The West Memphis Three, a trio of men who have been in jail since 1993 after being accused of killing three second-graders, have been freed. According to the Los Angeles Times, defendants Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin “pleaded guilty to the murders of three 8-year-old boys in May 1993, but are able to claim they are innocent, an arrangement known as an 'Alford plea.'” They were released from prison today.
Over the years, musicians such as the members of Alkaline Trio, Henry Rollins and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder have expressed their support for the WM3, as they are commonly known. Rage Against The Machine's Zach De La Rocha is another huge supporter of the three–and coincidentally, earlier today, AP was interviewing musician/activist/Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello as news broke that the West Memphis Three had been released.
“I’ve seen the documentaries on [the WM3 case],” Morello exclusively told AP. “I don’t really know much about the case, so I’m not really going to weigh in one way or the other. The one thing that did seem clear to me was that there was certainly a lot of prejudice in the courtroom, against particularly that one young man [Damien Echols], because of his lifestyle. There seemed to be some prejudicial stuff that went on because it was an alternative kid.”
More musician responses are trickling in via Twitter. The Swellers’ Jonathan Diener tweeted:
Stoked about the West Memphis Three being freed. 18 years for nothing is so terrible. Hope their lives can get back on track.
Said rapper Sage Francis:
Sending my best to the West Memphis 3… Watch “Paradise Lost” if u haven't already. #wm3 #MiscarriageOfJustice
Henry Rollins tweeted using big letters:
WEST MEMPHIS THREE. FIND OUT ALL YOU CAN. BIG DAY.
AP reported on the popular Free The West Memphis Three movement in 2002, when Rollins assembled an all-star tribute album, Rise Above: Twenty-Four Black Flag Songs To Benefit The West Memphis Three. As AP wrote at the time:
In 1994, The West Memphis Three — Jason Baldwin, the unfortunately named Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley — were convicted of a triple murder, largely due to their enthusiasm for Metallica, Stephen King, black clothes and tattoos. No physical evidence linked them to the crime.
HBO’s 1996 documentary Paradise Lost documented the case and trial, capturing a story of what appears to be a forced confession, compromised investigation and biased judicial process. The controversial events took place against the backdrop of a panic-gripped community whose rumor mill cast the WM3—who were then scrawny teenagers—as the ringleaders of a Satanic cult whose black magic allegedly culminated in the grisly massacre of three eight-year-old boys. Waiting through appeal processes, Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life sentences, and Echols faces a death sentence.
Burk Sauls co-founded the Free The West Memphis Three Support Fund, which maintains WM3.org. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me they looked at this case, and they say, ‘This is like a witch hunt,’” said Sauls. “And my response is, ‘This is exactly a witch hunt.’ They even use the word ‘witch.’”
Rollins became aware of the case through Paradise Lost and its 1999 sequel, which follows the story as Arkansas courts decline to consider newly discovered evidence that might exonerate Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley. “I saw that, and I thought, if I don’t try and do something about this, then I’m as fucked up as the people who put them away,” Rollins told AP.
Producer Rollins and his team recruited a lineup including members of Slipknot, Slayer, Ryan Adams and Hank Williams III.
“I could relate,” said Williams, “because of the kind of people [the WM3] were around, and I’ve been in those small towns. And that’s predominantly in the Bible belt, and everybody knows everybody, and this is right, and that’s wrong, and that’s how it is.”