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Mom of 1 slain boy: Forgiveness first

Belief 3 convicts innocent came later by Evie Blad | October 24, 2013 at 4:58 a.m.

Pam Hobbs committed to forgiving the three men convicted of killing her son and two of his friends before later coming to believe that they were innocent, she told a Little Rock audience Wednesday.

Sermons by television preacher Joel Osteen led Hobbs to consider forgiveness, and the insight of experts who reviewed the case of the 1993 West Memphis murders led her to reconsider the guilt of the men convicted of the crime, she said.

“I thought maybe these three West Memphis boogeymen didn’t do this,” Hobbs told an audience at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “Something isn’t right.”

Hobbs spoke at a screening of West of Memphis, a documentary about the case, alongside Jason Baldwin, one of the men convicted of killing her son, Stevie Branch.

Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were convicted in 1994 in the 1993 deaths of three 8-year-old boys - Stevie, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Echols, who was 18 when arrested, was sentenced to death. Baldwin was 16, Misskelley 17. They received life sentences.

An HBO documentary series drew attention to the case, and celebrities funded legal-research experts, who argued that the three convicted men did not fit the profile of the person who likely committed the crimes. Among other issues - none of the DNA identified at the crime scene matched any of the defendants’ DNA.

After spending years in prison, the three were scheduled for a hearing in December 2011 in which a judge was set to consider whether to grant them new trials. They were instead released in August 2011 in an Alford plea, which allowed them to plead guilty while still proclaiming their innocence on the record.

Craighead County Circuit Judge David Laser of Jonesboro sentenced them to time already served, as well as unsupervised, 10-year suspended sentences during which they must follow certain conditions if they want to avoid additional time in prison.

Others involved with the case believe Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin did commit the crime.

Although followers of the case have speculated about who may have murdered the boys, Baldwin and Hobbs refused to point fingers Wednesday.

“The only thing I can really say with any certainty is that I didn’t commit the crime,” Baldwin said.

When an audience member asked Hobbs about who may have done it, she covered her mouth with both hands.

“I leave that in God’s hands,” she said.

Hobbs said she continues to speak about the case because she believes that the wrong people were convicted of killing her son and she wants to see justice.

“It’s not a Hollywood boogeyman story,” Hobbs said. “It’s really true. It really happened.”

Arkansas, Pages 12 on 10/24/2013

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