When does injustice become justice?
The West Memphis Three have been released.
Relax. I am not here to debate their guilt or innocence. I don’t trust the media enough or have enough facts to debate. I am not a detective, witness, or juror exposed to the case. I am not one of the Three. When this happened I was more concerned with other things.
The story and push to get these men released was enough to entice Eddie Vedder, and Johnny Depp to get involved. Vedder and Natalie Maines showed up for the release on Friday. Doesn’t that count for something?
Politicians, judges, and detectives say they stick to their story. Just like the convicted Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. did. They say they didn’t do it.
Regardless of the lack DNA evidence, the men did have fatal strikes against them in the initial trial. The were believed to be involved in satanic rituals and practices. That, combined with residency in the Bible Belt may have been the true blows to their case. Believe me, as a wanna-be punk rocker in Georgia in the late seventies and eighties, I can see how that may have worked. Then, not much could protect a Mohawk-ed and leather-wearing smartass. Sex Pistol cries of “God Save the Queen” and Anarchy didn’t play like in the streets of London.
My exposure to our legal system was slanted in my favor, most times. My father, a criminal defense attorney, could have been called a magician some days. Who else could give me a brand new driving record—one that didn’t include my six DUI convictions—for a birthday present?
An acquaintance, arrested red-handed with an ounce of cocaine, went to jail for less than an ounce of marijuana. A girlfriend, the nanny for a gentleman convicted of running a criminal enterprise in the form of a golf tournament, was also indicted as a co-conspirator since she was in a suite rented by him, playing nanny to his son while the illegal casino ran, full force, in the basement. Once I reached out on her behalf, she never heard another word about it.
Having seen the other side of that, and knowing that a lot of money goes a little way in the form of a criminal defense fund, I fully believe our jails are incredibly overcrowded—likely for a number of reasons, not the least of which may be the number of innocent people residing there. On my visits, everyone said they didn’t do it—it’s a kind of joke. The reality is that it might be truer than most of us will ever know.
DNA has proven to be a double-edged sword, however. After 10 years on Death row, like Echols spent, there probably won’t be too much effort to locate the true killer, or to prove, from a different perspective, that the Three did it. Hence, officials, who in some cases may have their own legal righteousness and reputation to protect, are sticking to their guns. If I say someone else may have committed these crimes, it is a matter of time before every case I ever prosecuted gets called into question? What about my legacy of convictions? Or the other skeletons that may be hiding in my closets?
In all of this, what stands out the most to me is how they got out. They were required, yes, required, to employ an “Alford Plea.” The Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign Political and Legal Terms defines the Alford plea:
A plea under which a defendant may choose to plead guilty, not because of an admission to the crime, but because the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to place a charge and to obtain conviction in court. The plea is commonly used in local and state courts in the United States.
Webster’s New World Law Dictionary says:
A guilty plea entered as part of a plea bargain by a criminal defendant who denies committing the crime or who does not actually admit his guilt. In federal courts, such plea may be accepted as long as there is evidence that the defendant is actually guilty.
I am not a lawyer, and if you are, please chime in, but that sounds to me like in state courts, the necessity of such evidence is not a requirement. If it were, then I would assume the prosecutors would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” such evidence existed, in which case I imagine the Three would have taken a chance at a new trial to actually clear their name, and/or seek civil recompense for wrongful conviction. As it stands, they are basically guilty as charged, and in a probationary situation that would send them back to prison for any violation of the probationary rules or any laws. A scary, and unfair position to be in, yes, but so is death row.
Baldwin initially didn’t want to accept the deal. “This was not justice,” he said, adding that he dropped his opposition to pave the way for Echols’ release from death row. “He had it so much worse than I had it,” Baldwin said of Echols. “It’s just insufferable to put a person through that.”
So, here we sit, celebrating the release of these men from their confinement. I applaud that, especially since there’s a very real possibility they never should been incarcerated in the first place. But all around us, systems, like finance, the economy, healthcare, government, corporate America, and labor are broken. Looking at how it works today, I wonder if a system as deeply rooted as our legal system is not the most broken of them all. It is one of the cornerstones of our government and our founding. In no world that I am aware of should a person be required to lie to get an exit pass or be imprisoned if they lie to avoid getting there to start with. Where is the justice?
We need to open up the dialog around these things. What do you think?