Report: "West Memphis Three" may be freed

According to news reports from local papers in the West Memphis, AR and Memphis, TN area, and the Associated Press, some or all of the so-called "West Memphis Three" may be released from prison tomorrow through a no-contest plea deal.

Craighead County Circuit Judge David Laser's office on Thursday said that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin will be in court Friday in Jonesboro. The three men were convicted in 1994 of killing Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore and leaving their bound bodies in a water-filled ditch in West Memphis.

The closed-door hearing is set for 10 a.m. local time CDT in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Echols, now 36, is on death row. Baldwin, 34, and Misskelley, 36, are serving life terms. If leaked reports are accurate, two or all three could be freed after 18 years in prison. From the Memphis, TN Commercial-Appeal paper:

The arrangement involves the three defendants pleading no contest to lesser charges in return for their immediate release, according to legal sources knowledgeable of the deal. The sources spoke on condition on anonymity because a gag order forbids parties in the case from discussing it.

At the time of their conviction, "Satanic panic" ran high. News clippings from a local paper covering the case in 1993 reflect this.

The three have long maintained their innocence, and supporters say DNA evidence supports exoneration. Their case has been the subject of a series of HBO documentaries, benefit albums, and art shows. Their case has inspired a support movement that includes celebrities like Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Patti Smith, and Eddie Vedder.

More around the web: Reuters,, CNN, CBS News.