Update, they have been freed:
Three men who served 18 years in prison over a 1993 triple-slaying in West Memphis, Arkansas, walked free Friday to cheers from a supportive crowd outside the courthouse after entering new pleas in the case.
“I want to be out. I deserve to be out,” said Jason Baldwin, who along with Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were freed after entering rarely used pleas in which they maintained their innocence but acknowledged that prosecutors have evidence to convict them.
Wow, these cats were locked up for two decades and word is that they will be freed today for killing three 8-year-olds in the ’90s:
Three men convicted of killing three West Memphis, Arkansas boys in 1993 could be freed after a court hearing Friday, a person close to the case told CNN. The men — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin are expected to attend the hearing in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on Friday.
A source close to the case said a deal is in the works where the men — dubbed the “West Memphis Three” — can be freed Friday and maintain their innocence. The deal involves a legal maneuver in which the three men would have to acknowledge that the state has evidence it could use to try and convict them, the person close to the case said.
The case has drawn national attention, with actor Johnny Depp and singer Eddie Vedder, among other celebrities, trying to rally support for the men’s release. Critics of the prosecution argue no direct evidence tied the three to the murders and that a knife recovered from a lake near the home of one of the men could not have caused the boys’ wounds. More recent DNA testing also demonstrated no links, according the mens’ supporters.
John Mark Byers, whose son Christopher Byers was one of the three victims, said he believes the three men are innocent. He said releasing them without exonerating them of the crime is an outrage. “They’re innocent. They did not kill my son,” Byers said before the hearing. But the father of another of the victims, Steven Branch, blasted the apparent agreement.
“I don’t know what kind of deal they worked up,” Steve Branch told CNN affiliate WMC-TV. “Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you and you can walk free for killing somebody.”
DNA later failed to link the men to the crime, and the state Supreme Court ruled in November that all three could present new evidence to the trial court in an effort to clear them. A decision is pending on whether the three should receive a new trial. Friday’s action could negate the need for that, however.
The DNA tests were conducted between December 2005 and September 2007, according to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The material included hair from a ligature used to bind Moore and a hair recovered from a tree stump near where the bodies were found, court documents said.
The hair found in the ligature was consistent with Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, while the hair found on the tree stump was consistent with the DNA of a friend of Hobbs’, according to the documents. Police have never considered Hobbs a suspect, and he maintains that he had nothing to do with the murders.