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New DNA Evidence Might Free West Memphis Three

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LITTLE ROCK, AR - A lawyer for one of the men convicted in the 1993 slayings of three boys in West Memphis says DNA evidence gathered after the killings does not match the three teens imprisoned for the crimes.

Dennis P. Riordan, a San Francisco attorney representing Damien Echols, says the findings should exonerate the three men known by sympathizers as the "West Memphis Three."

Riordan's findings yesterday in federal court claim Bode Technology, a private laboratory in Virginia, tested evidence collected on swabs, under fingernails and clothing from 8-year-old victims Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.  The company handled DNA testing on bone fragments found in rubble at the World Trade Center after the September 11 terror attacks.

A report from the lab included the filing shows much of the evidence failed to yield reportable results.  However, on evidence able to be tested, the lab found no traces of Echols or co-defendants Jason Baldwin or Jessie Misskelly.

Echols, now 32-years-old, is on death row.  Baldwin and Misskelly received life sentences.

All three of those convicted were teenagers at the time of the killings.  The victims disappeared while riding bicycles in their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in West Memphis, and their bodies were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

In 2002, the state Supreme Court authorized further DNA testing in the case.

In 2005, the high court rejected an effort by Echols to reopen the case so he could argue that his trial lawyers mishandled his defense.  In that ruling, the Supreme Court also urged those involved in the case to wrap up the genetic testing authorized three years earlier.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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