Evidence in the infamous West Memphis Three case has either been lost or destroyed and now one of the men who has claimed for nearly 30 years that he’s innocent in the deaths of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore has filed a lawsuit against the West Memphis Police Department.
Damien Echols filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County asking the court to “declare that the WMPD violated its statutory obligation to respond to the FOIA request” and “direct the WMPD to respond to the FOIA request within three days.”
Echols, through his Arkansas-based attorney, Patrick Benca, asked police and prosecutors in May of 2020 to do new DNA testing on key pieces of evidence that were collected. At first, prosecutors seemed amenable to the testing, but then stopped communicating with the Echols team, and the police are not complying with repeated Freedom of Information requests which is a violation of state law, the complaint states.
Talk Business & Politics has left repeated messages with the WMPD in recent weeks asking for comment, but the agency has not responded. Echols, along with his co-defendants Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., was convicted in 1994 of the deaths of the three 8-year-old boys. The three men were incarcerated until Aug. 19, 2011 when they were released following years of controversy after the prosecution’s case against them crumbled under the weight of public scrutiny and other suspects emerged.
The defendants agreed to Alford pleas, which led to their release. An Alford plea is where a defendant submits a guilty plea but does not admit to any criminal wrongdoing and asserts innocence.
“Ten years ago, I had no choice but to take an Alford plea to get off Death Row. I needed to fight for my innocence, and that of Jason and Jesse, outside of the prison walls. And that is why I sought to test the evidence in the case to exonerate us and lead to the real killer(s). Once we made inquiries to the West Memphis Police to turn over the evidence in the case for advanced testing, the evidence disappeared. We will not give up until we find whatever evidence exists. We will find out who destroyed the evidence and why the legal authorities lied. We want a hearing to get to the bottom of this,” Echols said in a released statement.
In an effort to find out what happened to the body of evidence that could potentially contain exculpatory forensics exonerating the three and leading to the possible suspects, Benca submitted a FOIA request months ago seeking all records relating to the missing evidence in the WM3 case.
Echols’ attorneys have also filed a Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County First Division, as well as seeking an expedited hearing.
“Having recently learned of the West Memphis Police Department’s spoliation of evidence in his case, apparently both before and after his Alford plea, Damien Echols moves this Court to exercise its continuing supervisory jurisdiction over this case,” the filing states.
A timetable for the court to decide these matters has not been released. Recently appointed Prosecuting Attorney Keith Crestman told Talk Business & Politics in April that he would only turn over evidence in the case for testing if ordered to by a judge. He further stated that he would seek a court order to have the evidence destroyed due to the fact that the case was adjudicated and it was essentially a second degree murder conviction in the eyes of the law, and evidence in those cases is not typically kept.