West Memphis Three Freed, Twitter, Internet Erupts

    August 19, 2011

The case of the West Memphis Three was made famous by the HBO documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills have been set free from the Arkansas prison system that had been holding them since 1993. The controversy surrounding the incarceration of the Arkansas youths, who became known as the “West Memphis Three,” has made the story a national story for many years, as actors, musicians, and other activists rallied around in support.

The story of the West Memphis Three is long and winding, especially if you haven’t seen HBO’s documentary. Wikipedia is a good starting point, because, for brevity’s sake, we’re going to focus on the reaction concerning the West Memphis Three’s release, which is blowing up the Internet, especially Twitter, as I type. Speaking of Wikipedia, the entry for the WMT has already been updated to reflect their release.

There’s also a series of YouTube videos, that helped bring the story back to the forefront:

Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, is a huge proponent of the WMT’s freedom, and her Twitter page reflected the news:

The gag order has been lifted, so now I can tell you, I’m sitting in a holding room at the courthouse about to see three men walk free! 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

From there, the cavalcade of reaction was on. Henry Rollins weighed in as well:

WEST MEMPHIS THREE. FIND OUT ALL YOU CAN. BIG DAY. 1 hour ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Twitter has officially been consumed by the West Memphis Three and Damien Echols, the one in the middle of the lead image, and the face of the WMT. Even Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, has become a Twitter trend based on his support of the WMT. Apparently, he and Maines were there to greet them as they were released:

Picture of Eddie Vedder at the press conference. #wm3 #westmemphis3 http://t.co/LrPQDu3 11 minutes ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

The linked photo confirms Vedder’s participation:

Eddie Vedder

There is some contention about the conditions of the release, however:

Whoah. West Memphis 3 will go free (after pleading guilty to murder) – http://t.co/NFlsOIU 29 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Jason Baldwin says he did not want to accept today’s deal, but did so because Damien Echols was on death row. #WM3 7 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

The deal, according to various reports, were under the conditions of an Alford plea, which Wikipedia describes as:

Alford plea (also called Kennedy plea [1], Alford guilty plea[2][3][4] and Alford doctrine[5][6][7]) in the law of the United States is a guilty plea in criminal court,[8][9][10] where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence.[11][12][13] Under the Alford plea, the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

ABC.com references an anonymous source, who indicates as much:

A person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order in the case told the AP the tentative deal includes a legal maneuver that would let the men maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors likely have enough evidence to convict them.

As indicated in the Natalie Maines tweet, this was done to prevent the WMT from suing the state of Arkansas, nevertheless, the conditions haven’t erased any of her joy:

Beautiful things went down in Arkansas today. Beautiful beautiful things. 22 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

The “Free The West Memphis Three” website feels the same. Thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, there’s also links to the reaction of Damien Echols concerning the most talked about prison release in some time:

Damien Echols’ statement on plea deal http://t.co/SgpGPNR 7 minutes ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto

The release, in part, says:

I have now spent half my life on death row. It is a torturous environment that no human being should have to endure, and it needed to end. I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars. I want to live and to continue to fight for our innocence. Sometimes justice is neither pretty nor is it perfect, but it was important to take this opportunity to be free.

And this, friends, once again demonstrates the incredible power of the Internet and social media in particular. Perhaps it didn’t help free the WMT, per se, but it certainly help spread the word about their freedom, which is almost as important.

Information is still power, and social media is a powerful tool to deliver it by.