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08-19-11, 06:30 PM #1
3 men convicted of child killings free after 18 years because they changed their pleas to save one from death penaltyThree men who served 18 years in prison following their convictions in a 1993 triple-slaying in West Memphis, Arkansas, walked free Friday to cheers from a supportive crowd after entering new pleas in the case.
"I want to be out. I deserve to be out," said Jason Baldwin, who along with Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr., was freed after entering rarely used pleas in which they maintained their innocence but acknowledged that prosecutors have evidence to convict them.
Echols and Baldwin entered what is known as an Alford plea on three counts of first degree murder. Misskelley entered similar pleas to one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder.
Craighead County Circuit Judge David Laser sentenced the three to the 18 years already served and imposed a 10-year suspended sentence -- meaning they could be returned to jail if they violate the law..
Echols was previously sentenced to death and Misskelley and Baldwin were given life sentences in the May 1993 slayings of second-graders Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore.
The boys' bodies were mutilated and left in a ditch, hogtied with their own shoelaces. Prosecutors argued that the men who were convicted, teenagers at the time, were driven by satanic ritual and that Echols had been the ringleader.
Critics of the case against the men argued that no direct evidence tied the three to the murders and that a knife recovered from a lake near the home of one of the men could not have caused the boys' wounds. More recent DNA testing also demonstrated no links, according to the men's supporters.
More here: 'West Memphis 3' freed in child killings after 18 years - CNN.com
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