After 18 years, "West Memphis 3" go free on plea deal

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2011 2:33 PM
After 18 years, "West Memphis 3" go free on plea deal

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Three men imprisoned for the 1993 "Satanic" slayings of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, will walk free after nearly two decades of proclaiming their innocence from behind bars, a judge ruled on Friday in the Craighead County District Court in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., known as the "West Memphis Three," took a plea bargain known as an "Alford plea" in which they could continue to claim their innocence but plead guilty in exchange for an 18-year sentence and credit for time already served.

Two had been previously sentenced to life sentences, and Echols was on Death Row. They were expected to be released later Friday.

Pressure had been mounting to free the three after they were convicted in the murders of 8-year-old Cub Scouts Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and James Michael Moore.

(Reporting by Suzi Parker; Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Jerry Norton)