JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Another step towards freedom was taken Tuesday for three men convicted of murdering three 8-year old West Memphis boys in 1993.
Attorneys for the state and the West Memphis Three discussed some of their concerns ahead of a new evidentiary hearing. Circuit Judge David Laser ruled lawyers for all parties need to outline issues to be addressed and a schedule needs to be made within 45 days. Attorneys have until February 18th to file their outlines.
The lawyers met with Judge Laser in the Craighead County Courthouse Annex building Tuesday morning. Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney from Little Rock, represented Jesse Misskelley. Little Rock attorney Blake Hendrix represented Jason Baldwin. Stephen Braga represented Damien Echols through a teleconference call. Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols were not present for the conference.
Attorneys for the state and WM3 would not comment due to a gag order put in place by Laser. Laser said a gag order would help build a new jury if a trial is ordered.
On November 4, 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new evidentiary hearing to see if new DNA evidence and other items introduced in the case should be heard. If successful, the three men could get new trials.
Supreme Court justices then appointed Laser as the new judge to preside over the proceedings. Laser was appointed in December to replace retired Judge David Burnett, who is serving in the state senate.
The West Memphis Three have gained worldwide popularity. Actor Johnny Deep has supported the men, along with many other celebrities. They believe the state wrongfully convicted the three men with little evidence linking them to the crime scene, located in what's called Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis.
Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were found beaten to death in West Memphis. In 2001, the state passed a new DNA law, which opened the door for many inmates to challenge their convictions. Prosecutors tried to limit what new evidence could be introduced.
Echols is on the only person on death row for the crimes and the only to have a Rule 37 Hearing, which would see if he had appropriate representation in his trial in 1994. Braga said Tuesday no matter what, Echols' evidentiary hearing should proceed. Both Misskelley and Baldwin's Rule 37 Hearings are in appeals court.
Attorneys on both sides agreed Tuesday that any further DNA testing should be done with the knowledge of all parties. All three attorneys for the West Memphis Three said hair fibers need to be tested, noting some human and/or animal strands are tangled.
The evidentiary hearing could be scheduled for July, August or October. Laser stated that those are open dates in his schedule and the hearing is one of his top priorities.
The convictions of the West Memphis Three have been upheld before, but all three men are hoping for new trials.