Deal for West Memphis 3 could allow them to go free Friday - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Deal for West Memphis 3 could allow them to go free Friday

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Three men convicted in the 1993 killings of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts in West Memphis are due in court this week. Three men convicted in the 1993 killings of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts in West Memphis are due in court this week.
JONESBORO, AR -

(WMC-TV) - The West Memphis Three, three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in 1993, could be released from prison Friday following a surprise hearing.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley will meet at the Jonesboro courthouse Friday morning.

"They said a deal had been made or is about to be made for two of the animals that killed my son would probably be released," said Steve Branch, father of victim Steven Branch.

Other sources said all three defendants could go free on Friday.

"I don't know what kind of deal they made," said Steve Branch.  "Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you and you can walk free for killing somebody."

All three defendants will be present in a private session Friday morning.  After that, there will be a public session.  That is when details will be revealed.

Steve Branch said he fears the West Memphis Three will go free.

"I really believe that is true," he said.

Echols is on death row.  His co-defendants, Misskelley and Baldwin, are serving life sentences.  All three have said they did not murder the three 8-year-old boys.

Steve Branch said he plans to be at Friday's hearing.

"I know that if Echols walks out, I know he'll have one major question on his mind," he said.  "And I've got the answer for that question.  Nowhere on earth."

Then 17-year-old Misskelley was the one suspect police said confessed to the crime.  He later recanted his confession.

Misskelley's father said he hopes speculations about his son's release from prison is the truth.

Family and friends gathered around Jessie Misskelley, Sr., recounting numerous television appearances over nearly two decades.

Misskelley, Sr. credited national attention and the lack of evidence for possibly reversing the result of what he still calls a witch hunt.

"I'm glad it's coming to a head right now," said Misskelley, Sr.

Misskelley, Sr. said an attorney informed him of Friday's surprise court hearing and advised him not to talk.  However, he said the news was too good not to spread.

"My son's coming home," he said.  "That's what I'm thinking."

Jessie Misskelley's confession was a lynchpin in the case that helped convict the West Memphis Three.  His father said he still remembers the day of the shocking crime and his son's alibi.

"He was here at the trailer park until 7:00," said Misskelley, Sr.  "Left at 7:30 and went to Dyess, Arkansas to wrestle and was there until midnight."

Misskelley, Sr. said he believes the true killer may never be caught, but is certain his son should have never been convicted.

"I'm just glad to get my son home, that's all I know."

Many in West Memphis and beyond are still convinced the true killers are the ones behind bars.  If Jessie Misskelley is indeed released, his father said the now 36-year-old will likely relocate to California.

Action News 5 has followed the story of the West Memphis Three since 1993 and has reported on every development up until Friday's possible release.

Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and James Michael Moore were last seen around 6:30 p.m. on May 5, 1993.  The next day, their bodies were found.

By May 7, Echols was interviewed by police.  He was interviewed twice more before June 3, when Misskelley confessed.  Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were all arrested on murder charges.

All three pleaded not guilty in August of 1993.

In 1994, Misskelley would be the first to be convicted of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder.  Echols and Baldwin were both found guilty on three counts of capital murder.

Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison, while Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

For 17 years, all three men have been confined to an Arkansas prison, but that did not stop the fight to clear their names.

In 2007, new DNA evidence was found that could clear the names of the West Memphis Three.  That evidence linked Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of victim Steven Branch, to the scene of the crime.

Many celebrities joined the cause.  In August of 2010, they threw a rally in support of the West Memphis Three.

"It makes me scared, because this could happen to any of us," said Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines.

Just last month, new DNA evidence was found on Byers' shoe that did not match any of the West Memphis Three.

Senior Editor of the Arkansas Times, Max Brantley, said the possible release is all political.

"Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is going to run for governor in 2014, the prosecutor in Jonesboro is considering a congressional race," said Brantley.  "There are a lot of liberal-minded people and students of this case who think these people were wrongly convicted."

"The DNA testing has a certain magic to it," Brantley added.  "The DNA testing, I think it is important to remember, does not exonerate these defendants.  But there is no DNA evidence that puts them at the scene.  And with the exception of one confession, the case is circumstantial."

Brantley said if the conviction remains on the record after their release, Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin will not be able to sue the state of Arkansas or seek profit from book or movie deals.

Action News 5 has multiple crews working this developing story.  Look for instant updates on Action News 5, and online via WMCTV.com and the Action News 5 Facebook page.

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