A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: murder

The West Memphis Three: An A-Z List of Justice Gone Wrong

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By Meghan Lalonde

West Memphis, 1993: Three eight-year-old boys brutally murdered in small-town Arkansas. Three satanic teenage “punks” to blame it on. When looking for suspects, these teenagers fit the bill – long hair, heavy metal fans, all dressed in black. There was even a confession. The story caught the attention of two HBO filmmakers, who decided to make a documentary about the horrible crime that traumatized the community.

The film that introduced the world to defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley – the West Memphis Three (WM3) – wasn’t supposed to be about wrongful convictions. It wasn’t supposed to be a project that led to two additional films over the next 18 years. It just turned out that way.

Last month, HBO premiered the third and final chapter of the documentary, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.” I’d heard about it and thought it seemed interesting so on a rainy Friday afternoon I turned on the TV to give the first one a shot. Six hours, two sandwiches, and a full liter of Diet Coke later, I’d watched all three films, and I was reeling.

Searching for order in all the disorder, I’ve boiled it down to an A to Z list of some of the haunting and perplexing aspects about this terrible miscarriage of justice. There will be no “Spoiler Alert” here. Google the film and you’ll see that the three convicted murderers are free, released in August 2011 after entering into Alford Pleas (see “P” below). As with so many epic stories, knowing the ending doesn’t minimize the gripping nature of the journey.

Alternative suspects. One of the many critical shortcomings of the West Memphis Police Department was failing to search for leads on additional suspects. First, police never investigated Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one victim with a history of violence. Mr. Hobbs claimed he hadn’t seen the children the day they went missing, but his neighbors are certain they saw him with the kids after school, around the time they were last seen. In 1993, these neighbors were never questioned. Police also botched the investigation of an unidentified black man who was seen at a local restaurant covered in mud and blood on the evening of the murders. They collected blood samples from inside the restaurant, then lost the evidence.

Blood. When the bodies of the three boys were discovered in a stream they were found naked, hogtied, stabbed, and mutilated. The prosecution argued that the murders occurred near where the bodies were found, but if that were true, wouldn’t there have been blood found at the scene? There wasn’t. Not even a drop. The use of a knife and ritual bloodletting thought to be part of satanic rituals were integral to the prosecution’s theory against the WM3 and yet there wasn’t any blood to be found. Recent forensic analysis has explained that the scratches and skin flaying of the victims were actually due to animal predation.

Celebrity support. Celebrities figured among thousands of supporters who learned about the WM3 from the first film. In 2010, Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder hosted a benefit concert in their support. When the WM3 were released in August, Damien Echols, the defendant who had spent 18 years on death row, said he wanted to go to Disneyland. Mr. Depp made it happen.   (more…)

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Did Yale University Fail To Prevent Murder?

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By Jessica McElroy

In September 2009, the wedding of Annie Le, a 24-year old pharmacology student at Yale School of Medicine and her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, was cancelled.  Ms. Le had been missing for more than three days.

Two days later, on the very day they had planned to get married, Ms. Le’s body was found stuffed inside a basement wall of the Amistad Street Building in New Haven, Connecticut, a research lab owned and operated by Yale University.

An autopsy later found that Ms. Le had suffered severe bruising and bleeding as well as fractures in her jaw and collarbone. She had been beaten and strangled by Raymond Clark III who later submitted an Alford plea to the charges of sexual assault – not admitting his guilt but acknowledging that the prosecution has enough evidence to make a conviction. He is currently serving a 44-year sentence for murder.

The New York Daily News reported that Ms. Le’s family has filed a lawsuit in a New Haven Superior Court naming Yale University and Yale School of Medicine as defendants.  The lawsuit accuses Yale of creating “a tolerance that allowed and encouraged aggressive male behavior towards women” and an environment that “emboldened” Mr. Clark to commit murder.  The suit also claims that Yale was negligent in hiring Mr. Clark and allowing him to work unsupervised with students and staff.

The article quoted from the complaint and describes the tolerance by Yale of harassment towards women. In addition, several students sued under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids schools receiving federal funding to discriminate based on sex, against the university.  The Tile IX suit, filed in March 2009, is cited in the lawsuit filed by Ms. Le’s estate.

What the News did not address are the legal burdens of either side of this wrongful death suit. What will the estate have to prove to impose liability on Yale University for Ms. Le’s death? Will a court link the environment of harassment alleged in the Title IX lawsuit to Mr. Clark’s violence?  Can Yale effectively argue that there was nothing it could have done to prevent Ms. Le’s death?   (more…)

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Ambulance’s Delay Is an Issue in Long Island Hate-Crime Trial

By Tafiya Khan

On November 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was stabbed in the chest near a train station in Patchogue, Long Island.  Lucero’s friend called 911 at 11:55 p.m.  The hospital was only three miles away, but Lucero was not brought to the hospital for another forty minutes.   By that time, Lucero was dead.

As reported in the New York Times, Jeffrey Conroy, 19, is accused of second-degree murder as a hate crime, gang assault, and other charges related to Lucero’s stabbing, and the ambulance’s “delay will most likely play into [Conroy’s] defense” at trial.  But the Times did not discuss the validity of such a defense.

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Murder, Ink: Neo-Nazi Cover-up?

By Drew Smith

Legendary litigator Clarence Darrow observed that “jurymen seldom convict a person they like, or acquit one they dislike.”  John Ditullio, a recent defendant in a Florida murder trial, is a man very difficult to like.  He sports a six inch swastika in black ink just beneath his right ear.  A strand of barbed wire is tattooed over his right eye, a teardrop marked under the left.  There’s a vulgar instruction to passersby on his neck, and his beard grows a devilish point.

The marks are the bulls-eyes of a white supremacist, stamped to be seen.  Nevertheless, as reported on Fox News, a judge ordered Florida to pay $150 per day during Ditullio’s trial to make them vanish.  It’s the kind of pin-pulling headline-grabbing story that swiftly ignites taxpayer outrage.  But Ditullio’s trial lasted only a few days, leaving a bill roughly equivalent to the revenue from a single DUI fine.  And crusaders for truth and accuracy should note that the tattoos that were covered at trial were inked while the defendant was in jail awaiting trial.

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