'West Memphis Three' Go Free After 18 Years

They strike deal with prosecutors in 1993 murders
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2011 12:38 PM CDT
West Memphis Three Go Free: They Strike Deal With Prosecutors in 1993 Murders
A prison file photo of Damien Echols.   (AP Photo/Arkansas Department of Correction, File)

(Newser) – Three men in Arkansas imprisoned 18 years for murders they insist they didn't commit struck a deal with prosecutors today and will walk out of jail, reports the Commercial Appeal. The West Memphis Three—Damien Echols, 36, Jason Baldwin, 34, and Jessie Misskelley, 36—actually pleaded guilty to the killings and will get out based on time served. A rarely-used law allowed them to maintain their innocence in the high-profile case, which drew supporters such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks to their side. Echols had been on death row.

The men say they were convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys in 1993 as part of a satanic ritual because police coerced a confession out of Misskelley, who the Appeal says is thought to be mentally challenged. "If you go through with this, you're going to open Pandora's Box," the father of one of the young victims shouted to the judge as the deal was being read. "You're wrong, Your Honor. You can stop it right now before you do it." Police escorted him from the courtroom. NPR notes that new DNA evidence had raised questions about the men's guilt. (Read more West Memphis Three stories.)

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