LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Crime Lab officials are willing to analyze DNA evidence from the murders of three Cub Scouts in 1993 that attorneys for the three men known as the "West Memphis Three" say exonerates their clients, a state prosecutor said Thursday night.
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In a panel discussion on the legal maneuvers that allowed Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to be freed last week in the murder case after serving 18 years, prosecutor Scott Ellington said the lab would look at the evidence once Bode Technology, a private laboratory in Virginia hired by the defense, completes its own tests.
"Once Bode labs gets their reports done, the state crime lab has agreed to run those through CODIS," Ellington said, referring to a database of known criminals as well as crime lab employees. "If there are any hits, then that evidence can be brought to the defense attorneys."
Ellington later told The Associated Press in an interview: "If the defendants have evidence they didn't commit the crime, let them prove it. That's why the crime lab is willing to test DNA results provided by the defense."
Prosecutors have contended that the absence of the three men's DNA at the crime scene does not prove their innocence, pointing out that jurors convicted the three on other evidence. Ellington said that although the DNA does not match the three men's, it may not be traceable to other suspects.
"The DNA they keep talking about has never been cross-checked with DNA from the law enforcement officers on the scene and has never been cross-checked with lab employees. ... We believe the right results are there, but we would be willing to run those and see if there are any matches," Ellington told reporters.
Last fall, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the three, asking a judge to consider allegations of juror misconduct and whether new DNA science could aid the men or uphold the convictions.
"The fact of the matter is that all of the biological evidence that was obtained from this crime scene, none of it came from our defendants," said Blake Hendrix, Baldwin's attorney. "There are foreign source DNA profiles at that crime scene."
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were freed last week under an unusual type of plea deal whereby their original convictions were set aside and they pleaded guilty to lesser charges, but were able to maintain their claims of innocence. Echols was originally sentenced to die, and Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison, but under the deal, they were let go in exchange for the 18 years they've already served.
More than 1,000 people packed a room at a downtown Little Rock convention center for a panel discussion on the case hosted by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the Arkansas Times weekly newspaper.
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley have long said they didn't kill the three boys in 1993. After an HBO documentary detailed their case in 1996, the men known as the "West Memphis Three" garnered celebrity support and hefty donations to fund expensive DNA testing and private investigators. Now, following their release last week, supporters of the three say they hope to find evidence that will clear their names.
Ellington said he does not plan to reopen the case, but was willing to consider any compelling evidence that was presented and screened by defense attorneys.
"I believe that these three men are guilty, but I will receive evidence that is presented by the defense team once they go through that," Ellington said.
Gov. Mike Beebe has said he doesn't plan on pardoning the three men unless he's presented with compelling evidence that somebody else was responsible for the murders.
Capi Peck, a founder of Arkansas Take Action, a group that advocated for the men, said the group plans to continue making the case for the three mens' innocence.
"We are not going to go away. We simply will not," Peck said. "I can promise you that."