ABC News reports that West Memphis Three are being released today after a special hearing in which the three men made an Alford plea. According to Wikipedia, an Alford plea is: “A guilty plea in criminal court, where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea, the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What this means is that the WM3 will not be able to sue the state for wrongful prosecution, or profit financially from book, movie or speaking deals based on the ordeal. Or, in other words, it means that those responsible for railroading these kids in 1993 and putting them in prison for nearly two decades (while the real killer(s) remained free) will never be brought to justice, and the WM3 will never be compensated in any way for the years of their lives that they lost.
It’s a surprise move to those of us following the case. In 2007 new DNA evidence placed two men, including one of the victim’s stepfathers, at the scene of the crime, but provided no evidence that the WM3 were at the scene. I should emphasize that this doesn’t in and of itself exonerate the WM3, nor does it necessarily implicate the stepfather in the case. However, it was widely believed this DNA evidence would be enough to get the WM3 a new trial, and, given the lack of evidence in the first trial, would likely result in the three being exonerated.
I don’t know why the WM3 decided to take this plea, and I don’t blame them for taking an opportunity to go free after 18 years in prison. If they and their counsel believed this was the best option, then it probably was. But it’s extremely disappointing that the individuals – including David Burnett, Brent Davis and Dale Griffis – who railroaded the WM3 to advance their own careers will never be held accountable for their crimes.