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Mother denied evidence access in son’s killing

Investigation open, judge rules by Kenneth Heard | October 31, 2012 at 4:41 a.m.
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— A circuit court judge has denied a mother’s request to see physical evidence in the 1993 murders of her son and two other West Memphis 8-yearolds.

Judge Victor Hill said the West Memphis Police Department and Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington did not violate the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when refusing to allow Pamela Hicks to examine items such as her son’s clothing, shoes and bicycle.

Hicks, the mother of Stevie Branch, filed a civil lawsuit in June after she was denied access to the evidence in the May 5, 1993, slaying of her son and his friends, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, in West Memphis.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were convicted of the slayings in 1994. They were released from prison in 2011 after entering Alford pleas, a legal maneuver allowing them to plead guilty but maintain their innocence in the case.

Hill said in his ruling, issued Monday evening, that despite the evidence shown to two juries during the 1994 trials, it should not be considered “public record.”

“These items might be available for viewing under some other provision of the statutory or common law, which plaintiffs are free to argue at a later hearing, but these items are not available to them under the Freedom of Information Act,” Hill wrote in his decision.

Hill also ruled that Ellington did not violate the act when he denied Hicks access to three affidavits pertaining to the case.

“The court believes it would be an abuse of judicial authority to intrude prematurely into an investigation that the prosecuting attorney has elected to launch, or to compel a premature disclosure of sensitive documents that might prove essential to that investigation,” Hill wrote in his order.

Contacted by telephone Tuesday evening, Hicks said, “For God’s sake, I’m a citizen of the United States. Why are they denying me? What’s the big deal?”

Ken Swindle, a Rogers attorney who represents Hicks, didn’t immediately return a message Tuesday night but told The Associated Press that he respectfully disagreed with the judge’s decision.

West Memphis City Attorney David Peeples, who defended the city’s Police Department, said he was pleased with Hill’s order.

“We thought Judge Hill was right on point,” Peeples said. “He understood exactly what we were saying.”

Peeples said the law requires police departments to “retain evidence permanently” in cases of violent crime.

“Our duty is to preserve evidence,” he said.

Peeples said the evidence needed to be retained in the event the case is reopened and other suspects are charged.

“It would be in everyone’s interest,” he said. “I think they’d want it preserved.”

Ellington said Tuesday evening that he plans to interview people in connection with the three affidavits he has withheld from Hicks.

“I’m upholding my end of the bargain. I’m reviewing evidence the defense counsel has presented me,” Ellington said, referring to his statement last year that he would look at any new evidence attorneys for Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin gave him.

“After we conduct interviews, we’ll decide whether to continue looking at it or close this file,” Ellington said.

Hicks said she wanted to see the evidence to gain closure in her son’s death.

“I want to know what my child had on the last time I saw him,” she said. “I think of him as he was leaving home that day and saying, ‘I love you, Mom.’

“I’m angry about this,” she said. “I’m still as angry as I was in 1993. I’m going to keep on fighting.”

Arkansas, Pages 12 on 10/31/2012

Print Headline: Mother denied evidence access in son’s killing

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