On May 6, 1993, three eight year old boys were found savagely murdered in West Memphis Arkansas. The investigation lacks hard evidence and a suspect, and the police automatically turn their focus on Satanism. Unfortunately, three teenage boys became the prime suspects: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. Because they wore black and listened to hard rock music, they were outcasts. With nothing but circumstantial evidence mounted upon these teenage boys, the community lets a "Satanic Panic" outweigh the facts.
All the while, there is more than just circumstantial evidence that points to one of the victims' stepfather, John Mark Byers. He had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit this heinous crime. It is very difficult to fathom the idea that a father, biological or not, could murder his son. In the case of the West Memphis Three, this idea never entered the minds of the people in the community or law enforcement. In the boys’ case, there was never any direct evidence linking them to the murder and still they were arrested.
No clear reason for their arrest was ever given because there was never any substantial amount of evidence against them. Meanwhile, evidence against other possible murderers, such as John Mark Byers was disregarded. The fact that Christopher Byers was tormented the most, it comes off as though his murder was something personal and Michael Moore and Stevie Branch just happened to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Compared to the three teenagers, Byers had the means to commit the murder.
Byers stood six feet three inches tall and approximately two hundred fifty pounds. Three eight-year-old boys, fighting with all their might could not possibly overpower this man. They trusted him because of the fact that he was Chris’ stepfather and they would most definitely go somewhere with someone they knew before going off with strangers. Byers even had a reliable source of transportation that he could have possibly used to transport the bodies. Meanwhile, Damien, Jason, nor Jessie had a vehicle, knew how to drive, or access to a vehicle.
The absence of blood on the bank and lack of mosquito bites on the boys’ bodies suggest that they were murdered at another location and simply dumped at the creek. This leads to the speculation that the boys were with someone that they trusted at another location when they were killed. Christopher was the only one of the boys that had defensive wounds. This piece of evidence implies to two things: first, all of the boys were comfortable with their attacker, and second, Christopher had possibly been abused by the attacker before and knew what was coming (Steel).
This would lead one to believe that Chris was the target. The police were convinced that they had found their killers in the three teenagers after hearing and recording Jessie’s so called confession to the crime and his tying Damien and Jason to it as well. Even though alibis were presented by the boys the police ignored them and went ahead with the arrests. It is rather obvious, that basing the whole case and investigation on the coerced confession given by Jessie is a seriously flawed decision on the part of the West Memphis police and brings the credibility of the department into question.
Police discovered a knife in the Byers’ household belonging to John Mark Byers. Forensics stated that the type of blade on the knife was the same type used to cut and mutilate the three young boys; yet the blood found on the knife was never analyzed. When asked about the knife, Byers stated that he had never used it before. However, when blood was discovered in the hinge on the knife, he stated that he had used it to cut deer meat. After Byers was informed that the blood was human, he stated that he may have cut his thumb and that he used the knife to cut his toe nails (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills).
Inconsistencies in his story seemed to just go unnoticed instead of pushed into further investigation. Byers had the opportunity to kill the boys on a couple of different occasions on the day that they went missing. The boys were last seen on the way to Robin Hood Hills at around six thirty that afternoon. Apparently, Christopher did not want to stay and endure his punishment that day for not staying at home. An hour at seven thirty later Mark Byers decides to search for Christopher when they come across a police officer whom they ask to help in the search.
The hour in between the boys’ last sighting and the Byers’ search is unknown. Mark Byers’ actions, the actions of his wife, and their whereabouts are not known in this time. He could have used this time to find the boys, take them somewhere secluded, and murder them either intentionally or accidentally out of complete anger and rage and his wife who was reportedly on drugs at the time may have been an accomplice (Leveritt 298). The police officer that they stopped and asked for help told them to wait until eight o’clock to start the search. This would give him enough time to dump the bodies in the creek.
It was also reported that he was actually in those woods, where the bodies would later be found, alone at around nine(Free). The bodies were found the next day at one forty-five in the afternoon. There would have been plenty of time for the Byers to dispose of any blood in the back of the truck, which was not investigated anyway. A small southern town ambushed by a “Satanic Panic” failed to realize the magnitude of pinning capital murder on three innocent teenage boys. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were the real victims in this case.
They were victims because of the fact that they were different from other teenagers and did not fit in with the normal teenage crowd. Because of the flawed investigation on the part of the police, the boys were concluded guilty by the jury. Circumstantial evidence put these boys behind bars for the rest of their lives when the actual and factual evidence points the finger at John Mark Byers. Organizations, such as Free the West Memphis Three, have been set up to somehow gain freedom for the boys. However it has been sixteen years since they were first arrested and the boys, now men, are still rotting away in prison.