By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Grove Pashley recalls that moment with Stidham back in 1996 as being a real turning point for him personally. Tall and physically fit, with dirty-blond hair and blue eyes, Pashley describes himself as a “behind-the-scenes guy,” who’s not afraid to call up the lawyers, the press or whoever needs calling. He says Sauls and Bakken “were the first to jump on this,” but Pashley was holding back a bit up until that point.
“It had a huge impact on us when we saw the dead children,” says Pashley. “We realized for the first time, it wasn’t just these three guys who are serving sentences, it’s these three little children as well. And Dan said this to us — and it was so true back then — the only people around who are going to help these guys are sitting in this room right now. We’d discussed doing the support fund before, but that is when reality hit. It gave us a responsibility I almost didn’t want to take on. I always feel like I didn’t choose it, it chose me.”
Pashley’s stark, black-and-white pictures of Damien, Jessie and Jason will also be in the show. Like Sauls, Bakken and Fancher, he’s usually wearing one of the POW bracelets. But he took it to the next level after the second film came out, getting WM3 tattooed in Braille on the inside of his left wrist. “For me, it’s about blind justice,” he says, as if he wants to help justice read. There’s the sense that the WM3 have “marked” him, just as the tattooist did with needle and blue ink.
“There are times and days when I get consumed by it,” he says. “And it seems to all happen at once. Most of the time when I’m working on it myself and seeing the stuff that’s going on and knowing what’s going on and convinced as I am that they didn’t do this crime, I get really optimistic. But when I see how slow things go and I can see that the money is in such desperate need — more now than during the trial — and when I talk to people in Arkansas who say it’s not going to happen on the state level, I wonder, ‘God, how much more do we need?’ What’s it going to take to convince these people that these guys are innocent and that they got a real killer out there?”
“I just know we’re right,” Bakken says. “I’m just so convinced, so adamant that these guys are going to get out one of these days, and my job is to try to make their lives easy and bearable until then — giving people access to them, so their viewpoint is always focused outside prison instead of in. They’re not convicts. They’re not normal prisoners whose lives have become prison. They’re always focused on us, on their girlfriends, or their wives. They have all of these supporters giving them all of this love. Sending them letters, money, offering to help. I like keeping them focused that way. So they’re not making their life in prison, they’re preparing for life outside.”
“I personally can’t imagine Damien ever being executed,” says Pashley. “That would affect me too much. I would just be so bitter and angry.”
The more I learn about the case, about the incompetence and corruption of the officials in Arkansas, the more I too am fearful of how it will all end. Mara Leveritt’s book Devil’s Knotdocuments in heavily footnoted detail how drug trafficking through Crittenden County — where West Memphis is located — has tainted the legal process there. She proffers evidence that John Mark Byers was a narc for the Crittenden County Drug Task Force, and she alleges a systematic pattern of preferential treatment given to Byers in a series of sometimes-violent criminal incidents before and after the murders took place. Byers, who reportedly lives in Tennessee somewhere near Memphis, could not be reached for comment, but his bizarre, antisocial behavior in both Paradise Lost films has done nothing to calm the speculation surrounding him. Leveritt says the West Memphis Police Department “bent over backwards” not to investigate him properly.
“If you look at the way the police questioned John Mark Byers, it does not conform to the way police in any other police department in the country I believe would look at a man with that record,” Leveritt tells me. “The very fact that here is a guy whose stepson is murdered and nowhere in the police investigative file is there a mention of the fact that he was convicted of a ‘terroristic threatening’ of his ex-wife. It boggles the mind.”
While looking into Leveritt’s claims, I spoke to Victoria Hutcheson, who testified against Jessie Misskelley and who was instrumental in helping the West Memphis Police Department pin this triple murder on the WM3. Now 40, and still in Arkansas, Hutcheson expressed profound regret for her role in the investigation and Misskelley’s trial, and she claimed she was under duress from the West Memphis PD to act as she did. She said there were indirect threats by the WMPD at the time to implicate her in the crime, and possibly take her child Aaron from her. As for her testimony against Misskelley: