MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The legal team for one of the defendants in the infamous West Memphis 3 case said Wednesday that evidence believed to have been lost in the case has been found at the West Memphis, Arkansas police department.
Lawyers for defendant Damien Echols said in a news release that they’d been working for 18 months to gain access to evidence in the 1993 murder case that they believed may exonerate three men, but received no cooperation from city officials and were told it was missing, lost or damaged.
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Attorney Patrick Benca said after a state court order, he was allowed to visit the West Memphis Police Department and found the evidence, intact and organized.
The next step is to get this evidence DNA tested with new technology called M-VAC to possibly clear the names of Jason Baldwin, Jesse Misskelley and Damien Echols, who were all behind bars for nearly 18 years, with Echols once on death row.
“We are pleased that the evidence is intact. We are planning to move ahead and test this evidence using the latest DNA technology available to hopefully identify the real killer(s) of the three children in 1993, and exonerate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley,” Benca said in a statement.
Lonnie Soury of Arkansas Take Action said they began to worry once they were told there was no evidence of the case.
“What even worried us more was we started hearing from these officials that the evidence had been destroyed, lost or mishandled,” Soury said. “Rumors that it had been lost in a fire. It was very confusing and a very sad state of development.”
Soury also said although DNA testing is expensive, it will not stop their process of clearing the “West Memphis Three’s” names.
“Of course it is expensive to test DNA and providing the law enforcement, authorities in Crittenden County don’t stand in our way,” he said.
In 2012, all three men in the case — Echols, Misskelley Jr. and Baldwin — were released when they made a deal with prosecutors called an Alford plea, meaning they pleaded guilty but maintained their innocence.
Michael Pope, the chief of the West Memphis Police Department, unexpectedly resigned Tuesday, effective at the end of this week. His resignation letter said he was pursuing other opportunities.
Echols made a statement on Twitter saying the chief was “not truthful.”
“He has now resigned, and we know that none of the evidence was destroyed. It can now be tested, to see who left DNA at the crime scene. My attorney was in the evidence room this morning and saw it with his own eyes. Every piece is still there,” Echols said.
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon said the evidence that was found has nothing to do with Pope’s sudden resignation as police chief and the city is committed to doing its part in the case.
“We will comply with any lawful requests that are made for this case,” McClendon said.
As far as a timeline for when the testing could happen, Soury says they’re ready, and they want it to happen as soon as possible.
The bodies of the eight-year-old victims — Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Steve Branch — were found in a ditch in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis in 1993 after they were reported missing. The bodies had been tied with shoelaces.