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West Memphis Three Update: Damien Echols' Attorney Argues for New Trial in '93 Murders

Damien Echols's Attorney Argues for New Trial in '93 "West Memphis Three" Murders
Death row inmate Damien Echols (CBS) CBS

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CBS/AP) All Damien Echols and his supporters want is another day in court, a day that doesn't focus on black magic and innuendo, but instead on DNA evidence and witness testimony, Echols' attorney, Dennis Riordan, told the Arkansas Supreme Court Thursday.

Echols has spent the last 16 years on death row for the 1993 murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, three 8-year-old boys from West Memphis, Ark. whose naked hogtied bodies were found in a drainage ditch one day after they were reported missing in 1993.

Echols and the other two men convicted for the murders, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, have become known as the "West Memphis Three." Echols is the only one who got the death penalty because prosecutors argued that he was the mastermind.

The 1993 murders shocked the small community of West Memphis and the brutal nature of the boys' killings sparked rumors of occult involvement. Elchols' supporters claim that he was arrested and convicted for being an outcast who dressed in black and listened to heavy metal.

Riordan used his 20 minutes of allotted time in front of the justices Thursday to argue that the court should send Echols back to circuit court for an an evidentiary hearing, so that the trial judge can sort out the new evidence.

Echols has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 1993 and many supporters have accused the police and prosecutors of having "Damien Echols vision" which prevented them from looking for other suspects. Riordan told the court that new scientific evidence in the case merits reopening it.

Riordan told the court that DNA testing conducted after Echols' conviction did not place Echols at the scene and that other scientific evaluation of evidence contradicts statements made by one of the three men during a confession.

However, Assistant Attorney General David Roupp argued that Echols has not proven that there was a constitutional flaw in his trial or an error relating to the evidence.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a statement after the hearing that his office relied on "solid precedent" when it argued that convicted killer Damien Echols should not receive a new trial. McDaniel said the state Supreme Court should uphold a lower court ruling that Echols hasn't met the standard to warrant a retrial.

The Arkansas high court listened to oral arguments for about an hour Thursday. It's expected to release its decision within a few weeks.

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