JONESBORO Three men convicted of the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis are expected today to reach an agreement that may have some or all of them released from prison. Follow the updates below leading up to and after the 11 a.m. hearing.
1 p.m. update: Plea deal reached
9:22 a.m. Convicted men in court
Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin have arrived in court in advance of a hearing that will likely result in their release.
Meanwhile, more than 100 people have lined the hallway outside the courtroom hoping to get in.
8:55 a.m. update: Echols' mother arrives at court
Damien Echols' mother has arrived at court, telling reporters outside that she believes her son will be released after a hearing later Friday morning.
Echols, along with Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, were convicted of the grisly murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis in 1993. A possible plea deal could release the three men, who have been seeking new trials.
Echols' mother, Pamela Echols, said she thinks and prays her son will be freed
"The very first thing I will say to him is I love you. And he knows I'm here for him. I've always been here, I always will be and it's time to go home."
Pamela Echols voice cracked as she described what it will be like to hug her son for the first time after his release.
"I can't tell you in words," she said. "I can't imagine. I can't wait to be able to put my arms around him."
- Gavin Lesnick
6:43 a.m. update: Small crowd gathers at courthouse
A small group of supporters of three men convicted of murdering three boys in West Memphis have gathered outside the Craighead County courthouse annex hours before a hearing that may allow the three men to go free.
Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin have been imprisoned since being convicted in the grisly 1993 slayings of Boy Scouts Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers. They are expected to appear in court later Friday. Sources, including family of the victims, indicated some sort of a plea deal that would free the men was likely at the hearing.
An appeal of the convictions was proceeding and a December hearing had been set to consider whether new evidence warranted a new trial. Supporters of the men say DNA that was not considered in the first trials now exonerates them.
Jim Pfeifer, of Little Rock, said he didn't know what would happen in court Friday, but members of Echols' family who he knows suggested "something big" was going to occur. A standing gag order in the case prevented them from revealing anything more, Pfeifer said, but he's hopeful Echols and the other two will be released.
"I'm pretty sure it's going to happen," said Pfeifer, who arrived at 5 a.m. in a bid to be in court when the news comes down. "But I don't know the circumstances."
Cindy LaPrairie, 28, and Renae Walker, 21, both from Tipton County, arrived at the courthouse around 3 a.m., they said. LaPrairie first became interested after reading "Devil's Knot," a book by Mara Leveritt on the case.
LaPrairie said she believes the men are innocent.
"I'm hoping to see justice," she said. "I'm hoping I see them let go."
The courthouse is expected to open around 8:30 a.m. Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin and their attorneys will meet with Circuit Judge David Laser in chambers around 10 a.m. and then all parties will emerge for a public session in open court around 11 a.m., officials have said.
- Gavin Lesnick