Thursday, December 20, 2007

Natalie Maines joins LR protest for imprisoned 3

Picture courtesy of Free the West Memphis Three myspace

Natalie Maines joins LR protest for imprisoned 3

Posted on Thursday, December 20, 2007

Email this story | Printer-friendly version

The voice of Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, floated across the state Capitol grounds Wednesday as a line of “West Memphis Three” supporters snaked up the steps with a giant banner.

Maines was due to arrive any minute. Meanwhile, those rallying for the release of three men convicted in the 1993 slayings of three 8-year-old boys listened to a recording of the Dixie Chicks’ 2006 hit, Not Ready to Make Nice Forgive, sounds good Forget, I’m not sure I could They say time heals everything But I’m still waiting...

About 150 people — including national media and an HBO film crew — attended the rally. Coordinators of Take Action Arkansas presented the governor’s office with hundreds of letters asking that Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel review the 1994 murder convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley.

Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley — now known as the West Memphis Three — were teenagers at the time of the killings. Echols was sentenced to death; Baldwin and Misskelley are serving life sentences.

The victims were three 8-year-old boys: Chris Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore. Police and prosecutors say they were killed during a satanic ritual, pointing to the boys’ wounds, particularly the genital mutilation of Chris Byers.

Last month, however, a defense team filed a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that new DNA and forensic testing hasn’t yet linked any of the three men to the crime scene. Rather, the defense says hair and fiber evidence suggest the presence of Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie. Six scientists who recently reviewed the evidence say the boys’ wounds and Chris’ mutilation were caused by animals preying on the bodies after the children were killed.

Realizing that the filing had renewed interest in the case — which in the past has resonated primarily with celebrities and out-of-state organizations — Little Rock restaurateur Capi Peck decided to seek support from Arkansans.

In recent weeks, with the help of Echols’ wife, Lorri Davis, Peck organized a letter-writing campaign and petition drive. On Wednesday, Maines arrived in town to speak at the group’s first rally.

Around noon, after 60 to 70 people lined up on the Capitol steps with a banner made from hundreds of postcards demanding the release of the West Memphis Three, the singer addressed a cheering crowd.

“I’m just amazed that these guys are still in prison and that they turned into men in prison,” she said, explaining why she had decided to offer her support and a donation to the group’s defense team.

Too many questions have arisen since the men were convicted, she said. “When you’re putting someone to death, you have to be 100 percent sure.” The recent DNA and forensic results, she said, have “given this case wings.” Davis, who married the imprisoned Echols in 1999, also spoke briefly. Dressed in a tailored brown dress, she nervously approached the podium and thanked supporters for their efforts and donations over the years.

Davis urged the crowd to read about the new science being applied to the case. “It is real. It proves the innocence of these three men. It’s time that Arkansas did take action.” Wednesday’s crowd was diverse, made up of elderly women in sensible shoes, teenagers dressed in black, and men and women in business attire.

Lauren Spencer, 25, of Little Rock said she’s followed the case for years, always believing the trial was a travesty of justice.

“From the very beginning it was ridiculous that they were convicted,” she said. “Now there’s more evidence showing they didn’t do it. It’s icing on the cake.” The rally ended with Maines, Davis and Peck taking about 1, 000 letters to the governor’s office.

Beebe wasn’t there, spokesman Matt DeCample said, but he and several other representatives accepted the bundles.

“They stayed, and we talked for about 10 to 15 minutes,” he said. “They had some questions about the process.” Beebe said Tuesday that he has no intention of intervening in the case while it’s still winding its way through the courts.

Peck said she expected that response, saying the group understands the role of the judicial process. “Our hope is to expedite things,” she said.

No comments: