Arkansas attorney general slams 'misleading' campaign in West Memphis slayings - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Arkansas attorney general slams 'misleading' campaign in West Memphis slayings

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Wednesday that he hasn't seen any evidence exonerating the three teens convicted in the brutal 1993 killings of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, slamming their supporters for running a "misleading" campaign.

"I'm growing increasingly frustrated by what I see as a misleading press campaign to suggest that there's new DNA evidence that in some way exonerates these boys that a jury found guilty and whose appeals they all lost. There is no new DNA evidence that exonerates these boys at all," McDaniel told reporters.

"If there was any new evidence that exonerated the defendants, I would be the first one to start approaching the governor on options on bringing justice to the matter. But I've seen nothing, at this point, that leads me to believe that Judge (David) Burnett should on the basis of newly discovered scientific evidence grant a new trial," McDaniel said.

Lawyers for Damien Echols say they plan to bring a new appeal to a state judge by the middle of next month. 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.

Echols, now 33, was sentenced to death for 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 May 5, 1993, while riding bicycles in their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. The bodies of the three Cub Scouts were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

Police arrested the three teenagers after a confession by Misskelley in which he described how he watched Baldwin and Echols sexually assault and beat two of the boys. Misskelley said he ran down another boy trying to escape. Prosecutors say the killings stemmed from the teens' participation in a satanic cult.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the convictions, but a later documentary about the case sparked interest across the Internet, as well as among celebrities. Last month, about 150 supporters of the "West Memphis Three," including Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, rallied on the steps of the state Capitol.

Echols' attorneys say 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 the him or the two other men convicted in 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' attorneys said in a statement that the DNA evidence is still relevant even if it does not conclusively prove who didn't kill the three boys.

"The question rather is whether any reasonable jury knowing what we now know about the state of the evidence would convict the defendants today," attorneys Dennis Riordan and Donald Horgan said in a prepared statement.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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