At the tender young age of sixteen, the State of Arkansas practically kidnapped threatened to murder me with the death penalty. The State’s agents, John Fogleman and Brent Davis, did not do this because they thought I was the worst of the worst, but because they wanted me to “just say Damien did it.” He was the one the State of Arkansas wanted to pin the murders of three eight year old boys on. He was the one they wanted to “fry.” They could not have cared less about my life and saw me as only a means to an end. To them, my life had no real value beyond securing a conviction in someone else’s life.
But I am innocent and have no information regarding the murders to trade for my life. My innocence did not protect me and the fact that I had no information did not stop the State’s agents from continuing to offer me deal after deal to give them a “believable story” that would aid them in securing a conviction against Damien Echols. They continued to threaten me with the death penalty. I continued to stand on the truth of my innocence, but once the finger of suspicion has been aimed at you the presumption of innocence disappears.
States have put many people in similar circumstances. Innocent and lacking any knowledge of a crime, they are threatened with the death penalty. After fruitless attempts to reason with police and prosecutors, one becomes despondent and frightened beyond belief. Not many can stand up to such treatment. Not many can hold onto hope. Very few find the strength to say no to such terroristic tactics…especiallywhen you are just a child.
Across the nation, most convictions are secured through plea agreements rather than trial. Those poor souls who do find their lives on trial are often up against testimony that has been elicited through threats and/or promises of leniency. In the trials of the West Memphis 3, the State threatened a young mother named Vicki Hutcheson not with death, but with losing her own 8-year old child to the Department of Human Services. They told her she would be put into prison to serve the harshest sentence the law allows for writing hot checks if she did not cooperate. A mother will do anything to save the life of her child, even lie and make up wild yet believable stories to secure a conviction. And that is just what she did.
Another person put into position to lie in our trials was a teenager named Michael Carson. He was a career criminal and addicted to hard drugs by the time he heard of the West Memphis 3. His lies were not born out of a desire to save a life from the horrors of foster care, but out of a desire to not be held responsible for his criminal actions. He learned from his father that you can get away with murder if you play the State’s game and take on the role of jailhouse snitch. All you have to do is be in the right place at the right time. The higher the profile the case, the better. In Arkansas in 1993 and 1994, there was no higher profile trial than that of the West Memphis 3. Once Michael Carson made up his mind to make up a story to secure for himself carte blanche for his criminal activities from the State’s agents, his criminal history did not matter. State agents protected him and his criminal history was not to be questioned in front of the jury. His lies were sold as the Gospel truth and anyone who could testify that his story was in fact a lie found themselves, their liberty and their livelihoods threatened by State agents.
A jury hearing nothing but lies cloaked as truth and protected as such by State agents have little recourse but to believe such lies. After all, no one wants to entertain the horror that their Justice System is really something else entirely. And in my trial and the trial of Damien Echols the jury foreman was just as big a liar as Michael Carson and Vicki Hutcheson. He made it his mission to find us guilty, even though in his opinion the State did not prove its case. How can innocence survive such a gauntlet?
Innocence cannot survive the system of justice we now have in place. This is why I am against the death penalty. Having the death penalty as an option does nothing but foster bloodthirst in the hearts of citizens and does nothing to deter crime. Because of the death penalty, innocents are terrorized to the point of hopelessness in a system that cannot see truth, but only convictions. As much as it hurts to admit this, I know it is true. I was threatened with the death penalty by the State to lie on an innocent. When that tactic did not work I was told that the State would forever seek to kill Damien Echols if I did not sign my life’s honor and name away in the form of an Alford Plea. I would be permitted to maintain my innocence just so long as the State is free to say I am a killer. Had the life of an innocent not been on the line I would have continued the fight all the way to trial again. But the State won. They know not how to protect innocents, but they are experts in destroying lives and taking liberty. The death penalty terrorizes the innocent. I’ll not rest until the State’s power to kill is put away as a relic.