Woman who freed the West Memphis 3 speaks out

(WMC-TV) - Mara Leveritt is the woman whose work is credited with freeing the West Memphis Three

The award-winning investigative reporter spent almost two decades covering the case.

"It was a huge horrific murder case. I was a mom. I have two kids of my own. And so naturally I got hooked on it," said Leveritt.

Leveritt reported for the Arkansas Times and attended the trials for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Miskelly.

"I was very interested though in how these trials were going to go. And real disturbed then when the reporting from the trials didn't give me any indication of what the actual evidence was," she explained. "I saw a lot of emotion, the bicycles in front of the courtroom, nobody disputed that. But there were the bicycles sitting there the whole time. But what was the real evidence?"

As a journalist, Leveritt went looking through for evidence in police files available at the time and was shocked by what she calls sloppy police work and a complete lack of evidence.

"The most unsettling part of everything to me, I mean it was shocking that the police lost that 'so called' evidence, the man who went to the Bojangles restaurant. That's shocking, shocking, terrible police work," she said. "Judge Burnett wouldn't let the defense even attack it, saying that the police are not on trial here. You know, don't even go down that road. So that was an example of a lot of really bad investigation work."

Leveritt wrote her first editorial on the case after Miskelley's confession lead to convictions for all three teenagers. She said his confession was "tortured, convoluted".

"And I said 'The scariest story I know to tell you this Halloween is that somebody can be sentenced to life in prison based on this confession that didn't make any sense and that two other people went to life, went to prison for life, and one of them was sentenced to death,'" she said.

Leveritt's columns lead to her book, entitled "Devil's Knot" It brought some of the first thorough research into the case to the public.

"I had people telling me that if I wrote this book, I was going to be humiliated because they did it and there was no doubt about it," she said.

Years after the book's release, with support from three HBO documentaries about the case and financial backing from celebrities like Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, the three men behind bars, Echols, Baldwin, and Miskelley, were released from prison in a deal that allowed them to plead guilty while professing their innocence.

"Eighteen years? Plea deals are usually done before there's even a trial. Not 18 years after there's been convictions," Leveritt said. "It's so weird. I think also so cynical. I'm glad it happened, but there's a lot to straighten out about that."

"We have to admit the humanity of this, that all of us are fallible. It can happen. It did happen in this case. The sooner our state's officials stand up and acknowledge that, the cleaner our hands will be going into the future."

Another book is in Leveritt's future. It is a follow-up called "Justice Knot", which picks up the case after the convictions and details the 18 years of legal maneuvering.

Her book "Devil's Knot" is being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.

The book details the incident at Bojangles restaurant, where people reported seeing a bloody and muddy man on the night the victims in this case disappeared.

Leveritt believes the West Memphis Three are innocent and she is committed to finding new evidence in the case.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.