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'West Memphis 3' may be freed after 17 years in prison for murder

August 19, 2011 |  6:49 am

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For years, supporters of the three young Arkansas convicts known as the "West Memphis 3" have said they're not murderers, but victims of a sort of moral panic: heavy-metal fans misidentified as Satanists, and erroneously convicted, in 1994, of mutilating and murdering three 8-year-old boys.

Henry Rollins, the former Black Flag singer, was perhaps the most outspoken critic of the case, joined over the years by a group of rock 'n' roll and Hollywood types -- including Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder and Metallica -- who called for their release.

Now it appears possible that, after 17 years behind bars, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin may be set free this week if they agree to a deal in which they can claim innocence while also agreeing that prosecutors could win a conviction against them, Associated Press reports

Attorneys for the men say new DNA evidence points to their exoneration.

The agreement with prosecutors, known as an Alford plea, does not sit well with everyone. John Mark Byers, the adoptive father of one of the slain boys who believes the three suspects are innocent, told the news service: "To me, this is just a cop-out from the state for not wanting to admit that they made a mistake."

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--Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: Attendees walk past a portrait of death row inmate Damien Echols during "A Skeleton Key Production," a 2006 reception and silent art auction in San Francisco to benefit Echols, of the "West Memphis 3." Credit: AP

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