Jessie Misskelley Jr., released from prison in 2011 in the infamous West Memphis Three case was jailed Saturday night after he was arrested on a slew of traffic citations. Misskelley, 42, is accused of driving without a license, no vehicle insurance, and driving a vehicle with one or more headlights. He appeared in district court Monday. His bond was set at $875.
Second Judicial District Prosecutor Scott Ellington told Talk Business & Politics he doesn’t think the traffic violations will impact Misskelley’s suspended imposition of sentence (SIS), doled by Circuit Court Judge David Laser on Aug. 19, 2011. If the SIS is violated, Misskelley could spend up to 10 more years in state prison. Ellington said he doesn’t think any judge in the state would invoke the SIS based on these minor violations.
Misskelley was driving in West Memphis when he was arrested at 9:27 p.m. As of noon Monday, there was no record that he posted bond. Misskelley, and two cohorts, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, gave Alford pleas in 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for the killings of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis on May 5, 1993. The plea allowed them to be immediately released from state custody but the SIS could be invoked if they were convicted of any future crimes, but it would likely have to be a violent crime for any of the convicted to return to prison, he said.
Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were riding bikes in their West Memphis neighborhood when they vanished around sunset. Prosecutors claim the boys entered a patch of woods near their homes, dubbed “Robin Hood Hills,” by locals. The three boys were bludgeoned during an attack prosecutors claimed was inspired by Satanism or a belief in the occult.
One month later, the three teens – all from Marion – were charged with the murders after Misskelley confessed to the crime and implicated the others. The confession contained inaccuracies including the time and place of the murders, the manner in which they were performed, and he told police two of the boys were sexually assaulted when autopsy results showed no sexual assault took place.
Despite the inaccuracies and no physical or forensic evidence tying the teens to the crimes, two juries found them guilty. Echols was sentenced to death while the other two received life terms.
The three teens dubbed “The West Memphis Three” languished in obscurity until the 1996 documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” was released by HBO. Doubts surfaced whether the teens committed the crimes.
The documentary saved Echols’ life, he said during a 2010 interview. The circumstantial case and the lack of evidence raised doubts among a burgeoning support group that included actor Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, and the director Sir Peter Jackson. Millions of dollars were raised in an attempt the free the men.
By 2011, Arkansas officials were under pressure to release the men. A new trial was about to be ordered in the case. New DNA evidence had been discovered implicating Stevie Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs. A hair found in the ligatures that bound Michael Moore was a virtual genetic match for him, and a hair found on a tree stump next to where the bodies were dumped was a genetic match for his alibi witness at the time of the murders, David Jacoby. Hobbs and Jacoby have denied involvement in the murders.
One witness who testified during Misskelley’s trial, Victoria Hutcheson, signed a sworn affidavit saying she lied at the trial. During an interview in 2009, she told a TB&P reporter she was under pressure from police to provide evidence and was facing a credit card fraud charge. Her son, Aaron, was friends with the victims, and he claimed for a time to have witnessed the murders, but his statements proved false. She told jurors she attended a “witches gathering” or esbat with Echols and Misskelley. Testimony from another witness who claimed to have heard Echols and Baldwin talking about the murders at a softball game would have likely been disproved during a new trial, prosecutors admitted.
Prosecutor Scott Ellington agreed to release them under the terms of an Alford Plea. This unique legal mechanism allowed them to profess innocence while at the same time acknowledging the state might have enough evidence to convict them. It’s essentially a no contest plea. Ellington has said numerous times if new trials had been ordered, the men would have been freed because of the changing witness statements, new scientific evidence, and “stale evidence.”