dr. Peretti’sreported time of death of the victims, which gives Jason Baldwin alibi as having been in schoolduring the killings. Trace Evidence Section Supervisor testified that the fiber analysis in 1993was considered limited by today’s standards. Two hair fibers found at the scene matched DNA ofTerry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch and David Jacoby, who visited Hobbs about anhour before the murders. In essence, none of the retested evidence had any DNA belonging to thethree young men who served time for a crime someone else had actually committed. Though the scope of this analysis strongly emphasizes the misrepresentation of evidence, thepurpose is to demonstrate the critical significance of proper chain of custody and preservation ofthat evidence. Had the items not followed the proper chain while in the State’s custody andpreserved for the amount of time these young men served in prison, they would still be there.Worse yet, Damien Echols could have been unjustly executed, and the killers would never bebrought to justice. 5
  6. 6. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis Three While our justice system is not perfect, this case demonstrates that following a proper chainof custody of evidence protocol is critical. While on the one hand the chain was breeched withitems of clothing in the original case and today would be inadmissible, it is because of that, thatit was questionable during retrial. Once the State had possession of the evidence, had it notfollowed proper chain or been properly stored and preserved, none of it could have beenreintroduced for the purpose it served in this case. Once evidence is collected at the scene, it is essential that with every change of possession, itremains sealed and custody documented. Ideally a third impartial party should sign for it fromthe evidence tech in order to establish lack of motive for tampering prior to delivery to the lab.Once analyzed by the lab technician, it should then be resealed and signed over for properstorageand preservation until trial. Once signed out of storage, the resealed evidence is to remain so andresigned in to storage after trial. Each change of custody should indicate who, what, where, when and why the evidence isbeing handled. Evidence is not to be left unattended for any reason at any time, otherwise itbecomes inadmissible in court. The only authorized personnel allowed to handle evidence shouldbe limited to individuals not directly involved in the case. This alleviates any motive fortampering. A third party should be designated to bring or remove evidence from the crime labfor purposes of trial. In addition, in order to maintain the integrity of all evidence, a log is to bekept with the required information and match that which is on the label as well. The importance of following proper protocol regarding the handling of evidence is invaluablein order to maintain justice. As in this case, future technology not yet foreseen could exoneratemany more falsely accused as well as properly convict those who are actually guilty; making ourjustice system that much more successful. 6
  7. 7. Kelly-Exoneration of The West Memphis ThreeReferences:West Memphis Three . (2012). Retrieved Mar 17, 2012, from Baldwin Petition in Case Documents Forum: set in West Memphis Three Case. (2011). Retrieved Mar 28, 2012, from Arkansas Blog: three-case 7