Damien Echols Planning for Spring Hearing

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Lawyers for one of three teens convicted in the brutal 1993 killings of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis plan to bring their new appeal to a state judge by the middle of next month.

A new court filing shows lawyers for Damien Echols have reached an agreement with prosecutors to hold the hearing.  The decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge William R. Wilson Jr. asked Echols to present parts of his new, wide-ranging appeal to state courts before seeking relief from federal courts.

The filing by Echols' lawyers says much of the DNA testing ordered by the Craighead County Circuit Court in 2005 has been completed.  Echols' new appeal claims evidence tested from the crime scene showed no traces of him or the two other men convicted in the slayings, though much of the evidence failed to yield reportable results.  The appeal also includes testimony from forensic experts saying the genital mutilation of one of the boys likely came from an animal after their deaths.

Echols' lawyers say they plan to file the appeal with the circuit court by February 15, giving prosecutors time to examine the evidence before a hearing in late spring.

Echols, now 33, was sentenced to death over the slayings of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.  Co-defendant Jason Baldwin received a life sentence without parole, while Jessie Misskelley received a life-plus 40-year sentence for the killings.

The three victims disappeared while riding bicycles in their neighborhood on May 5, 1993.  The bodies of the three Cub Scouts were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

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