West Memphis Three: Judge Denies DNA Evidence Testing Request in Brutal Murders That Left 3 Boys Dead

An Arkansas judge ruled Thursday that Damien Echols and his lawyers’ request for DNA testing in the triple murder of three boys will not be granted.

The hearing, which was held on Thursday morning at the Crittenden County District Court in West Memphis, came about after Echols and his legal team pushed to test newly-discovered DNA in the case.

“The state of Arkansas has ruled that they will not allow DNA testing to be done that could identify the murderer of Michael Moore, Christopher Byers, and Stevie Branch.” Echols tweeted. “This is a great disappointment to us, and traumatic as well – but we will continue to press forward.”

As CrimeOnline previously reported, 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.

Since his release, Echols has been active in trying to get the case solved. The DNA testing case went to court after  Crittenden County Prosecutor Keith Chrestman rejected the request for DNA testing in January, according to Echols.

“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.

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.”

Echols’ lawyer, Patrick Benca, told reporters that they plan to appeal.

Check back for updates.

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[Feature Photo: (l to r) Chris Byers, Michael Moore, & Steven Branch/Handout]