Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three

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On the evening of May 5, 1993, in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys disappeared. The next afternoon, the naked bodies of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were found submerged in a nearby stream. The boys had been bound from ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces and severely beaten. Christopher had been castrated.

The crime scene had yielded few clues, and despite Christopher's castration, there was a remarkable absence of ...

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Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three

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Overview

On the evening of May 5, 1993, in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys disappeared. The next afternoon, the naked bodies of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were found submerged in a nearby stream. The boys had been bound from ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces and severely beaten. Christopher had been castrated.

The crime scene had yielded few clues, and despite Christopher's castration, there was a remarkable absence of blood. The police were stymied, and citizens' alarm mounted as weeks passed without an arrest. Finally, a month after the murders, detectives announced three arrests -- and a startling theory of the crime: that the children had been killed by members of a satanic cult.

Detectives attributed their break in the case to a former special education student, seventeen-year-old Jessie Misskelley Jr. Although Jessie insisted he knew nothing of the crime, after eight hours of questioning, police announced that he had implicated himself and accused two other teenagers, eighteen-year-old Damien Echols and sixteen-year-old Jason Baldwin. Damien and Jason both denied Jessie's account, and Jessie himself recanted it within hours, but by then all three had been charged with the murders.

With no physical evidence connecting anyone to the crime, prosecutors contended that the murders bore signs of "the occult" and that the three accused teenagers possessed a "state of mind" that pointed to them as the killers. As proof of the defendants' mental states, they introduced items taken from their rooms -- such as books by Anne Rice and album posters for the rock group Metallica. Jurors found all three teenagers guilty. Jessie and Jason were sentenced to life in prison. Damien was sentenced to death.

While the verdicts were popular in Arkansas, an HBO documentary raised questions about the lack of evidence in the case, and a Web site was formed to support the inmates, now known as "The West Memphis Three." When the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the verdicts, state officials insisted that anyone who questioned the trials simply did not know "the facts."

Now, for the first time, an award-winning investigative reporter examines that official stand. In riveting narrative, Devil's Knot draws readers into the drama of a modern-day courtroom dominated by references to Satan. In laying out "the facts" of this still-unfolding case, it offers a frightening look into America's system of justice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Of the afternoon of May 5, 1993, the bodies of three eight-year-old boys were discovered in a drainage ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. After a month passed with no arrests, the police focused their attention on a confused, mildly retarded boy. After hours of interrogation, he admitted to participating in the killing and implicated two other teenagers. All three were convicted and sentenced to death, although the evidence against them seemed scant and often contradictory. In this disturbing book, award-winning Arkansas journalist Mara Leveritt investigates the tragedy and travesty of the case.
Publishers Weekly
Arkansas investigative journalist Leveritt (The Boys on the Tracks) presents an affecting account of a controversial trial in the wake of three child murders in Arkansas. In May 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in West Memphis, a small and tattered Arkansas town. The crime scene and forensic evidence were mishandled, but a probation officer directed the police toward Damien Echols, a youth with a troubled home life, antiauthoritarian attitudes and admiration for the "Goth" and Wiccan subcultures. Amid rumors of satanic cult activity, investigators browbeat Jesse Misskelley, a mentally challenged 16-year-old acquaintance of Echols, into providing a wildly inconsistent confession that he'd helped Echols and a third teen, Jason Baldwin, assault the boys. Leveritt meticulously reconstructs the clamorous investigation and two jury trials that followed. All three boys were convicted on the basis of Misskelley's dubious statements and such "evidence" as Echols's fondness for William Blake and Stephen King. Leveritt, who makes a strong argument that the convictions were a miscarriage of justice, also suggests an alternative suspect: one victim's stepfather, who had a history of domestic violence, yet was seemingly shielded by authorities because he was a drug informant for local investigators. Sure to be locally controversial, Leveritt's carefully researched book offers a riveting portrait of a down-at-the-heels, socially conservative rural town with more than its share of corruption and violence. (Oct. 8) Forecast: This case may be familiar to viewers of HBO, which aired a documentary about it in 1996. True crime fans and readers concerned with miscarriages of justice will want to pick this up. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Arkansas Times investigative reporter Leveritt explores the 1993 West Memphis Three murder convictions, which have been the subject of two HBO documentaries. The book is arranged chronologically, from the crime through the trial, and dispassionately dissects the prosecution's case against three teens who were convicted of the grisly murders of three eight-year-old boys. Leveritt interviewed the principals, reviewed the police file and trial transcripts, and leads the reader to conclude from her exhaustive research (430 footnotes) that the case was botched, improperly based on a single confession from a retarded youth and the defendants' alleged ties to satanic rituals. Well written in descriptive language, the book is an indictment of a culture and legal system that failed to protect children as defendants or victims. Highly recommended.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Arkansas Times
"Devil's Knot becomes the best horror novel you've ever read, one of those that leaves you wondering what new sick dread might be lying in wait on the next page...The monster Leveritt reveals in the end, however, is more terrifying than even the fork-tailed boogeymen conjured by West Memphis police and prosecutors to fit their crime. What Leveritt reveals to us is the most horrible fiend a rational person can imagine when matters of life and death are at stake: the Specter of Doubt."
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
"The chronology [of Devil's Knot] is the first time all elements of the case have been assembled in one narrative, which offers surprises, even for those familiar with the events. As such, it is a true public service."
Henry Rollins
"Brutal, riveting....The true horror of Leveritt's well-written book is that this barely believable fate could potentially befall any American."
author of Dead Man Walking - Helen Prejean
"The abuses of the criminal justice system shown here are so blatant—and so profoundly tragic—that they would be hard to believe were it not for the depth and even-handedness of Mara Leveritt's reporting."
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
"The chronology [of Devil's Knot] is the first time all elements of the case have been assembled in one narrative, which offers surprises, even for those familiar with the events. As such, it is a true public service."
author of Dead Man Walking - Sister Helen Prejean
"The abuses of the criminal justice system shown here are so blatant—and so profoundly tragic—that they would be hard to believe were it not for the depth and even-handedness of Mara Leveritt's reporting."
author of Dead Man Walking - Sr. Helen Prejean
"The abuses of the criminal justice system shown here are so blatant—and so profoundly tragic—that they would be hard to believe were it not for the depth and evenhandedness of Leveritt's reporting."
From the Publisher
"The abuses of the criminal justice system shown here are so blatant—and so profoundly tragic—that they would be hard to believe were it not for the depth and evenhandedness of Leveritt's reporting."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743417594
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 10/8/2002
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Mara Leveritt has won several awards for investigative journalism, including Arkansas's Booker Worthen Prize for her book The Boys on the Tracks. A contributing editor to the Arkansas Times, she lives in Little Rock.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Murders

At 7:41 P.M. on May 5, 1993, a full moon rose behind the Memphis skyline. Its light glinted across the Mississippi River and fell onto the midsized Arkansas town aspiringly named West Memphis. Sometime between the rising of that moon and its setting the next morning, something diabolical would happen in West Memphis. Three eight-year-old boys would vanish, plucked off the streets of their neighborhood by an unseen, murderous hand. Under the glare of the next day's sun, police would discover three young bodies. They would be pulled — naked, pale, bound, and beaten — from a watery ditch in a patch of woods alongside two of America's busiest highways. But the investigation would unfold in shadow. Why had one of the boys been castrated? How to account for the absence of blood? Why did the banks of the stream look swept clean? The police would stumble for weeks without clues — until the moon itself became one.

John Mark Byers, an unemployed jeweler, was the first parent to report a child missing. At 8 P.M., with the full moon on the rise, Byers telephoned the West Memphis police. Ten minutes later, a patrol officer responded. She drove her cruiser down East Barton Street, in a working-class neighborhood. At the corner where Barton intersected Fourteenth Street, the officer stopped in front of the Byerses' three-bedroom house. Byers, an imposing man, six feet five inches tall, weighing more than two hundred pounds, with long hair tied back in a ponytail, met her at the door. Behind him stood his wife, Melissa, five feet six, somewhat heavyset, with long hair and hollow eyes. Mark Byers did most of the talking. The officer listened and took notes. "The last time the victim was seen, he was cleaning the yard at 5:30 P.M." That would have been an hour and twenty minutes before sunset. The Byerses described Christopher as four feet four inches tall, weighing fifty pounds, with hair and eyes that were both light brown. He was eight years old.

The officer left the Byerses' house, and within minutes was dispatched to another call, at a chicken restaurant about a mile away. She pulled up at the Bojangles drive-through at 8:42 P.M. Through the window, the manager reported that a bleeding black man had entered the restaurant about a half hour before and gone into the women's rest room. The manager told the officer that the man, who had blood on his face and who had seemed "mentally disoriented," had wandered away from the premises just a few minutes before she arrived. When employees entered the rest room after he left, they found blood smeared on the walls. The officer took the report but investigated the incident no further. At 9:01, without ever having entered the restaurant, she drove away to a criminal mischief complaint about someone throwing eggs at a house.

At 9:24 P.M., the same officer responded to another call, again from Barton Street — this one from the house directly across from the Byerses'. Here a woman, Dana Moore, reported that her eight-year-old son, Michael, was also missing. Taking out her pad again, the officer wrote, "Complainant stated she observed the victim (her son) riding bicycles with his friends Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers. When she lost sight of the boys, she sent her daughter to find them. The boys could not be found." Moore said the boys had been riding on North Fourteenth Street, going toward Goodwin. That had been almost three and a half hours earlier, at about 6 P.M. By now, it had been dark for more than two hours. "Michael is described as four feet tall, sixty pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes," the officer wrote. "He was last seen wearing blue pants, blue Boy Scouts of America shirt, orange and blue Boy Scout hat and tennis shoes."

By now a second officer had been dispatched to a catfish restaurant several blocks away. There another mother, Pamela Hobbs, was reporting that her eight-year-old son, Stevie Edward Branch, was missing as well. Hobbs lived at Sixteenth Street and McAuley Drive, a few blocks away from the Byerses and the Moores. She reported that her son, Stevie, had left home after school and that no one had seen him since. The officer who took Hobbs's report did not note who was supposed to have been watching Stevie while his mother was at work, or who had notified Hobbs that her son was missing. Stevie was described as four feet two inches tall, sixty pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. The police report noted, "He was last seen wearing blue jeans and white T-shirt. He was riding a twenty-inch Renegade bicycle."

Word of the disappearances spread quickly through the subdivision. As groups of parents began searching, other residents reported that they had seen some boys — three, or maybe four — riding bikes near the dead end of McAuley Drive shortly before sunset. McAuley was a major street in the neighborhood. The house on McAuley where Stevie Branch lived was a few blocks south of the corner on Barton where the other two missing boys lived across the street from each other. From Stevie's house, McAuley wound west for a few blocks, ending at the edge of a four-acre patch of woods, a short distance northwest of the other boys' homes. The woods separated the subdivision from two interstate highways and their service roads on the north. The small sylvan space provided the neighborhood with a welcome buffer from the traffic on their northern edge. For a few diesel-fumed miles, east-west Interstate 40, spanning the United States between North Carolina and California, converges in West Memphis, Arkansas, with north-south I-55, connecting New Orleans to Chicago. For truckers and other travelers, the stretch is a major midcontinental rest stop; where the highways hum through West Memphis, the city has formed a corridor of fueling stations, motels, and restaurants. It was easy for anyone passing through not to notice the small patch of woods bordering that short section of highway. What was more noticeable was the big blue-and-yellow sign for the Blue Beacon Truck Wash that stood several yards from the edge of the woods, alongside the service road.

Just as truckers knew the Blue Beacon, kids in the neighborhood to the south were familiar with the woods. The small plot of trees represented park, playground, and wilderness for children and teenagers living in the subdivision's modest three-bedroom houses and in the still more modest apartment building nearby. That the woods existed at all was an acknowledgment, not of the need for parks or of places for children to play, but of the need for flood control. Years earlier the city had dredged a channel, unromantically known as the Ten Mile Bayou Diversion Ditch, to dispose of rainwater that ordinarily would have flowed into the Mississippi River but that was prevented from draining by the great levees that held back the river. While the levees kept the Mississippi at bay, rainwater trapped on the city side of the levee had posed a different flood problem for years. The Ten Mile Bayou Diversion Ditch was dredged to direct rainwater around the city to a point far to the south, where a break in the Mississippi levee finally allowed it to drain. Part of that ditch ran through this stand of trees. In places, the ditch was forty feet wide and could fill three or four feet deep. Tributaries, such as the one that drained the land directly behind the Blue Beacon, formed deep gullies in the alluvial soil. Together, the combination of trees, ravines, water, and vines made the area a hilly wonderland for kids with few unpaved places to play.

They called the woods Robin Hood. Adults tended to make the name sound more proper, calling it Robin Hood Hills, but it was always just Robin Hood for the kids. Under its green canopy they etched out bike trails, built dirt ramps, established forts, and tied up ropes for swinging over the man-made "river." They fished, scouted, camped, hunted, had wars, and let their imaginations run. But at night, when the woods turned dark, most kids stayed away. The place didn't seem so friendly then, and the things that parents could imagine translated into stern commands.

Besides the risks from water and Robin Hood's closeness to the highways, parents worried about transients who might be lurking there. Many parents warned their children to stay out of the woods entirely. But the ban was impossible to enforce. Robin Hood was too alluring. And so it was inevitable, on that Wednesday night in May, as word flew from house to house that three eight-year-olds were missing, that parents would rush to the dead end of McAuley, where a path led into the woods. It was about a half mile from the homes of Christopher Byers and Michael Moore and only a few blocks farther from that of Stevie Branch.

The delta was already beginning to warm up for the summer. At 9 P.M., even on May 5, the temperature was seventy-three degrees. An inch of rain a few days before had already brought out the mosquitoes. The insects were a nuisance everywhere, but they were especially thick in places that were moist and overgrown — shady places like the woods. The officer who'd taken the missing-person reports on Christopher Byers and Michael Moore later reported that she'd ventured into the woods near the Mayfair Apartments to help look for the boys, but the mosquitoes had driven her out. The officer who'd taken the report on Stevie Branch also said later that he'd entered the woods and searched with a flashlight for half an hour. But those two efforts were the only police action that night. No organized search by police would begin until the morning.

As officers assembled at the West Memphis Police Department for their usual briefing on Thursday morning, May 6, 1993, Chief Inspector Gary W. Gitchell, head of the department's detective division, announced that three boys were missing and that he would be directing the search. A search-and-rescue team from the Crittenden County Sheriff's Office would be assisting. When a few hours had passed without sign of the boys, the police department across the river in Memphis, Tennessee, dispatched a helicopter to assist. By midmorning, dozens of men and women had also joined police in the search. Detectives and ordinary citizens checked yards, parking lots, and various neighborhood buildings, including some still damaged from a tornado that had struck the town the year before. Others fanned out across the two miles of fertile, low-lying farmland that separates the east edge of West Memphis from the levee and the Mississippi River. The most intensive search, however, remained focused on the woods. For hours, groups of as many as fifty law enforcement officers and volunteers combed the rough four acres that lined the diversion ditch. At one point the searchers gathered on the north edge of the woods, near the interstates, and marched shoulder-to-shoulder across the woods until they emerged on the other side, near the houses to the south. But even that effort turned up nothing. Members of the county search-and-rescue team slipped a johnboat into the bayou and poled it down the stream. But still, nothing. By noon, most of the searchers, their alarm increasing, had abandoned the woods to search elsewhere.

The Bodies

But one searcher stayed. Steve Jones, a Crittenden County juvenile officer, was tromping through the now empty section of the woods nearest to the Blue Beacon Truck Wash when he looked down into a steep-sided gully, a tributary to the primary ditch, and spotted something on the water. Jones radioed what he had found. Entering the woods from the subdivision side, Sergeant Mike Allen of the West Memphis Police Department rushed across a wide drainpipe that spanned a part of the ditch, and clambered to where Jones was waiting. Jones led Allen to a spot about sixty yards south of the interstates. Standing on the edge of a high-sided bank, Jones pointed down at the water. Floating on the surface was a boy's laceless black tennis shoe.

The time was approximately 1:30 P.M. The area had been searched for hours. Yet here, alarmingly, was a child's shoe. Police converged on the spot. Sergeant Allen, wearing dress shoes, slacks, a white shirt and tie, was the first to enter the water. It was murky, with shoe-grabbing mud on the bottom. Allen raised a foot. Bubbles gathered around it and floated to the surface. The muck beneath his shoe made a sucking, reluctant sound. Then a pale form began to rise in the water. Slowly, before the horrified officers' eyes, a child's naked body, arched grotesquely backward, rose to the surface. It was about 1:45 P.M.

Word of the discovery spread like fire through West Memphis. Searchers swarmed back to the woods, but now only Gitchell's detectives were being let in. By 2:15 P.M., yellow crime tape was up. Police cars were stationed at the McAuley Drive entrance to the woods and at the entrance south of the Blue Beacon. For the detectives, in a dense and seldom visited part of the woods kids called Old Robin Hood, the job ahead was as odious as obvious. If one body had been submerged in the stream, the others might be as well. Detective Bryn Ridge volunteered for the unnerving job. Leaving the first body where it floated, the dark-haired, heavyset officer walked several feet downstream and waded into the water. Lowering himself to his knees, he spread his hands on the silty bottom. Then slowly, on all fours, he began to crawl up the narrow stream, searching the mud with his hands, expecting — and dreading — that at any moment he would touch another dead child. He encountered instead a stick stuck unnaturally into the mud. He could feel something wrapped around it. Dislodging the stick and pulling it up, he found a child's white shirt.

Carefully, Ridge stood up and returned to the floating body. It didn't seem right to him to leave it there. He lifted the body to the bank. The officers knew from photographs they'd been shown of the missing boys that this was the body of Michael Moore. And they could see that between the time the boy was last seen and now, he had endured tremendous violence. Michael's hands and feet were behind him, bound in what some would describe as a backward, hog-tied fashion. But it wasn't that, exactly. The limbs weren't tied together. Rather, the left ankle was tied to the left wrist; the right ankle and right wrist were tied. The boy had been tied with shoelaces. The bindings left the body in a dramatically vulnerable pose. The boy's nakedness, the unnatural arch of the back, and the vulnerability of his undeveloped sexual organs, both to the front and to the back, suggested something sexual about the crime. The severity of the wounds to his head suggested a component of rage.

Once begun, the gruesome search intensified. In quick succession the ditch yielded Michael's Cub Scout cap and shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and the grim, forewarning sight of two more pairs of tennis shoes without laces. Reentering the water and resuming his search by hand, Ridge found more sticks stuck like pins into the muddy bottom. Twisted deliberately around them were other items of clothing. Before long, all the clothing listed on the three missing-person reports had been pulled out of the water, with the exception of a sock and two pairs of underpants. The detectives were especially intrigued by the trousers, two of which were inside out. Yet all three were zippered up and buttoned.

Ridge reentered the water farther downstream, and this time he felt what he had feared. Pulling against the mud's suction, he released a second naked form. As it rose eerily to the surface, the detective and officers on the banks could see that this body was also naked and bent backward like the first, and like the first, its thin arms and ankles had been tied together with shoelaces. This was the body of Stevie Branch. He too showed signs of having been beaten, and the left side of his face bore other savage marks. It was hard to tell — the wounds were so deep — but on top of everything else, it looked like Stevie's face may have been bitten.

Minutes later, Ridge found the body of Christopher Byers. Like the others it was submerged facedown in the mud. He was also naked and tied in the same manner as the others, but when detectives rolled him over in the water, they were assaulted by another shock. Christopher's scrotum was gone and his penis had been skinned. Only a thin flap of flesh remained where his genitals should have been, and the area around the castration had been savagely punctuated with deep stab wounds. By now it was 3 P.M.

Detectives found the two bicycles thirty yards away, also underwater. At 3:20 P.M., nearly two hours after the first body was recovered, someone at the scene thought to call the county coroner. When the coroner arrived, he found all three of the bodies out of the water and lying on the bank. He pronounced the boys dead at the scene, at approximately 4 P.M.

What had begun as a search now became a murder investigation, with Gitchell still in charge. His officers photographed and videotaped the scene alongside the stream, where the three white bodies lay. By now, however, the bodies had been out of the water for so long that they were attracting flies and other insects. Gitchell ordered the stream sandbagged above where the bodies were found, and the section below it drained, in the hopes of recovering Christopher's missing genitals, the missing underpants, and maybe a murder weapon or other evidence. Then he walked to the edge of the woods, where a large crowd had assembled. Terry Hobbs, Stevie Branch's stepfather, was ducking under the yellow police tape as Gitchell approached. Gitchell stopped Hobbs and gently reported the news. Yes, the boys' bodies had been found. And yes, it was clear that they had been murdered. Hobbs crumpled to the ground and cried. His wife, Pam Hobbs, Stevie's mother, fainted.

Gitchell spoke briefly to reporters. Then he walked over to John Mark Byers, whose stepson Chris had been mutilated. Byers was leaning against a police car. As a photographer for the West Memphis Evening Times aimed her camera and clicked the shutter, Gitchell held out a hand to Byers, as if to support or even embrace him. Byers, who stood almost a head taller than Gitchell, draped his arm over the detective's shoulder. When a reporter approached, Byers shook his head in a gesture of bewilderment. He had searched that very site just the night before, he said. "I was out looking until four-thirty. I walked within ten or fifteen feet of where they were found," he said, "and I didn't see them." The remark struck no one as odd. Many people had searched the area and seen no trace of the missing children. Byers then provided the reporter more information than Gitchell had divulged, information he said the detectives had given him. One of the boys had been hit above the eye, Byers said; another boy's jaw was injured, and the assault on the third child had been even "worse than that."

dEventually, onlookers saw a black hearse drive east on the service road and turn into the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, where it backed up to the edge of the lot. Police covered in dirt and sweat carried three body bags through the opening on the north edge of the woods, across a grassy field, and loaded them through the open rear door.

By then, reporters from Memphis, Little Rock, and Jonesboro, Arkansas, a city about twice the size of West Memphis sixty miles to the north, had converged on the scene. Though the reporters begged Gitchell for information, he told them he had nothing more to say. That night, however, reporters at the Memphis Commercial Appeal tuned in to their newsroom's police scanner and picked up a broadcast from the Arkansas State Police. It contained details Gitchell had not revealed, news that made the front page of the next morning's Commercial Appeal. The scoop established a dominance for that paper that would continue as the story unfolded.

The details the paper picked up from the state police report included references to how the boys were tied. It also said — incorrectly — that all three had been sexually mutilated. When reporters questioned Gitchell about the sexual mutilation, the detective would not comment. He did, however, confirm that all of the victims had been bound hand to foot. He also remarked on the intensity of the search in the woods, noting, as if mystified, "That area where the boys were found was saturated hard and heavy that morning and even the evening before."

The place where the boys were last seen was just a few hundred yards from where their bodies had floated up. The site was a half mile due north of the corner where Christopher Byers and Michael Moore lived. When reporters knocked on the door of the Byerses' house, Christopher's mother, Melissa, answered. She was crying and had little to say. "I won't let them tell me what happened to them," she sobbed. "I don't want to know." Before closing the door, she added, "All I know is that my child is dead and so are the other two. I'm so sorry. I just don't want to talk about gory details. I don't know."

West Memphis went into shock. On Friday, May 7, the day after the bodies were found, teachers at the elementary school the boys attended met to discuss their students' fears. "I think we can tell the children that the person who did this is very, very sick," one of the counselors advised. Adults wanted to know more than that, but Gitchell was saying little. Faced with silence from the police, the media focused on the victims' families. Of all the parents, John Mark Byers was the most willing to talk. As the weekend approached, he told reporters that besides the weight of his family's grief, the murder posed a financial burden. He explained, "I've got to find a way to bury my son."

Neighbors and sympathetic church groups began to organize collections. By Mother's Day, which fell that weekend, donors had contributed nearly $25,000 to pay for the children's funerals. And a reward fund had been started for information leading to the arrest of the murderer — or murderers. But by the weekend it was also becoming clear that this crime would not be quickly solved. On Monday, May 10, the fifth day of the ordeal, the optimistic headline in the West Memphis Evening News announced: "Police Still Confident They'll Solve Murders." Gitchell tried to reassure the paper's readers. His officers were tired, he said, but he added, "We're going to make it."

Enter Satan

Gitchell said little more for the next several days, though he did make one statement that caught the region's attention. He noted that his detectives were considering a wide range of possibilities, including that the murders might have resulted from "gang or cult activity" — though he quickly added that he had seen no evidence of either. To outsiders it seemed a strange pronouncement, an acknowledgment that detectives were considering an unusual explanation for the murders, despite the fact that no evidence suggested it. But readers in West Memphis understood. Within hours after the discovery of the bodies, rumors attributing the killings to satanism had begun to circulate. Two women had already reported sounds of devil worshiping in the woods. Whatever had prompted Gitchell's remark, it suggested that he and his detectives were taking the rumors seriously. Word that the case might have satanic overtones was prevalent enough that when the West Memphis Police Department assigned the case number 93-05-0666 to the murder file, reporters asked whether the last three digits had been deliberately chosen. Did the number 666 suggest a police theory of the crime? Did it refer to the Antichrist? Gitchell insisted that it did not. The assignment of that particular number, he said, had been entirely coincidental. He explained that cases were numbered according to the date the crime had occurred and the number of cases that had already been entered for the year. It was entirely by chance, he said, that this particular case, which occurred in the fifth month of 1993, just happened to be the 666th worked by the department so far. Years later, discovery of a report written by Detective Ridge and dated two days after the bodies were found would cast doubt on Gitchell's contention. That report — which was among the earliest in the case — identified it as #93-05-0555.

Copyright © 2002 by Mara Leveritt

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First Chapter

Chapter One

The Murders

At 7:41 P.M. on May 5, 1993, a full moon rose behind the Memphis skyline. Its light glinted across the Mississippi River and fell onto the midsized Arkansas town aspiringly named West Memphis. Sometime between the rising of that moon and its setting the next morning, something diabolical would happen in West Memphis. Three eight-year-old boys would vanish, plucked off the streets of their neighborhood by an unseen, murderous hand. Under the glare of the next day's sun, police would discover three young bodies. They would be pulled -- naked, pale, bound, and beaten -- from a watery ditch in a patch of woods alongside two of America's busiest highways. But the investigation would unfold in shadow. Why had one of the boys been castrated? How to account for the absence of blood? Why did the banks of the stream look swept clean? The police would stumble for weeks without clues -- until the moon itself became one.

John Mark Byers, an unemployed jeweler, was the first parent to report a child missing. At 8 P.M., with the full moon on the rise, Byers telephoned the West Memphis police. Ten minutes later, a patrol officer responded. She drove her cruiser down East Barton Street, in a working-class neighborhood. At the corner where Barton intersected Fourteenth Street, the officer stopped in front of the Byerses' three-bedroom house. Byers, an imposing man, six feet five inches tall, weighing more than two hundred pounds, with long hair tied back in a ponytail, met her at the door. Behind him stood his wife, Melissa, five feet six, somewhat heavyset, with long hair and hollow eyes. Mark Byers did most of the talking. The officer listened and took notes. "The last time the victim was seen, he was cleaning the yard at 5:30 P.M." That would have been an hour and twenty minutes before sunset. The Byerses described Christopher as four feet four inches tall, weighing fifty pounds, with hair and eyes that were both light brown. He was eight years old.

The officer left the Byerses' house, and within minutes was dispatched to another call, at a chicken restaurant about a mile away. She pulled up at the Bojangles drive-through at 8:42 P.M. Through the window, the manager reported that a bleeding black man had entered the restaurant about a half hour before and gone into the women's rest room. The manager told the officer that the man, who had blood on his face and who had seemed "mentally disoriented," had wandered away from the premises just a few minutes before she arrived. When employees entered the rest room after he left, they found blood smeared on the walls. The officer took the report but investigated the incident no further. At 9:01, without ever having entered the restaurant, she drove away to a criminal mischief complaint about someone throwing eggs at a house.

At 9:24 P.M., the same officer responded to another call, again from Barton Street -- this one from the house directly across from the Byerses'. Here a woman, Dana Moore, reported that her eight-year-old son, Michael, was also missing. Taking out her pad again, the officer wrote, "Complainant stated she observed the victim (her son) riding bicycles with his friends Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers. When she lost sight of the boys, she sent her daughter to find them. The boys could not be found." Moore said the boys had been riding on North Fourteenth Street, going toward Goodwin. That had been almost three and a half hours earlier, at about 6 P.M. By now, it had been dark for more than two hours. "Michael is described as four feet tall, sixty pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes," the officer wrote. "He was last seen wearing blue pants, blue Boy Scouts of America shirt, orange and blue Boy Scout hat and tennis shoes."

By now a second officer had been dispatched to a catfish restaurant several blocks away. There another mother, Pamela Hobbs, was reporting that her eight-year-old son, Stevie Edward Branch, was missing as well. Hobbs lived at Sixteenth Street and McAuley Drive, a few blocks away from the Byerses and the Moores. She reported that her son, Stevie, had left home after school and that no one had seen him since. The officer who took Hobbs's report did not note who was supposed to have been watching Stevie while his mother was at work, or who had notified Hobbs that her son was missing. Stevie was described as four feet two inches tall, sixty pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. The police report noted, "He was last seen wearing blue jeans and white T-shirt. He was riding a twenty-inch Renegade bicycle."

Word of the disappearances spread quickly through the subdivision. As groups of parents began searching, other residents reported that they had seen some boys -- three, or maybe four -- riding bikes near the dead end of McAuley Drive shortly before sunset. McAuley was a major street in the neighborhood. The house on McAuley where Stevie Branch lived was a few blocks south of the corner on Barton where the other two missing boys lived across the street from each other. From Stevie's house, McAuley wound west for a few blocks, ending at the edge of a four-acre patch of woods, a short distance northwest of the other boys' homes. The woods separated the subdivision from two interstate highways and their service roads on the north. The small sylvan space provided the neighborhood with a welcome buffer from the traffic on their northern edge. For a few diesel-fumed miles, east-west Interstate 40, spanning the United States between North Carolina and California, converges in West Memphis, Arkansas, with north-south I-55, connecting New Orleans to Chicago. For truckers and other travelers, the stretch is a major midcontinental rest stop; where the highways hum through West Memphis, the city has formed a corridor of fueling stations, motels, and restaurants. It was easy for anyone passing through not to notice the small patch of woods bordering that short section of highway. What was more noticeable was the big blue-and-yellow sign for the Blue Beacon Truck Wash that stood several yards from the edge of the woods, alongside the service road.

Just as truckers knew the Blue Beacon, kids in the neighborhood to the south were familiar with the woods. The small plot of trees represented park, playground, and wilderness for children and teenagers living in the subdivision's modest three-bedroom houses and in the still more modest apartment building nearby. That the woods existed at all was an acknowledgment, not of the need for parks or of places for children to play, but of the need for flood control. Years earlier the city had dredged a channel, unromantically known as the Ten Mile Bayou Diversion Ditch, to dispose of rainwater that ordinarily would have flowed into the Mississippi River but that was prevented from draining by the great levees that held back the river. While the levees kept the Mississippi at bay, rainwater trapped on the city side of the levee had posed a different flood problem for years. The Ten Mile Bayou Diversion Ditch was dredged to direct rainwater around the city to a point far to the south, where a break in the Mississippi levee finally allowed it to drain. Part of that ditch ran through this stand of trees. In places, the ditch was forty feet wide and could fill three or four feet deep. Tributaries, such as the one that drained the land directly behind the Blue Beacon, formed deep gullies in the alluvial soil. Together, the combination of trees, ravines, water, and vines made the area a hilly wonderland for kids with few unpaved places to play.

They called the woods Robin Hood. Adults tended to make the name sound more proper, calling it Robin Hood Hills, but it was always just Robin Hood for the kids. Under its green canopy they etched out bike trails, built dirt ramps, established forts, and tied up ropes for swinging over the man-made "river." They fished, scouted, camped, hunted, had wars, and let their imaginations run. But at night, when the woods turned dark, most kids stayed away. The place didn't seem so friendly then, and the things that parents could imagine translated into stern commands.

Besides the risks from water and Robin Hood's closeness to the highways, parents worried about transients who might be lurking there. Many parents warned their children to stay out of the woods entirely. But the ban was impossible to enforce. Robin Hood was too alluring. And so it was inevitable, on that Wednesday night in May, as word flew from house to house that three eight-year-olds were missing, that parents would rush to the dead end of McAuley, where a path led into the woods. It was about a half mile from the homes of Christopher Byers and Michael Moore and only a few blocks farther from that of Stevie Branch.

The delta was already beginning to warm up for the summer. At 9 P.M., even on May 5, the temperature was seventy-three degrees. An inch of rain a few days before had already brought out the mosquitoes. The insects were a nuisance everywhere, but they were especially thick in places that were moist and overgrown -- shady places like the woods. The officer who'd taken the missing-person reports on Christopher Byers and Michael Moore later reported that she'd ventured into the woods near the Mayfair Apartments to help look for the boys, but the mosquitoes had driven her out. The officer who'd taken the report on Stevie Branch also said later that he'd entered the woods and searched with a flashlight for half an hour. But those two efforts were the only police action that night. No organized search by police would begin until the morning.

As officers assembled at the West Memphis Police Department for their usual briefing on Thursday morning, May 6, 1993, Chief Inspector Gary W. Gitchell, head of the department's detective division, announced that three boys were missing and that he would be directing the search. A search-and-rescue team from the Crittenden County Sheriff's Office would be assisting. When a few hours had passed without sign of the boys, the police department across the river in Memphis, Tennessee, dispatched a helicopter to assist. By midmorning, dozens of men and women had also joined police in the search. Detectives and ordinary citizens checked yards, parking lots, and various neighborhood buildings, including some still damaged from a tornado that had struck the town the year before. Others fanned out across the two miles of fertile, low-lying farmland that separates the east edge of West Memphis from the levee and the Mississippi River. The most intensive search, however, remained focused on the woods. For hours, groups of as many as fifty law enforcement officers and volunteers combed the rough four acres that lined the diversion ditch. At one point the searchers gathered on the north edge of the woods, near the interstates, and marched shoulder-to-shoulder across the woods until they emerged on the other side, near the houses to the south. But even that effort turned up nothing. Members of the county search-and-rescue team slipped a johnboat into the bayou and poled it down the stream. But still, nothing. By noon, most of the searchers, their alarm increasing, had abandoned the woods to search elsewhere.

The Bodies

But one searcher stayed. Steve Jones, a Crittenden County juvenile officer, was tromping through the now empty section of the woods nearest to the Blue Beacon Truck Wash when he looked down into a steep-sided gully, a tributary to the primary ditch, and spotted something on the water. Jones radioed what he had found. Entering the woods from the subdivision side, Sergeant Mike Allen of the West Memphis Police Department rushed across a wide drainpipe that spanned a part of the ditch, and clambered to where Jones was waiting. Jones led Allen to a spot about sixty yards south of the interstates. Standing on the edge of a high-sided bank, Jones pointed down at the water. Floating on the surface was a boy's laceless black tennis shoe.

The time was approximately 1:30 P.M. The area had been searched for hours. Yet here, alarmingly, was a child's shoe. Police converged on the spot. Sergeant Allen, wearing dress shoes, slacks, a white shirt and tie, was the first to enter the water. It was murky, with shoe-grabbing mud on the bottom. Allen raised a foot. Bubbles gathered around it and floated to the surface. The muck beneath his shoe made a sucking, reluctant sound. Then a pale form began to rise in the water. Slowly, before the horrified officers' eyes, a child's naked body, arched grotesquely backward, rose to the surface. It was about 1:45 P.M.

Word of the discovery spread like fire through West Memphis. Searchers swarmed back to the woods, but now only Gitchell's detectives were being let in. By 2:15 P.M., yellow crime tape was up. Police cars were stationed at the McAuley Drive entrance to the woods and at the entrance south of the Blue Beacon. For the detectives, in a dense and seldom visited part of the woods kids called Old Robin Hood, the job ahead was as odious as obvious. If one body had been submerged in the stream, the others might be as well. Detective Bryn Ridge volunteered for the unnerving job. Leaving the first body where it floated, the dark-haired, heavyset officer walked several feet downstream and waded into the water. Lowering himself to his knees, he spread his hands on the silty bottom. Then slowly, on all fours, he began to crawl up the narrow stream, searching the mud with his hands, expecting -- and dreading -- that at any moment he would touch another dead child. He encountered instead a stick stuck unnaturally into the mud. He could feel something wrapped around it. Dislodging the stick and pulling it up, he found a child's white shirt.

Carefully, Ridge stood up and returned to the floating body. It didn't seem right to him to leave it there. He lifted the body to the bank. The officers knew from photographs they'd been shown of the missing boys that this was the body of Michael Moore. And they could see that between the time the boy was last seen and now, he had endured tremendous violence. Michael's hands and feet were behind him, bound in what some would describe as a backward, hog-tied fashion. But it wasn't that, exactly. The limbs weren't tied together. Rather, the left ankle was tied to the left wrist; the right ankle and right wrist were tied. The boy had been tied with shoelaces. The bindings left the body in a dramatically vulnerable pose. The boy's nakedness, the unnatural arch of the back, and the vulnerability of his undeveloped sexual organs, both to the front and to the back, suggested something sexual about the crime. The severity of the wounds to his head suggested a component of rage.

Once begun, the gruesome search intensified. In quick succession the ditch yielded Michael's Cub Scout cap and shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and the grim, forewarning sight of two more pairs of tennis shoes without laces. Reentering the water and resuming his search by hand, Ridge found more sticks stuck like pins into the muddy bottom. Twisted deliberately around them were other items of clothing. Before long, all the clothing listed on the three missing-person reports had been pulled out of the water, with the exception of a sock and two pairs of underpants. The detectives were especially intrigued by the trousers, two of which were inside out. Yet all three were zippered up and buttoned.

Ridge reentered the water farther downstream, and this time he felt what he had feared. Pulling against the mud's suction, he released a second naked form. As it rose eerily to the surface, the detective and officers on the banks could see that this body was also naked and bent backward like the first, and like the first, its thin arms and ankles had been tied together with shoelaces. This was the body of Stevie Branch. He too showed signs of having been beaten, and the left side of his face bore other savage marks. It was hard to tell -- the wounds were so deep -- but on top of everything else, it looked like Stevie's face may have been bitten.

Minutes later, Ridge found the body of Christopher Byers. Like the others it was submerged facedown in the mud. He was also naked and tied in the same manner as the others, but when detectives rolled him over in the water, they were assaulted by another shock. Christopher's scrotum was gone and his penis had been skinned. Only a thin flap of flesh remained where his genitals should have been, and the area around the castration had been savagely punctuated with deep stab wounds. By now it was 3 P.M.

Detectives found the two bicycles thirty yards away, also underwater. At 3:20 P.M., nearly two hours after the first body was recovered, someone at the scene thought to call the county coroner. When the coroner arrived, he found all three of the bodies out of the water and lying on the bank. He pronounced the boys dead at the scene, at approximately 4 P.M.

What had begun as a search now became a murder investigation, with Gitchell still in charge. His officers photographed and videotaped the scene alongside the stream, where the three white bodies lay. By now, however, the bodies had been out of the water for so long that they were attracting flies and other insects. Gitchell ordered the stream sandbagged above where the bodies were found, and the section below it drained, in the hopes of recovering Christopher's missing genitals, the missing underpants, and maybe a murder weapon or other evidence. Then he walked to the edge of the woods, where a large crowd had assembled. Terry Hobbs, Stevie Branch's stepfather, was ducking under the yellow police tape as Gitchell approached. Gitchell stopped Hobbs and gently reported the news. Yes, the boys' bodies had been found. And yes, it was clear that they had been murdered. Hobbs crumpled to the ground and cried. His wife, Pam Hobbs, Stevie's mother, fainted.

Gitchell spoke briefly to reporters. Then he walked over to John Mark Byers, whose stepson Chris had been mutilated. Byers was leaning against a police car. As a photographer for the West Memphis Evening Times aimed her camera and clicked the shutter, Gitchell held out a hand to Byers, as if to support or even embrace him. Byers, who stood almost a head taller than Gitchell, draped his arm over the detective's shoulder. When a reporter approached, Byers shook his head in a gesture of bewilderment. He had searched that very site just the night before, he said. "I was out looking until four-thirty. I walked within ten or fifteen feet of where they were found," he said, "and I didn't see them." The remark struck no one as odd. Many people had searched the area and seen no trace of the missing children. Byers then provided the reporter more information than Gitchell had divulged, information he said the detectives had given him. One of the boys had been hit above the eye, Byers said; another boy's jaw was injured, and the assault on the third child had been even "worse than that."

Eventually, onlookers saw a black hearse drive east on the service road and turn into the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, where it backed up to the edge of the lot. Police covered in dirt and sweat carried three body bags through the opening on the north edge of the woods, across a grassy field, and loaded them through the open rear door.

By then, reporters from Memphis, Little Rock, and Jonesboro, Arkansas, a city about twice the size of West Memphis sixty miles to the north, had converged on the scene. Though the reporters begged Gitchell for information, he told them he had nothing more to say. That night, however, reporters at the Memphis Commercial Appeal tuned in to their newsroom's police scanner and picked up a broadcast from the Arkansas State Police. It contained details Gitchell had not revealed, news that made the front page of the next morning's Commercial Appeal. The scoop established a dominance for that paper that would continue as the story unfolded.

The details the paper picked up from the state police report included references to how the boys were tied. It also said -- incorrectly -- that all three had been sexually mutilated. When reporters questioned Gitchell about the sexual mutilation, the detective would not comment. He did, however, confirm that all of the victims had been bound hand to foot. He also remarked on the intensity of the search in the woods, noting, as if mystified, "That area where the boys were found was saturated hard and heavy that morning and even the evening before."

The place where the boys were last seen was just a few hundred yards from where their bodies had floated up. The site was a half mile due north of the corner where Christopher Byers and Michael Moore lived. When reporters knocked on the door of the Byerses' house, Christopher's mother, Melissa, answered. She was crying and had little to say. "I won't let them tell me what happened to them," she sobbed. "I don't want to know." Before closing the door, she added, "All I know is that my child is dead and so are the other two. I'm so sorry. I just don't want to talk about gory details. I don't know."

West Memphis went into shock. On Friday, May 7, the day after the bodies were found, teachers at the elementary school the boys attended met to discuss their students' fears. "I think we can tell the children that the person who did this is very, very sick," one of the counselors advised. Adults wanted to know more than that, but Gitchell was saying little. Faced with silence from the police, the media focused on the victims' families. Of all the parents, John Mark Byers was the most willing to talk. As the weekend approached, he told reporters that besides the weight of his family's grief, the murder posed a financial burden. He explained, "I've got to find a way to bury my son."

Neighbors and sympathetic church groups began to organize collections. By Mother's Day, which fell that weekend, donors had contributed nearly $25,000 to pay for the children's funerals. And a reward fund had been started for information leading to the arrest of the murderer -- or murderers. But by the weekend it was also becoming clear that this crime would not be quickly solved. On Monday, May 10, the fifth day of the ordeal, the optimistic headline in the West Memphis Evening News announced: "Police Still Confident They'll Solve Murders." Gitchell tried to reassure the paper's readers. His officers were tired, he said, but he added, "We're going to make it."

Enter Satan

Gitchell said little more for the next several days, though he did make one statement that caught the region's attention. He noted that his detectives were considering a wide range of possibilities, including that the murders might have resulted from "gang or cult activity" -- though he quickly added that he had seen no evidence of either. To outsiders it seemed a strange pronouncement, an acknowledgment that detectives were considering an unusual explanation for the murders, despite the fact that no evidence suggested it. But readers in West Memphis understood. Within hours after the discovery of the bodies, rumors attributing the killings to satanism had begun to circulate. Two women had already reported sounds of devil worshiping in the woods. Whatever had prompted Gitchell's remark, it suggested that he and his detectives were taking the rumors seriously. Word that the case might have satanic overtones was prevalent enough that when the West Memphis Police Department assigned the case number 93-05-0666 to the murder file, reporters asked whether the last three digits had been deliberately chosen. Did the number 666 suggest a police theory of the crime? Did it refer to the Antichrist? Gitchell insisted that it did not. The assignment of that particular number, he said, had been entirely coincidental. He explained that cases were numbered according to the date the crime had occurred and the number of cases that had already been entered for the year. It was entirely by chance, he said, that this particular case, which occurred in the fifth month of 1993, just happened to be the 666th worked by the department so far. Years later, discovery of a report written by Detective Ridge and dated two days after the bodies were found would cast doubt on Gitchell's contention. That report -- which was among the earliest in the case -- identified it as #93-05-0555.

Copyright © 2002 by Mara Leveritt

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 103 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    For Anyone Who Believes in the Unites States 'Justice' System...

    I have not only read this book through twice, I also own both documentaries. I used to be pro-death penalty and I used to believe that everyone in prison is guilty. Everyone in America should read this book because this crap happens every day! Innocent people are sent to prison because law enforcement and prosecutors have to 'get someone' and get the crime solved. These three men have grown up in prison and they are as innocent as they come. The wheels of justice turn much slower when trying to overturn sentences. Each time I read this book, I found more and more atroceties in our system. This book is a wake up call. There is much, much change that is needed. If you are interested in more information, please visit WM3.org. I highly reccommend the documentaries as well. Free the West Memphis Three and may the appropriate justice come to those who falsely imprisoned them.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 4, 2010

    The Devil's Knot: A True Story of a Terrible Miscarriage of Justice Still Happening Today.

    The Devil's Knot is a story that I will never forget. Mara Leveritt very specifically laid out the facts of the West Memphis Three case in a way that leaves me hungering to know what the final outcome will be. It challenged my perception of the US law enforcement and judicial process. It very specifically defined and described the perfect case for MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE. I have already recommended this book to everyone I know!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2007

    Such an outrageous story almost impossible to beleive it's true!

    I live less than an hour from where this crime occured and I remember the sensational media coverage, even as a child. I had seen the 'Paradise Lost' documantry on HBO, but still had NO clue the magnitude of INJUSTICE that occurred. My heart is broken for these young men. It is almost hard to reccomend this read because I feel powerless to help yet I could not stop reading out of sheer disgust! I would like to see an IQ test on Inspector Gitchell and that 'judge' and I use that term loosesly! As for the prosecuters, I do not see how they sleep at night. Anyone that is from a rural area and knows how jaded, ignorant and injust the 'small town' legal system can be should be scared and ashamed! This could happen to anyone who is considered 'different' This is not a book you can finish and walk away from, it demands you to try and do something, anything to help spread the REAL story and stop the ignorance and injustice!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Highly recommended - fantastic read

    After watching the countless news reports on this case, I thought that this book would be a boring, repeat of what I had learned on those news shows...

    It turns out there is so much more to this case than one could possibly imagine. Leveritt tells both sides of the story and manages to keep you in, page after page.

    For anyone who enjoys true crime books, this is one you don't want to miss.

    FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2004

    Free the West Memphis Three

    Anyone who has ever heard of this crime needs to read this book. The injustice these three men have gone through is almost as horrible as the crime itself. While the judicial system may seem full-proof, this book clearly demonstrates how wrongly accused men can be convicted on practically nothing other than rumors and clothing. It is a disgrace to our legal system that these innocent men sit in prison while the real killers are out there. While we feel sympathy for the victims and their families we should feel anger that our judicial system can be so flawed and unjust.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    obsessed

    through reading this book i became somewhat obsessed about the events that took place. i cried for the victims and for the 'wrongly' accused. i visited the wm3.org website to find out more. i could not put his book down, i read it in 3 days and i have two small children. i had to keep on reading to see what happened. i hope more people take interest in the case and those children (men now) get to live a normal life one day. please read this and get an insight of how people and judicial systems judge people by their outward appearance and behavior.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2003

    fills in the blanks

    This book is a comprehensive look at the infamous events in West Memphis. How such judicial malfeasence and incompetence can be tolerated in our nation is a mystery. The arrogance of the judge, the prosecutors, and the police scream for redress. FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2003

    Free the WM3

    Do you think that because you live in the United States, this supposedly free and just society, that you will be free from a grossly unjust incarseration? You shouldn't and this book will shine a light on that truely nieve notion. Please visit wm3.org

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2002

    Absolutely one of the best true crime stories I've ever read

    Three teenage boys were wrongfully convicted of killing three innocent children. Their civil liberties were violated and today one sits on death row for the act. Justice in America doesn't exist for the people in this story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2012

    Footnotes....... So Annoying

    Had I physically looked at this book before purchasing it I would never have
    bought it. What possesed the author to put all the footnotes in the
    BACK of the book where you have to flip each and every time there is
    one, and there are hundreds of them. I am only on page 110 and
    already weary of it...may not even finish the book because of this
    annoying feature. Writing this book "on two levels" as the author states,
    does not help the reader.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2003

    More Confused Than Ever!!

    This book was written for someone obviously who has dealt with the legal system from time to time. I was confused more often than not with all the legal bable. I think that before you open the covers on this one you should hire a laywer to help you understand it.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2003

    ......And Justice For Who?

    This is on of the most insightful books I have ever come across. I had heard of the case before, but I had no idea that it was that messed up. I always knew cops could be dirty but, this is horrible. If you want to know about injustices pick this up. This world can be really jacked up sometimes. This book has been enough to make me want to get involved, and try to help the three men that were wrongly convicted as teens. The only time I was able to put this book down was when I went to sleep and when I got so angry I HAD to stop reading. I think that everyone that believes in our court system should read this and rethink their beliefs.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2003

    Justice, what justice?

    This book was excellent on stating the facts and showing the reader some truth in today's judicial system. These three kids, now men are in jail for the rest of their lives (Damien on death row) for a crime they did not comment. There was no "sufficiant evidence" to convict these three of capital murder. But the state of Arkansas had to pin somebody and these three fit the category of murderers. Why, because they wore black, because they weren't Christians, and because they listened to Metallica. Do you know how many children that counts for, A LOT!!! The judicial system needs to stay with the facts and stop being prejudice.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2002

    Law and Order is just a tv show

    For those of us who have seen every episode of Law and Order, and think that's the way the police and the prosecutors and the judges work, we have only to read Devil's Knot to know that in the real world, the game is not played the way it is on tv. Mara Leveritt has done an exhaustive job on a difficult case where murdering 3 children was the last honest and straightforward action to take place in this mess. The police investigation is a joke; the prosecution took their lines from the Salem witchtrials; the judge was essentially a prosecutor in a judge's robe; and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed each conviction without so much as a question. This book begs the question: why were obvious leads not followed? Leveritt gives a powerful, reasoned answer for this - I could not recommend this book more highly. It is the finest thing I've read this year.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014

    I'm not much of a big reader because I get distracted very easil

    I'm not much of a big reader because I get distracted very easily and its hard for me to sit down and just read. Well I had to read this book for a Juvenile Justice class I take at school. I got SO into the book and the case that I've watched both HBO documentaries and West Of Memphis. Tomorrow we're having Dan Stidham, Jessie's defense attorney, come to our school to talk about the case. I would extremely recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2012

    Answer to Quick question

    Damien Echols book is Life After Death and is now available as a Nook book; best read after this book as it contains updated info as well as his personal story

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Journalist Mara Leveritt documents the investigation, trials and

    Journalist Mara Leveritt documents the investigation, trials and appeals of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.) for the murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 5, 1993. With more than 50 pages of endnotes, the events are well-researched and the account well-written, if not neutral. Despite the judge’s rulings, the juries’ verdicts, and the appellate courts affirming the convictions, Leveritt is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the three teenagers’ innocence with regard to these murders. The evidence of their guilt seems barely sufficient to rise to the level of probable cause, while the overwhelming evidence of their innocence continues to accrue as forensic sciences have improved and provided new DNA testing.

    Published in 2002, this compelling account is incomplete based upon more recent case developments, specifically the “Alford pleas” entered by all three defendants on August 19, 2011, allowing them to maintain their innocence and be immediately released for time served (over 18 years). I hope to see a second book by Leveritt detailing the events after 2002.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    Jerry Driver

    I have just started reading this book and I simply CANNOT BELIEVE that these 3 boys (now men) were literally PERSECUTED by the juvinile worker Jerry Driver. Just exactly who in higher government was he related to or sleeping with to yield so much power!!!!!!! I mean even when the police 1st interviewed Damien and said "he is depressed and feels outcast" that was UNEXCEPTABLE to Driver and he harrassed/bullied the authorities until he got what HE wanted--Damien. I hope true justice will be served on Driver, this man should be banned from ANY job that involvrs him having to make ANY decisions (even if its ringing up a register at a store). I've not completed this book, so I don't know the oiycome of Jerry Driver, but I HAD to get this off my chest before I read 1 more page or my blood pressure would cause my blood to boil !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    Quick question.

    What is th nane of Damien's book and does B&N carry it as an E-book? Because I'd very much like to read it. Someone let me know. Thanks guys!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    West memphis three

    Couldnt put this book down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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