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"West Memphis 3": Will New Hearing Lead to Freedom for Convicted Murderers?

Will the "West Memphis 3" Be Acquitted?
The West Memphis Three: from left, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. (CBS)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CBS/AP) The decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court Thursday to grant a new hearing to the "West Memphis 3," the three men convicted as teens of murdering three Cub Scouts in 1993, could lead to their eventual release from prison.

But Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel claims that the new DNA evidence which led to the decision does not necessarily prove that the three men are innocent, and he will continue to defend the guilty verdicts that were handed down to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley in 1994.

McDaniel issued a statement Thursday saying that his office is reviewing the ruling, but respects the court's decision.

He says his office "intends to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to defend the jury verdicts in this case."

Defense attorney Dennis Riordan, whose client Damien Echols has been on death row for the past 16 years, sees the court's ruling as a "landmark victory" for his client and co-defendants Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, who are serving life sentences.

In a statement to Crimesider, Riordan said the ruling made the case "an entirely new ball game."

"The Court makes clear that Damien, Jason, and Jesse have presented substantial claims of innocence that must be given careful judicial consideration," he said.

The statement also says that Damien "was calm, but deeply grateful for the ruling and all the support he has received from all over the country. He is looking forward to what comes next with quiet hope."

The eastern Arkansas murder case has drawn the attention of Hollywood celebrities and civil rights activists.

Actor Johnny Depp has thrown his support behind the West Memphis 3 in hopes of clearing the three men he believes were wrongly convicted of heinous crimes. Depp told 48 Hours | Mystery, "They were easy targets," and that, "There was a need for swift justice at the time to placate, understandably, an angry and frightened community."

Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols have been in prison for 17 years after they were convicted of murdering Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, whose bodies were found bound and mutilated in a creek.

"A Cry for Innocence": Johnny Depp and the full story of the "West Memphis Three"