High Court Rejects Another Damien Echols' Petition

FEBRUARY 24, 2005 - Posted at 12:52 a.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas Supreme Court today again rejected a plea from a man sent to death row for the slayings of three 8-year-old West Memphis boys.  The high court urged lawyers to wrap up genetic testing that justices first authorized in 2002.

The court had rejected a Damien Echols appeal last month, but Echols asked the court for a rehearing.  Echols said he wanted to reopen claims that his trial lawyers were ineffective, but the justices noted that they previously told Echols he could not bring new ineffective-assistance claims.

Echols' most recent appeal claimed that certain jurors at his trial were biased against him and that his conviction was partly based on a statement by co-defendant Jesse Miskelley that was not admitted into evidence.

In the rehearing denial entered today, the state argued that no reconsideration of the case was necessary because Echols hadn't shown any error in the January 20 decision.

Echols was convicted of capital murder in 1994 by a Craighead County Circuit Court jury and sentenced to death for the May 1993 slayings of Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers.  He was a teenager at the time.

Miskelley and Jason Baldwin, also teenagers then, were convicted of the murders.  Baldwin is serving a life sentence without parole and Miskelley, tried separately after statements to police implicating himself as well as Echols and Baldwin, was sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.

The victims had disappeared while riding their bicycles in their residential West Memphis neighborhood.  Their bodies were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)