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
“Someone should have checked my blood alcohol content. It took a lot for me to get up there and say all that. I can’t sit here and tell you I lied, because I don’t want to go to prison for — whatever it is — perjuring myself without an attorney present. But someone should’ve checked to see how many pills I’d had before I got on the stand. There were certain times I even threw Stidham some remarks, trying to steer it another way. That’s a part of my life I regret, very much so. Jessie was like a little brother to me. And I had to make a choice between him and my son.”
Asked specifically about the story she told, of attending some sort of witches’ orgy in the West Memphis woods with Misskelley and the others, she was intentionally vague.
“That story evolved. Can we say it like that? Instead of the story was real, the story was anything, it evolved.
“I thought that one day I could take it all back. I don’t know how I can without it ruining me.” Later, she added about the police, “Yeah, it’s just their story, that’s the only one that works. You don’t come at them with anything else. They were running the show.”
Hutcheson says she lives in fear of Byers coming after her, and says she believes Byers had something to do with the crime. Interestingly, at least one of the jurors in the Echols-Baldwin trial concurs with her suspicion of Byers, who had to testify at the trial when he gave the HBO filmmakers a hunting knife with blood on it that they subsequently turned over to the West Memphis PD (Tests showed that it could have been either Byers’ blood or the blood of his murdered stepson.)
“I truly believe he was there or had something to do with it,” former juror Sharon French told me regarding Byers’ testimony. “But he wasn’t on trial. Us jurors discussed that, that he was there, but we couldn’t do anything about that because he wasn’t on trial.”
As for Echols, she explained her regret this way:
“I’m sorry I voted to give him the death penalty. I have one son who’s about their age. During the trial, everyone thought they were guilty from the start. Now I don’t know. He maybe ought to have a new trial. If the DNA proves he didn’t do it, I hope he gets off. Now I hope both or all three of them get a new trial, if there’s new evidence and DNA.”
Nevertheless, the police, the prosecutors and the judges involved remain hostile to any idea that they may have convicted the wrong men and let the real killer or killers remain free. Prosecutor Brent Davis, who bears an eerie resemblance to Brad Dourif’s character in Mississippi Burning, says he has “not one iota” of a doubt. His former deputy John Fogleman, now a circuit-court judge, claimed he was still convinced, though he says, “There are always little nagging doubts about things, things that don’t make sense, or don’t add up.”
Some of the things that don’t add up include why in 1992 — one year before the murders — Judge Burnett formally expunged Byers’ felony conviction of threatening his ex-wife with an electric shocker. There’s also the fact that 10 years ago, Brent Davis declined to prosecute Byers for a scam that involved the theft of two Rolex watches from UPS, even though he had confessed to the crime, according to Leveritt’s book. And there’s the mysterious death of Byers’ wife, Melissa, who never awoke from lying down to take a nap with her husband in March of 1996.
The apparently “incarceration-proof” Byers finally did 15 months in prison, but only after he was nabbed for selling Xanax to undercover narcotics officers in an incident even Arkansas police couldn’t ignore. But it goes higher than Arkansas. Leveritt’s book discusses an incident in which Byers was arrested in Memphis in July of 1992, nearly a year before the murders, by Sheriff’s deputies on charges of conspiring to sell cocaine and carrying a dangerous weapon. Sometime during the night, he was taken into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. The paper trail ends there.
Chief Deputy Tommy Thompson, at the U.S. Marshals Service, Western District of Tennessee, responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by stating, “We do have some records in our computer of him being in our custody in 1992.” But he added, “Our headquarters will have to advise me what can be released.” A few days later, the Justice Department formally rejected the FOIA request on grounds that releasing the information would be a violation of Byers’ privacy.
Damien Echols may be one of the best-read individuals I’ve ever met. In fact, he tells me he limits himself to a book every couple of days because his eyesight is getting so poor. Physically, with his pale complexion and coal-black hair, he looks like Jack White of the White Stripes. He’d fit right in at some coffeehouse in Santa Monica talking about Carl Jung or Martin Heidegger, two of his favorite authors. During our meeting, the conversation jumped all over, from his interest in tarot to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“How could they cancel that show?!”) to the significance of certain dreams and nightmares. He tells me that his dreams are mostly about the West Memphis PD harassing him.