Judge: State Court Should Hear Appeal in West Memphis Slayings

LITTLE ROCK, AR - A federal judge says a wide-ranging appeal on behalf of one of those three teens convicted in the 1993 slaying of three boys in West Memphis should be first heard in state courts.

U.S. District Court Judge William R. Wilson Jr. says lawyers representing death-row inmate Damien Echols need to present new DNA tests and other evidence to state judges first.  Dennis P. Riordan, a San Francisco lawyer representing Echols, filed a 188-page brief seeking to free one of the three men known by sympathizers as the "West Memphis Three."

Wilson says he will delay any further action to the federal case until Riordan presented the evidence to state courts.  He's also asked Riordan to begin filing monthly status reports on the case beginning in January.

Echols, now 32 years old, was sentenced to death over the slayings of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.  Co-defendants Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley received life sentences.

The three victims disappeared while riding bicycles in their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood on May 5, 1993.  Their bodies were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

The state Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Baldwin and Echols' convictions in 1996, citing what it called substantial evidence of guilt.

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