“Three teens charged with murder in West Memphis: a suspect was ‘scary’ and talked about worshiping the devil”. My partner Jorge already told you in a brilliant article about how the Satanic Panic shapes season 4 of ‘Stranger Things’, and I come to delve into the case in the which the story of Eddie Munson is based on. A true story of prejudice, murder and liberation that you may know: he has starred in three documentaries, a movie, a multitude of podcasts and has as protagonists three kids whose biggest crime was being marginalized.
Three early morning murders
The May 5, 1993three eight-year-old boys did not sleep at home: Steve Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers were found dead, a day later, in a nearby creek: they were naked, tied with their own shoelaces and with wounds all over their bodies. “I still believed in the Lucky Rabbit and Santa Claus”said the mother of one of them the next day in the press.
The American public was not content with the investigation continuing its course: they wanted the guilty, and they wanted them now. Y in full collective madness by the Satanic Panic, how not to go to the three outcasts of the class? Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin had dropped out of school (although they planned to go back to school later) and were lifelong friends: in an ultra-conservative part of the country where the word of God has more power than the law, their likes were not seen as something normal. They dressed in black, listened to heavy metalthey wrote dark poems: they were a danger, just like Munson in ‘Stranger things’.
Echols and Baldwin were joined by a third, Jessie Misskelley Jr., whom they barely knew and who bordered on mental retardation (this will matter later). On the same day as the murders, a man was found bleeding and disoriented in a local restaurant, another of the possible suspects claimed that he may have killed the children, there were witnesses with key information that the police ignored… James Sudbury and Steve Jones, the heads of the investigation, had already decided that the crime looked satanic. And the evidence didn’t matter too much.
fear of the police
In the style of what we saw in ‘Making a murderer’, the police locked up Misskelley, who in addition to bordering on mental retardation was a minor, for twelve hours in the police station leaving him no chance to see his family: interrogation after interrogation, in the end he was carried away by the veiled threats of the police, exhaustion and intimidation. Misskelley confessed to something she hadn’t done. What other choice did she have?
Echols and Baldwin were arrested soon after, and the party of witnesses began, in which there was no real or consistent testimony: Vicky Hutcheson he involved Echols in a Wiccan ritual in which, according to her, he got drunk and bragged about killing those children. Echols had no idea what she was talking about, but the seed was planted both in the police and in the press. Now, we just had to wait for the public to see it that way too.
All three were convicted of satanic murder, and Echols in particular went to death row. And from the first moment, there was criticism of the way in which this trial had been carried out: the criticism only worsened when HBO released the documentary ‘Paradise lost’, which had two sequels in which it was explained that Damien Echols probably hadn’t killed anyone.… but over the evidence prevailed the opinion that perhaps he could have done it and that “it was only a matter of time”.
The Alford Doctrine
In 2003, Hutcheson starred in a cover in which he said that everything he said in court was false, the three from West Memphis were wrongly framed and if she lied it was only because the police threatened to take her son from her. In 2007, DNA was collected from the scene and, in fact, it was found that it did not match that of any of the convicted. But none of this was valid: the defendants were still in jail and they kept losing successive lawsuits.
In 2011, 18 years after imprisonment, were freed by the Alford Doctrine, in which the defendant continues to define himself as innocent but accepts that there was evidence that led to error or, at the very least, a reasonable doubt, and prevents them from pursuing civil actions against the state. Anything to get out of there. At this stage, even two of the families of the victims had joined to the petition to release them.
There are still those who believe in their guilt, but ten years later the three have continued with their lives. One of them has learned to drive, another has gone to live with his girlfriend and Echols enjoys a career in the art world. He has appeared on ‘The Midnight Gospel’, collaborated with Pearl Jam, written books about what happened to him and even his friend Johnny Depp supported a 2012 documentary about his tragedy, ‘West of Memphis’. The story has been brought to the screen by Atom Egoyan in ‘Condemned’ and, without a doubt, ‘Stranger Things’ drinks a lot from it, from the false culprits and from an irrationality that, although now it seems almost parodic to us, it can always return.