West Memphis Three Hearing to be Set Soon

Updated: Friday, 04 Mar 2011, 12:14 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 03 Mar 2011, 9:09 PM CST

West Memphis, Ark. - In Brief:
-WM3 granted a new evidentiary hearing in November 2010.
-Three 8-year old boys were brutally killed in West Memphis, Ark in 1993.
-Damien Echols is on death row, while Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin are serving life in prison for the murders.

A judge is expected to decide soon when a new evidentiary hearing should be held for the three convicted of killing 3 West Memphis cub scouts in 1993. All indications are the new hearing could be held this fall.

The West Memphis Three

Prosecutors say the murders were part of a satanic ritual.

Damien Echols is on death row while Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin are serving life in prison for the murders.

In November, the Supreme Court re-opened the case by granting the three a new evidentiary hearing that could prove to be more like a 'mini-trial.' Now a Jonesboro judge is getting ready to set a date for that hearing.

Victim’s Mother, Change of Heart

For the mother of one of the victim's, she says the case is just as much a part of every day conversation now as it was in 1993.

"Everything was totally different than what it looks like now," said Pam Hobbs.

Hobbs revisited the site where her 8-year old son, Stevie Branch, was found murdered in 1993. Branch, along with 8-year olds Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, were found naked and hogtied in a ditch in a field which was once covered in trees.

"In the beginning I felt those guys were guilty. I believed in my justice system, I had to heal. I’m at a healing point of acceptance and things weren't done right it was a rush to justice in the beginning," said Hobbs.

Hobbs isn't alone; since the verdicts, questions have loomed about the convictions.

Hobbs says she's been preparing herself to hear the evidence again and see the same people. Some of them she hasn't seen since the original trial.

"Having to live it over again, I don't have a problem having to go through all that again. I've become stronger over the years to deal with the out come of what the future may hold," said Hobbs.

Hobbs hopes the West Memphis Three do get a new trial so she will know who murdered her son, or who didn't.

"There's a great possibility they're innocent. Maybe our questions will be put to a rest, we'll know who did it. One thing's for sure, God knows. Whoever did it, they will pay for it, if not in this lifetime in the life hereafter," said Hobbs.

Demand for More DNA Testing

In the pre-trial brief filed last week, the defense claims the 3 were wrongfully convicted.

They plan to have expert testimony showing some of the victims’ injuries were caused by animals after their death rather than by a knife prosecutors alleged was used as part of a satanic killing. They say DNA testing from the scene excludes the boys.

The defense says the finding is significant because "at Echols’ 1994 trial, supposed hair matches were used to convince the jury he was at the scene. Now more advanced science shows those hairs were no match for Echols at all."

But the defense wants more DNA testing done on the victim's clothes and the wooden planks removed from the tree fort near the crime scene.

They also want the victims' shoelaces to be measured to determine which black shoelace was apparently cut in half to be used as a ligature. The defense says enough funds have been raised for the testing to be done at their expense.

The state doesn't lay out its case in the brief, but does argue no additional testing should be permitted, adding Echols never asked for it.

In the pre-trial briefing, the defense also suggests an expert the state relied on to testify on satanic cult behavior at the original trial got his masters and Ph.D. from a university that was later shut down for running a fraudulent diploma mill.

Defense’s Strategy

The defense plans to point the finger at Terry Hobbs, Stevie Branch's stepfather and Pam Hobbs' ex-husband. They claim there are three eyewitnesses who saw Terry Hobbs with the three children shortly before their murder.

In the brief, the defense says it plans to call Pam Hobbs to testify about Terry's "extremely suspicious" actions the following days. But Pam Hobbs, despite her previous position, doesn't think her ex-husband had anything to do with the murders.

"I don't think anyone needs to do what was done in the beginning and point fingers and say this one done it, voice our thoughts and theories, that's all they are," said Hobbs.

If a judge finds a jury could acquit based on the new evidence, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley will get a new trial.

Both Sides Agree on Joint Hearing

In the pre-trial brief the defense says, "The only thing truer than 'near certainty' in this case is there is so much uncertainty about virtually every aspect, multiple reasonable doubts necessarily abound and a new trial should surely be ordered."

Both prosecutors and the defense agree, a joint hearing for the West Memphis Three would be economical and convenient. The state says a hearing date should be scheduled at least nine months in advance to coordinate witnesses.

The defense suggests October, saying "because of Echols more desperate situation on death row, he cannot agree to any further continuance or adjournment of a hearing date that might push its conclusion to next year."

All attorneys in the case are under a gag order put into effect in January.