Prosecutor: ‘We made right call’ in WM3 case
By George Jared Paxton News Bureau Tuesday, August 23, 2011
JONESBORO — For perhaps the first time in U.S. judicial history a death row inmate was allowed to plead guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and immediately leave the courtroom a free man.
It happened Friday morning in a Craighead County courtroom when Damien Echols, along with his cohorts, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., pleaded guilty to killing three West Memphis youths on May 5, 1993. At the same time, the men professed to the court that they were innocent, using an arcane legal device known as an Alford plea....
Scott Ellington, prosecuting attorney for the 2nd Judicial District. “I feel comfortable we made the right decision,” Ellington told The Jonesboro Sun on Monday. “At the end of the day we’ve got three guilty pleas in the deaths of three dead children.”
....At that point the prosecution would charge Echols and Baldwin with three counts of first-degree murder, while Misskelley would be charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
The men were originally charged with capital murder.
The defendants would then enter Alford pleas. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1970s that a defendant can enter a plea in which he admits there is enough evidence to possibly convict him, but at the same time he doesn’t have to admit guilt.
....A knife prosecutors said was potentially used to emasculate Byers was found behind Baldwin’s home, and fibers collected from the victims might have matched fibers in Baldwin and Echols’ homes.