On the evening of May 5th, 1993 three young boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers went missing from their West Memphis homes. They were found dead in a nearby river the next morning. The boys were found naked, beaten, scratched, and and bound with shoelaces. One of the boys genitals had been removed which quickly lead the public to assume that something more sinister than just a murder had happened.
After a month or so with no leads, the police started focusing on local teens who may have been involved. Jessie Misskelley was one of those teens. After hours of interrogation, the scared 17-year-old confessed to had assisting and witnessing two other boys, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin murdering the three 8-year-olds. Even though Jessie had an IQ of only 72 and had an alibi for the time the boys were murdered, the WMPD saw his confession as true and began building their case on it. The media quickly got wind of the confession they ran wild with it, focusing mostly on Damien, who had a goth-like appearance. "Satanic Rituals" was the headline accusing Damien of being the ringleader of some sort of satanic cult involving human sacrifices and blood drinking. Because this boy wore black, listened to heavy metal music, and had an interest in Wiccan culture, the news organizations labeled him a satan worshiper. The local news would report horrible and false things, such as genitals in jars being found under Damien's bed.
Even though the holes in this case were big enough to see even 20-years-later, Jason, Jessie and Damien were all convicted of murdering the 3 little boys and were sentenced to life in prison, with the exception of Damien who was sentenced to death. The boys continued to maintain their innocence even after their sentencing.
After years of new trials, activism from the community, and help from innocence organizations, The West Memphis 3 were able to strike up a plea deal with the state and were able to be released from prison. They had to plea guilty to the murders, however, in exchange for their freedom. Causing them to have felonies on their records and never being able to have a full exoneration or compensation for their time spent in prison.
This case is a stable for wrongful convictions. Investigators failed to find the real killer, the media created hysteria in the town, and once again a false confession was used to convict 3 innocent people. Damien, Jessie, and Jason are all free now and work with innocence organizations across the country helping others find their freedom.