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'West Memphis Three' Free After Lawyers' Deal

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on August 19, 2011 11:13 AM

A new deal has set members of the "West Memphis Three" free. The three men featured in Paradise Lost film Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were infamously convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys.

The deal, brokered by their attorneys, set them free on Friday, Reuters reports. All day, news outlets have been feverishly reporting the West Memphis Three" release.

The murder gained the attention of the media and of the public when it was publicized that the murders were part of a satanic ritual.

Investigators were led to Echols partially because he practiced Wicca, according to The New York Times.

The lead to Echols led to another man, Misskelley, who is borderline mentally retarded. He was interrogated by police for nearly 12 hours, which led to a confession that also implicated Echols and Baldwin, according to The New York Times.

Prosecutors relied heavily on this confession to win the case against the "West Memphis Three," despite the fact that the confession deviated from the actual facts found by police. Echols was sentenced to death row, while the other men were sentenced to life in prison, The New York Times reports.

All members of the "West Memphis Three" were teenagers at the time of their arrest, according to the Arkansas Times.

Besides the confession, there was no physical evidence that connected the teens to the crime. Recent DNA tests did find that a hair found in one of the ropes might have belonged to one of the victim's stepfathers. Another hair in a tree might belong to a friend of the stepfather, according to the Arkansas Times.

But, in most criminal cases, post-conviction DNA analysis can exonerate individuals either a) by conclusively proving that they did not commit the crime; or b) provide enough reasonable doubt that the conviction can be overturned.

To be sure, the release of Damien Echols ranks as one of the most publicized releases of a death row inmate in recent memory. Having the West Memphis Three released is quite the Hollywood ending for the "Paradise Lost" filmmakers who have followed this case for years.

[Editor's note: Updated 1:02 pm PST with news of the "West Memphis Three's" release.]

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