West Memphis Freed

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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34 Responses

  1. Joe Carter says:

    I can’t believe that anyone who has watched the documentaries about the case can believe they are not guilty. Even with a fawning director who tried to spin every aspect of the case, it seems obvious that these three thugs killed those children.

    Unfortunately, the “CSI-effect” combined with the support of gullible celebrities will probably be enough to get them out of jail.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Joe Carter says:

      Can we just assume that the state of Arkansas has gotten a better understanding of the facts of the case in the last 18 years than the impression you or Eddie Vedder got when you watched the documentaries?Report

      • Joe Carter in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Sure we can. Which makes it even more odd that they are getting off. According to the article you cited, “In what’s called an Alford plea, the three would agree that prosecutors have a solid amount of evidence against them — likely enough to win a conviction.”

        If there is enough evidence to convict them why let them go? And instead of a hearing, why not have a retrial and an examination of all the relevant evidence?Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Joe Carter says:

          I said it was bizarre. I don’t have the legal understanding to explain what they’re thinking. Maybe Burt Likko can explain better. Also, since I just reported the news in this post without making any real judgments about it, you might want to address some of this to Jason’s lengthier post over to the left.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Joe Carter says:

          If there is enough evidence to convict them why let them go? And instead of a hearing, why not have a retrial and an examination of all the relevant evidence?

          When I ask these exact same questions in the light of the releases, I come to completely different answers than Mr. Carter.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

            Well, right. Is it possible that the state does not have sufficient evidence, but signing a face-saving statement to that effect is better than being put to death? Again, though, we have enough lawyers here that one of them could weigh in on the case.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

              John McCain signed a confession that he was a War Criminal.

              It surprises me not at all that these kids signed whatever was put in front of them after 18 years of the panopticon.Report

              • Joe Carter in reply to Jaybird says:

                The two others didn’t confess and the confession wasn’t admissible in their trials. So how were they convicted?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Joe Carter says:

                Because Satanists are evil, Joe.

                You don’t support evil, do you?

                Well, do you?Report

              • Joe Carter in reply to Jaybird says:

                That’s another way to get away with a crime. If you can convince enough people to ignore the evidence and blame a “moral panic” by the community, you’ll have plenty of people willing to say that it’s simply not possible for you to have committed the murders.

                That is, in essence, what this whole case was about. The celebrities and the documentary filmmakers were not interested in seeking justice for the murdered children. They simply wanted to convict society for stigmatizing kids that might be considered “weird.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Joe Carter says:


                Let me ask you these questions again:

                If there is enough evidence to convict them why let them go? And instead of a hearing, why not have a retrial and an examination of all the relevant evidence?

                How bad do you think the Prosecution’s case would have had to be for them to make this particular offer? It’s weird about the face-saving stuff in there, isn’t it? The stuff that explains that there’s enough evidence to convict them if they had a new trial… doesn’t the fact that the deal was offered seem odd to you?Report

              • OJ Simpson. Stuff happens.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Joe Carter says:

                They appear to have been convicted on the basis of some very ill-treated, incomplete, incompetently gathered evidence. Bodies left to decompose, a trampled crime scene, recordings that should have been made but weren’t, and supposedly private facts that actually leaked. Also some recanted and highly dubious testimony (from Vicki and Aaron Hutcheson in particular, with their recanted testimony about Spanish-speaking Satanists and so forth).

                I think it’s reasonable to find doubt here, and that’s all that’s required.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Joe Carter says:

          If there is enough evidence to convict them why let them go?

          Excellent question.Report

    • Meh – the CSI effect almost universally works the other direction, shrouding prosecutor-friendly evidence with an aura of reliability that it simply does not possess.

      But honestly I don’t know enough about this case to say definitively one way or another. Certainly what I have seen and read pretty clearly suggests innocence, but I haven’t seen or heard the arguments for guilt. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to hear those arguments. Surely there is more than just the apparent confession of one of the defendants (such confessions are of minimal evidentiary value in my book)!Report

      • wardsmith in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @Mark, Actually I believe I mentioned previously that I’m friends with the local prosecutor. The ‘current’ CSI effect is quite the opposite. Because of the series, everyone assumes armies of brilliant qualified scientists are swarming every scene finding every scintilla of evidence, re-enacting shootings with laser beams, allowing pig carcasses to rot so bugs can be examined, the whole shebang. The harsh reality is that no one but a highly successful and profitable tv show could afford this, the local CSI person!! is shared across 5 counties and DNA evidence is sent to the state lab where there is a 5 month backlog, well longer than most cases that go to trial. This is the reality in one of the wealthier states in this country, Arkansas doesn’t qualify in the top 40.

        It would be wonderful if we all had world-class CSI investigation capabilities. The sad truth is it doesn’t even exist – anywhere.Report

        • Agreed that this is largely the operating assumption, but I don’t know that the evidence really supports the notion that this assumption works against the prosecution on the whole.

          With all due respect to your prosecutor friend, but he’s not exactly a neutral source on this – of course a prosecutor thinks his job is getting tougher over the years because of [insert cultural phenomenon here]. Then again, I can also guarantee that for every prosecutor who thinks that I can find a defense attorney who thinks his job is getting tougher over the years because of [insert cultural phenomenon here].

          I’d be curious to find out whether conviction rates after trials have increased or decreased appreciably over the last decade, particularly for violent crimes (it being somewhat unlikely that property and vice crime will even theoretically involve this kind of forensic evidence).Report

          • wardsmith in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            Mark, The statistics might not help us much because of the way things are counted. For instance how do you account for the cases that never go to trial? How about charges that are dropped? The correlations all become somewhat anecdotal unless there is a lot of press coverage, but as we see in this and the other OP, the press is an imperfect arbiter of these things.

            At least in my community, the prosecutor’s office is leaning towards less and less court appearance and more plea bargaining. Realize, these are not eagle scouts, almost all are repeat offenders and this state has a 3 strikes law so there is a lot of wiggle room.

            Bottom line, low publicity trials are better for the defendants than high publicity trials for lots of reasons.Report

            • My experience is actually quite the opposite – high publicity trials are better for the defendants: there are more pressures on the prosecutors, the defendants get better representation, and more facts are going to come to light, if only via the court of public opinion….and that says nothing about the self-defeating incentives for prosecutors in high-profile cases to spend time on pursuing glamor ratehr than making a solid case. I’m quite certain that if the Casey Anthony case had been lower-profile, she’d have wound up getting convicted on a lesser homicide offense, whether at trial or via plea bargain; but instead, the mob demanded nothing less than life in prison, and so the prosecutor pursued only homicide charges that would land her life in prison, with no plea bargains on the table, despite the lack of good evidence for such charges. Similarly, had the Duke Lax case instead been a low-profile case of some sort, it’s a virtual guarantee that there would have been convictions, whether by trial or plea, despite their actual innocence.

              It’s on the low-profile cases that prosecutors have by far the greatest advantage. They have the leverage to get plea deals even where the evidence is lacking to non-existent. They get to deal with overworked and often underqualified defense counsel.

              And so on. [Here’s where I repeat my oft-told story about the one criminal case I ever handled and how only a stroke of timely fortune prevented her from taking a plea bargain for a crime of which she was blatantly and incontrovertibly innocent, and how the prosecution refused to drop the charges despite a complete absence of any evidence whatsoever].

              You’d be surprised at how easy it is for an innocent person in a low-profile case to wind up with a conviction on their record, whether by trial or plea bargain. Of course, no prosecutor will acknowledge this – that would mean acknowledging that they have gotten innocents convicted.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                My personal attorney always told me, publicity is great for the lawyer bad for the defendant. Some of these national publicity cases might swing the other way, but what about all the local high publicity cases you’ve seen in your hometown newspapers?

                As for the ‘innocent’ conviction, once they’ve been in the system long enough I think both police and prosecutors stop looking at /anyone/ as wholly innocent. That upstanding businessman who is an elder in his church? He’s been abusing his stepdaughter for years. You and I always see innocent people, they see an uncaught serial killer. Hard not to get jaundiced by that system.

                I like the JAG structure better, where you’re either a prosecutor or defense attorney basically at the flip of a coin. Maybe helps to keep the sanity a little longer.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to wardsmith says:

                And I have the impression that a successful prosecution requires complete belief that you’ve got the right guy, which is why years later, after DNA evidence is found that points to a different guy who not only admits it but has been convicted of fifteen cases of the same thing using the same M.O., the prosecutor still insists that the guy he put away is guilty as hell and far too dangerous to be released.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Joe Carter says:

      I wasn’t familiar with the case, so I tried to come up to speed reading the Wikipedia articles and a few other things Google turned up. None of it included what I’d call conclusive evidence. No eyewitness accounts, no forensic evidence tying the defendants to the crime, nothing they knew about it that wasn’t already public knowledge.

      So, I’m curious: what makes it obvious to you that they did it?Report

  2. Joe Carter says:

    By the way, I don’t mind if people want to argue that because of legal technicalities, the convictions should be overturned and they should go free. But let’s not pretend that these men who were convicted based on substantial evidence are “innocent” in a moral sense.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Joe Carter says:

      I think you need to be careful not to confuse “not-guilty” with “innocent.”Report

      • Joe Carter in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Good point. I may be unfairly attributing the views of LoOG commenters to those who claim that the three are “innocent.”

        I’ve been following this case for years so I understand all of the reasons that a “not-guilty” verdict could be determined based on technicalities. No doubt a great lawyer (which they can now afford thanks to Johnny Depp) would be able to find a way to get them off. But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that even with all of the problems with the case there was still enough evidence for them to be convicted and for it to be upheld on appeal.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Joe Carter says:

      I don’t care for the term “legal technicalities.” It is vitally important, and no mere technicality, to be able to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.Report

      • Normally, I’d agree. But they were already convicted “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The absence of DNA evidence shouldn’t re-raise the question of doubt.

        There was enough evidence to convict them the first time—and apparently enough to convict them now. The case should be retried and all evidence considered. If the new evidence aquits them then so be it.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Joe Carter says:

          Are you generally for revoking the protection against double-jeopardy?Report

          • It’s not double-jeopardy. They have already been convicted of the crime. The purpose of a retrial would be to allow the people decide if their is new evidence that should warrant *overturning* their conviction.

            Unfortunately, it looks like prosecutors are more afraid of looking bad in public than they are in seeing justice done.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Joe Carter says:

              I’m not a lawyer, maybe Burt would have to chime in here.

              I think there may be structural problems with what you’re proposing; I don’t know if the state can have a “do-over” quite that way. If they posit that there is now extenuating evidence that may insert a reasonable doubt, I don’t know if you can back up only so far as “we will give these defendants another crack at defending themselves from this charge”, the only legal choice might be “throw out the conviction and start over”.

              That might be a hole in the legal process in Memphis, I don’t know.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Joe Carter says:

          “There was enough evidence to convict them the first time—and apparently enough to convict them now. ”

          Actually, according to the prosecutor, if they held a new trial they’d be acquitted.Report