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New Hearing for 1 of the West Memphis 3

An appeal by one of the men convicted as teenagers in the 1993 slayings of three 8-year-old West Memphis boys will go before a judge in April, the first hearing in nearly a decade to consider questions about the evidence that convicted him, his attorney said.
LITTLE ROCK (AP) - An appeal by one of the men convicted as teenagers in the 1993 slayings of three 8-year-old West Memphis boys will go before a judge in April, the first hearing in nearly a decade to consider questions about the evidence that convicted him, his attorney said.

Dennis Riordan, a lawyer representing death-row inmate Damien Echols, said the hearing has been set by Circuit Judge David Burnett for April 14 in Craighead County Circuit Court at Jonesboro. The hearing, initially planned to examine all the evidence in Echols' wide-ranging appeal, likely will focus only on setting a schedule for the case.

However, Riordan said it had been a while since lawyers stood before a judge arguing over the case's evidence.

"It was not this century," Riordan said.

Echols, now 33, was sentenced to death for the slayings of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Jason Baldwin, now 30, received a life sentence without parole, while Jessie Misskelley, now 32, received a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings.

The three victims disappeared May 5, 1993, while riding bicycles in their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. The bodies of the three Cub Scouts were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

The Arkansas Supreme Court later upheld the convictions, but a documentary on the killings sparked interest across the Internet.

In October, Echols filed a new appeal claiming that DNA evidence newly able to be tested from the crime scene showed no trace of the three convicted in the killings. The appeal also included evidence from forensic experts saying the mutilation of one of the boys likely was performed by an animal after the boys were killed.

A federal judge ordered that the appeal first be heard in state courts. In the time since that order, attorneys have worked toward having a full evidentiary hearing in late spring. However, that proved impossible as prosecutors continue to work their way through Echols' nearly 200-page brief, Riordan said.

Echols' new appeal hasn't even been filed yet in the state court, Riordan said, in part because lawyers plan to include new evidence they recently gathered. He said other DNA tests have not been finished.

Riordan said lawyers for all the men and prosecutors agreed to file a statement to Burnett asking him to hold the April hearing regardless.

"The thrust of the statement is that there are still discovery motions and petitions we're talking about ... that have not been filed," Riordan said. "What makes sense is to appear April 14 to set out a schedule."

 

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