Investigation Discovery examines the case of three murdered 8-year old cub scouts who were hogtied and left in an Arkansas ditch. Their horrific murders led to a botched investigation, which in turn led to a severe miscarriage of justice.
Three innocent teenage boys were scapegoated and put in jail for nearly 20-years before tests on DNA evidence enabled them to walk free.
Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were reported missing on May 5, 1993, a cursory search was performed by police, friends, and neighbors that evening, but it was the following morning before a more extensive search began.
Their bodies were eventually found in a ditch near a drainage canal. They had been stripped naked and hogtied with their shoelaces. They had suffered multiple injuries, and Byers had suffered mutilation of the penis and scrotum.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were eventually charged with the crime.
They were considered the unusual kids in town, they dressed in black and listened to heavy metal music. They were described as being goths before goths were fashionable.
The police were accused of railroading the teens because of their rebellious streak, the way they dressed, and because they were fascinated with the occult. The town’s residents, deep inside America’s bible belt, quickly turned against them.
West Memphis Three convicted despite no concrete evidence against them
Jessie Misskelley, considered borderline mentally disabled, confessed to the crime after four hours of police interrogation.
Despite there being very little tangible evidence, all three teens were sent to jail. Echols, who was considered the ringleader, was sentenced to death and spent ten years in solitary confinement.
Publicity around the case continued to mount, and the teenagers gained some high profile supporters in the reform of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Natalie Mains of the Dixie Chicks, among others. These celebrities helped pay the legal fees that would eventually set them free.
Finally, in 2007 defense lawyers forced the state to perform DNA tests, which had not been available in 1993. The tests, which were run on hair found on the victims, proved the three were innocent.
In 2010, the men were set free, but amazingly the prosecution insisted on the condition that they admit to being guilty. The three continue to argue their innocence today, but now they do it as free men.
As for the real killer of those 8-year old boys? It remains a mystery today.
More murder mysteries from Investigation Discovery
Follow the links to read about other murders profiled in An ID Murder Mystery.
Did New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez murder his friend Odin Lloyd in 2013? This NFL star had just signed a contract worth $40 million; why would he throw it all away, did he think himself above the law?
In 2018 Shanann Watts was 15-weeks pregnant with her third child when she was murdered by her so-called loving husband, Chris Watts. Watts had buried her in a shallow grave at his workplace.
West Memphis Three: An ID Murder Mystery airs on April 5, in 3-parts from 9/8c on ID.