The West Memphis Three
The situation today in the West Memphis Three case is that three young men have been in prison for six years. One of the them faces death. The evidence in the case is not strong enough to support a guilty verdict, yet all of their attempts to have their case re-tried have failed. It begs the question how can this happen? Isn't the legal system designed to protect the innocent? How can it all go so terribly wrong? The problem is much easier to identify than the solution.
The problems with this case began from the moment the bodies were first discovered. Lack of experience and professionalism on the part of police at the crime scene meant that it was not properly protected and vital evidence was either destroyed or not collected at all. The failure to keep the sticks which held the boys clothing down in the creek is a prime example of this. The removal of the bodies from the creek before the medical examiner had arrived meant that more vital information was lost.
The same lack of experience was witnessed in the medical examiner's failure to take the temperature of the bodies at the scene. The failure to note vital aspects of the victims' injuries further confused the investigators perception of the crime which was already clouded by assumptions they had drawn about the situation, based not on the scientific facts before them but on cultural bias, prejudice and limited experience.
Once the investigators had formed their limited view of the events surrounding the murders, they doggedly pursued any avenues which supported that view. Any information which contradicted it was quickly discarded as irrelevant.
Vital information regarding the case was openly discussed by the investigators with witnesses, suspects and the media. Information which should have been known by only the offender and the police was public knowledge, severely effecting the validity of any information procured from witnesses and suspects alike. Failure to consider that the information they were receiving from potential witnesses may have been nothing more than their own information coming back to them, transformed by the processes of rumor mongering, gave them the false impression that their own interpretations were being confirmed.
In their zeal to "get their man" and satisfy the community's demand for "justice" the investigating police, knowing that their case was weak, used many questionable tactics to obtain the corroborative evidence they needed. Many witnesses were enticed to testify with the promise of reward money or leniency in other criminal matters, while others were bullied and intimidated into providing the information the police needed to support their own theories.
Once the arrests were made the adversarial legal system, which sets two opposing sides against each other in a quest to win rather than reveal the truth, worked to reinforce the view of the crime as perceived by the police in the first instance. It was the defense team's job to refute their case and cast doubt in the minds of the jury. Whichever side could tell the best story would win.
In this case, the prosecution's job was made easier by the amount of media coverage, supporting the police view of the crime, which the jury had been subjected to before the trials. The information that the jurors read in their newspapers and saw on their television, originating from police sources, reinforced the belief that three young boys had been brutally murdered as a part of some Satanic ritual. The media assumed no responsibility to investigate the truth of the information they received, it was presumed that the police information was based on real evidence and made good copy. The media "reports" confirmed an already widely held belief in the community that Satanic cults were a real threat to its safety and few would have questioned the conclusions drawn by the police.
A guilty verdict was the only course that could be taken to allow this community to feel safe again, to feel that they had the power to overcome an evil and, until Jessie, Jason and Damien were arrested, nameless enemy.
The fight to have the guilty verdict reversed would require that the judicial system, intrinsically bureaucratic in nature, look within itself and acknowledge its own weaknesses and shortcomings. Any admission of its own failure will only occur under extreme public pressure and outrage at the injustice which has occurred. It takes time for such a process to occur, statistically at least ten years. Jessie and Jason have a lifetime, but whether Damien's time will run out before this slow process is complete is yet to be seen.