The West Memphis Three: Key Takeaways from one of Arkansas's Infamous Murder Cases

In 1993, three 8 year old boys (Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and Steve Branch) from West Memphis, Arkansas were found murdered and floating in a nearby creek. It was a horrifying crime that not only shocked the people of Arkansas, but astounded many individuals across the U.S. 

After a police investigation, three teenage boys were arrested and charged with murder. Dubbed as the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly, were found guilty for the murder of the three children. Echols received the death penalty for leading the attack, while Baldwin and Misskelly received life in prison.

However, the legal system has changed drastically since 1993. After advanced DNA testing in the late 2000s proved that none of the three teenagers had DNA evidence present at the crime scene, they were released in 2011

The criminal law field has learned a great deal from this treacherous crime, despite the true killer remaining at large. Here’s how the West Memphis Three case has influenced the legal system:


Issues Surrounding Eyewitness Testimonies

A human’s memory is a fickle thing. Sometimes, people don’t remember details as clearly as they think they do…especially during a police interrogation. 



Trauma, stress, and crime scene details can be heavily distressing to individuals, which can result in memory issues. While the legal court system still uses eyewitnesses today, there are many additional factors, such as DNA evidence, that help the jury reach a guilty verdict. But during the West Memphis Three trial, the prosecutor relied on eyewitness testimonies to convict the defendants. 


In regards to the West Memphis Three, an eight-year old boy named Aaron and his mother, Vicki Hutcheson, gave testimonies that would paint the three teenagers as guilty — despite no physical DNA evidence that any of the accused defendants were involved in the crime scene. 


The Problem With Polygraphs

A polygraph exam is the same as a lie detector test — which examines an individual’s fear response rather than their truth. 

Knowing this, if you were given a polygraph by the police, would you be able to pass, despite your innocence? Or would you be marked as guilty because you were fearful of law officers? 



In today’s society, most courts require substantial evidence outside of a polygraph test to determine a defendant's verdict. But back in the 90’s, when the West Memphis Three were arrested, the jury used their polygraph results to issue a guilty verdict. 


Lack Of DNA Evidence

During the court trial of the West Memphis Three, DNA testing wasn’t advanced like it is today. But in 2007, the DNA found on the three boys was tested, and nothing matched the three defendants who were accused of the boys’ murder. 



When this was discovered, the Arkansas Supreme Court accepted plea deals from each member of the West Memphis Three in 2011, setting them free from a lifetime (or death sentence) in prison. Even members of the victims’ family supported the release of the West Memphis Three, given the lack of evidence that the three teenagers committed the crime. 


Hickey & Hull Lawyers Are Dedicated To Fight For Client’s Rights

Arkansas court officials, judges, and lawyers have studied and learned from the case of the West Memphis Three. With questionable polygraphs, eyewitness testimonies, and no DNA evidence, the defendants may have had a fighting chance in a modern day courtroom. 

Never let yourself go to a criminal trial without legal representation. Contact the lawyers at Hickey & Hull today and let our professionals fight for a fair trial in court.