Father of Victim to Convicted Killer: 'I'm Here for You'

Lawyers, father of victim, 8, say new evidence shows "West Memphis 3" innocent.


Nov. 1, 2007 — -- For 14 years, John Mark Byers said, he has been sure who murdered his son.

In a case that shocked the small town of West Memphis, Ark., three teenagers were convicted in 1994 of brutally murdering three 8-year-old Cub Scouts, including Christopher Byers, in what prosecutors said was part of a satanic ritual. The boys were bound, stabbed and sexually abused, prosecutors said; Chris Byers' genitals were mutilated.

But in court papers filed this week, defense attorneys said new forensic evidence shows that the three men in prison for the murder are innocent. Among the other findings, the court papers say the genital disfigurement was caused by animals after the boy's death, and that no DNA evidence connects the defendants to the crime scene.

Now, in an interview with ABC News, John Byers for the first time, said that he is now convinced that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley did not kill his son.

"I didn't want to see it," he said of learning of the new evidence. "I felt like Benedict Arnold. I'm going against everything I believed for 14 years.

"I want these three men to know I'm here for you," said Byers, who had himself been suspected of involvement in the murders by some people in West Memphis. "I hated you for years. I believed with all my heart you killed my son -- and I'm sorry for that."

Authorities have never called Byers a suspect.

Over the years, doubts have been raised about the convictions of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley, known as the "West Memphis Three." The case has been the subject of two books and two HBO documentaries, "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations."

Echols, 19 at the time of his trial, was sentenced to death. Baldwin, 16, and Misskelley, 17, were sentenced to life in prison.

But their lawyers and supporters hope that new evidence, presented in court filings this week by Echols' lawyers, could free them.

"We have uncovered powerful scientific evidence that Damien Echols is, in fact, innocent," Echols' lawyer, Dennis Riordan, said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Arkansas attorney general's office said the state "stands behind the conviction of Mr. Echols and that of his co-defendants and does not anticipate a reversal of the jury's verdict."

The spokesman, Gabe Holmstrom, said that the government was seeing many of the allegations in Echols' new court filings for the first time and that the state would respond in court after it had evaluated them.

"It will take some time to sort through them, consult with appropriate experts, evaluate their validity and respond," he said in a statement. "After the state responds, it is possible that discovery will be conducted and a hearing held so that the federal district judge can determine whether these allegations merit relief."

Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and James Michael Moore were last seen May 5, 1993. Their naked bodies were found in a drainage ditch near West Memphis. The boys had been hogtied with their own shoelaces, and police said they had been sexually abused. Byers had been partially castrated.

The police soon focused on Echols, who wore a long black trench coat and had an interest in the occult. They arrested him based, in part, on a confession given by Misskelley, who is mentally retarded, in which he said he saw Echols and Baldwin commit the crime.

That confession has been shown to contain several factual inaccuracies, including the wrong time when the boys were killed and the wrong manner in which the boys were tied up. The confession was never admitted as evidence in Echols' trial, though his lawyers argue that jurors heard news reports describing the confession.

At trial, a prosecution occult expert testified that the murders appeared to be part of a satanic ritual. That witness had a degree from a now defunct correspondence school in California, Echols' court filings say.

According to court papers filed by Echols' attorneys, no DNA from the defendants was found at the crime scene.

But the lawyers say evidence does point to another possible suspect -- Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Steve Branch. Hair containing DNA consistent with Hobbs' was found on one of the shoelaces used to tie up another of the boys. Another hair found nearby had DNA consistent with that of a friend of Hobbs', who was with Hobbs in the hours before the boys disappeared.

An attorney for Hobbs told WPTY in Memphis that Hobbs "absolutely has nothing to do with the murder of these lovely children."

Echols' court papers acknowledge that the hair does not establish Hobbs' guilt.

Several well-known forensic experts, hired by Echols' lawyers, also dispute that Christopher Byers was sexually mutilated with a knife, as prosecutors had claimed at Echols' trial. They say that animals ate parts of his body -- only after he was killed.

Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist, said at a news conference Thursday that the animal claw marks on the bodies were "obvious" and said the injuries could not have been caused by a knife.

Byers told ABC News that he now wants "justice" for his son and the other boys.

"They let down not just me and two other family members," he said of the government officials who handled the case. "They let down every citizen who pays their salary."