Damien Echols’ legal team reviews ‘lost’ evidence in 1993 West Memphis murder case

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — The legal team for Damien Echols, a man who, as a teenager, was accused of a triple murder in West Memphis, Ark., was able to review evidence in the case at the West Memphis Police Department.

According to a release from Soury Communications, Inc., the team tried for 18 months to review the evidence, finding it intact, catalogued, organized, and ready for further DNA testing.

Echols was controversially accused, along with Jessie Misskelley Jr and Jason Baldwin, of murdering three young boys.

The teens, who became known as the West Memphis Three, were all convicted.

Echols was sentenced to death row.

He was released, along with the other two defendants, in 2011.

Little Rock, Ark., attorney Patrick Benca was able to review existing evidence in the case that was previously believed to be lost, damaged or destroyed, according to the release.

Echols’ team was informed the evidence was likely not available, but after a state court order, the team was invited to the WMPD to review what evidence remained.

Benca said, “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.”

Echols submitted a FOIA request months ago seeking all records relating to the missing evidence in the case, but that request remained unanswered in violation of Arkansas state law, the release said.

He then filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Crittenden County asking the court to “declare that the WMPD violated its statutory obligation to respond to the FOIA request” and “direct the WMPD to respond to the FOIA request within three days,” the release said.

Echols said, in part, that he wants to test the new evidence to exonerate himself and his fellow defendants, and to find the real killer(s).

Read Echols’ full statement below:

“Ten years ago I had no choice but to take an Alford plea to get off death row. I needed to fight for my innocence, and that of Jason and Jesse, outside of the prison walls. And that is why I sought to test the evidence in the case to exonerate us and lead to the real killer(s). Once we made inquiries to the West Memphis Police to turn over the evidence in the case for advanced testing, we were told that the evidence disappeared. We did not give up, and hopefully now we can move ahead with all due haste to have this evidence DNA tested.”

FOX13 spoke with Lonnie Soury, a lawyer on Echols’ defense team.

Soury said the team had been working during the pandemic to get the evidence. But he said talks with the district attorney and officials in West Memphis went silent.

“It’s really hard to believe why they wouldn’t respond to us for 18 months. All it would take is a phone call,” he said.

Soury and his team want the evidence tested by an independent laboratory.

“It was boxed and from everything we could tell was in good condition,” he said.

Soury said the evidence was tested once before when DNA technology wasn’t so advanced. At that time he said the DNA of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the boys killed, was found on it, along with that of one other person.

Soury wants Hobbs to give a new sample of his DNA.

“Why doesn’t he come forth and give us some new DNA from his hair or from his skin so we can make sure we get the right DNA,” Soury said.

In 2011 the West Memphis Three were freed on an Alford plea. They pled guilty but still maintained their innocence. Perhaps this new evidence will mean they will truly be free, their names cleared.

FOX13 reached out to the district attorney of West Memphis for a comment. We have not yet heard back. We also tried to reach Terry Hobbs but were unsuccessful.