Rally at the Arkansas Capitol Wednesday Will Urge Governor and Attorney General to Help Free the ‘West Memphis Three’
Community leaders, supporters and Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines will speak and deliver hundreds of letters and petitions asking elected officials to review the overwhelming evidence of innocence and help secure justice
(LITTLE ROCK, AR; December 17, 2007) – In an unprecedented statement of community support for the men who were wrongfully convicted of murdering three West Memphis boys in 1993, local leaders and community members will deliver hundreds of letters and petitions to the State Capitol at a rally Wednesday in Little Rock.
A cross-section of Arkansans launched the letter-writing campaign and petition drive last month in response to overwhelming new scientific evidence showing that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin did not commit the 1993 West Memphis murders. That evidence – which includes substantial DNA testing, analysis on other evidence from the nation’s leading forensic science experts, and affidavits from several witnesses and experts – was included in an over 700-page federal court filing in late October on behalf of Echols, who has been on death row for more than 13 years.
“Arkansans of all ages, races and political affiliations, and from every part of the state, have written letters urging the Governor and Attorney General to review this evidence carefully and help overturn these wrongful convictions. The science clearly shows that these three men are innocent, and now the citizens of this state are clearly telling our elected officials that we want them to respect the evidence,” said Capi Peck, a small business owner in Little Rock who is coordinating the campaign.
Community leaders and concerned citizens will gather at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Arkansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial and unfurl a large banner with thousands of postcards from people around the world who support the West Memphis Three. At noon, they will arrive at the front steps of the State Capitol for a rally urging Governor Mike Beeebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to help overturn the convictions. After the rally, hundreds of letters and petitions will be delivered to Beebee’s office. Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines will speak at the rally, engage in a brief Q&A and help deliver the letters and petitions to Beebe.
“I am humbled and honored to join thousands of Arkansans from all walks of life who have come together in support of justice and fairness,” Maines said. “These men were convicted based on fear and innuendo, but they will be freed based on science and evidence. "I hope elected officials will listen to the community and follow the evidence, and Wednesday’s rally will deliver that message loud and clear.”
Organizers said the Arkansas Take Action campaign puts a formal structure onto a community movement that has been building over the last couple of months, since new evidence in the case began to emerge. “The more ordinary Arkansans hear about the new evidence in this case, the more outraged they are – and the more committed they are to do something about it. This campaign grew out of conversations we’ve all been having in our own living rooms, shops and restaurants over the last several weeks,” Peck said.
Nearly 2,000 people wrote letters or signed petitions in the first three weeks of the campaign. Following are brief excerpts from a few of the letters:
"I am a 56-year-old professor of English who has taught at UALR for the past 27 years and raised my children in this state, and I do not make a habit of getting involved in "causes" or "movements." However, I believe a terrible injustice has occurred in our state, one that has not only damaged our state's reputation but also deprived three young men of their freedom."
David from Little Rock, Arkansas
"Having served my country in Iraq, having fought to bring justice in a foreign land, I am shocked at the injustice that surrounds the case of the West Memphis Three."
Troy from Cincinnati, Ohio
"Please do what prosecutors did not bother to do in the first place: follow the evidence. Please show the world that Arkansas is not a joke, and that we do know how to do what's right. Please, show some courage and insight. At the very least, please insist upon a new trial."
Marck from Little Rock, Arkansas
"With DNA evidence exonerating more and more falsely convicted prisoners each day, you have even more of a reason to grant these men the benefit of such research in their case. Please let the scientific facts already present in their dockets be examined and speak for themselves. Our justice system owes it to them to listen to the expert witnesses who have examined the case."
Megan from Seattle, Washington
Logistical details for Wednesday’s rally at the State Capitol
What: Rally to urge Governor Beebe and Attorney General McDaniel to support efforts the free the West Memphis Three (followed by delivery of hundreds of letters and petitions). Naltalie Maines will do a brief Q&A with reporters.
Who: Arkansas Take Action campaign leaders;
Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks; will hold brief press conference
Where: Supporters will gather at the Arkansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Southwest corner lawn in front of the State Capitol;
Rally will be on the front steps of the State Capitol.
When: Wednesday, December 19, 2007;
Supporters will gather by 11:00; rally begins at 12 noon.
Contact: Alice Leeds, 212-874-0675; 917-523-5029
About the West Memphis Three case and the new evidence
On October 30, a 500-page writ was filed in federal court in Little Rock by Echols’ attorneys. It included overwhelming new evidence that Echols is innocent. (While the filing pertains only to the case of Echols, who is on death row, it also shows that Misskelley and Baldwin were wrongfully convicted.) The filing included DNA test results on dozens of pieces of evidence in the case – which showed no link to the three men who were convicted, but did implicated Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims. The filing also included in-depth analysis from some of the nation’s leading forensic experts, showing that wounds on one of the victims was caused by animal bites after the murders (not from knives, as the prosecution had contended). Affidavits from several witnesses and experts in the filing contradict every piece of evidence that was used to convict the three men.
Three eight-year-old boys were found dead in a drainage ditch in Robin Hood Hills, a local wooded area near their homes, on May 6, 1993. Less than a month later, 17-year-old Jesse Misskelley “confessed” to the crime and claimed that Echols and Jason Baldwin sexually abused and beat the victims. Police asked Miskelley, a minor with an IQ of 72, to come to the station to “help” with the case, and his interrogation was unconstitutional. Many of the details of his confession (including the time of day the crimes were committed) did not match the facts of the crime. Misskelley was tried and convicted of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in February 1994. Baldwin and Echols were tried together after Misskelley’s trial, and they were convicted of three counts of murder in March 1994. The following day, Echols was sentenced to die, and he has been on death row ever since. Baldwin and Misskelley are serving life sentences. Since 1995, each of the three has filed a series of appeals on several grounds.
Note to Editors and Producers: For more information or to set up interviews, please contact Alice Leeds, 212-874-0675, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Whitman Leeds
Public Relations in the Public Interest
52 Riverside Drive, 8-C
New York, NY 10024