west memphis three

Prosecutor Refuses to Cooperate with New DNA Testing in West Memphis Three Case, Damien Echols Says

One of the centerpieces of the “West Memphis Three” case says an Arkansas prosecutor is refusing to cooperate with DNA testing that could potentially help solve three murders for good.

Damien Echols was one of three teens convicted of killing three small boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Echols was sentenced to death while his co-defendants, Jesse Misskelly and Jason Baldwin, were sentenced to life in prison.

The trio was dubbed the “West Memphis Three” after pervasive controversy surrounding the case spanned across the nation and several countries. The case later became the subject of numerous documentaries, while celebrities such as the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder pushed for the defendants’ prison release.

Misskelly, who has a low IQ, reportedly gave detectives a false confession which helped a jury convict the teens. Misskelly later recanted and claimed he was tired, ready to go home, and said what the detectives wanted him to say.

In 2011, the defendants were released from prison by accepting an Alford Plea, which allowed them to maintain their innocence get out of prison. The plea didn’t clear the convictions and all three men still have a murder charge on their record, despite their release from prison.

Now, Echols says that Crittenden County Prosecutor Keith Chrestman is rejecting the request for DNA testing.

“The prosecutor in Arkansas has refused to cooperate with new DNA testing,” Echols wrote on Twitter. “He says if we want it done, we’ll have to fight for it in court.”

The news comes after the state allegedly failed to honor a state order for evidence in the case. In December 2021, Echols’ lawyer, Patrick Benca, reviewed case evidence that was thought to have been lost.

The West Memphis Police Department and other officials are being accused of stonewalling the release of the evidence for around 18 months and informing Echols’ team that the evidence was lost or destroyed.

“After 18 months Echols’ was informed that the evidence was likely not available, but after a state court order, Echols’ team was invited to the West Memphis Police Department to review what evidence remained. What they discovered was a very organized, catalogued and intact body of evidence,” a group working on the case wrote.

Murder victims Chris Byers, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch/UMKC School of Law

The group stated that Echols submitted a FOIA request over 18 months ago, but the request went unanswered, which is a “violation of Arkansas state law.” Echols ultimately filed a lawsuit against the police department.

“Ten years ago I had no choice but to take an Alford plea to get off death row. I needed to fight for my innocence, and that of Jason and Jesse, outside of the prison walls,” Echols said. “And that is why I sought to test the evidence in the case to exonerate us and lead to the real killer(s).”

“Once we made inquiries to the West Memphis Police to turn over the evidence in the case for advanced testing, we were told that the evidence disappeared…We did  not give up, and hopefully now we can move ahead with all due haste to have this evidence DNA tested.”

Also in December 2021, the West Memphis police chief resigned during the same week the new evidence in the case was released. Officials reportedly said his “resignation had nothing to do with the case.”

Chrestman was not readily available for comment. Check back for updates.

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[Feature Photo via AP/In this combo of file photos, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., James Baldwin, and Damien Echols listen to reporters’ questions at the Craighead County Court House in Jonesboro, Ark., Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. The defendants, known by their supporters as the West Memphis 3, who were arrested in June 1993 and later convicted in the slayings of three Cub Scouts were set free Friday, nearly two decades after they were sent to prison in a case so gruesome it raised suspicions the children had been sacrificed in a Satanic ritual. The three were permitted to plead guilty to murder in exchange for time served, ending a long-running legal battle that had raised questions about DNA and key witnesses.