MEMPHIS, TN - Last year, the West Memphis 3 pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the deaths of the three eight-year-old boys in a deal that set them free, but they also said they were innocent. Now they hope new information pointing to another person will be enough to prove they're not killers.
"I know they're not guilty all of them," said Jessie Misskelley, Sr., Friday night.
A documentary "West of Memphis" by "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson that debuted at Sundance Film Festival in Utah tries to make that very point with what Jackson is calling new evidence.
"I think they should have done this years ago," Misskelley, Sr., said.
Damien Echols, his wife and Jackson attended the premiere along with Pam Hobbs, mother of Steve Branch, one of the murdered eight-year-old boys. Mark Byers, stepfather of Christopher Byers, was also at the premiere. The filmmakers point to Terry Hobbs, former husband of Pam Hobbs and Stevie Branch's stepfather, as the killer of the three boys.
"West of Memphis," produced by Jackson and Echols, claims Terry Hobbs' nephew Michael Hobbs. Jr., told his friends "My uncle Terry murdered those three little boys."
Echols' defense team discovered the information. They also revealed that it was allegedly called the "Hobbs Family Secret" and Michael Hobbs, Jr., claims he heard Terry Hobbs telling his father "I am sorry; I regret it."
Michael Hobbs, Sr., reportedly said "You are in the clear. No one thinks you are a suspect. These guys are already in prison."
Defense attorneys started focusing on Hobbs several years ago. In an exclusive interview with Action News 5 in 2007, Hobbs was asked if he committed the murders.
"I'd have to laugh at that and say there is something wrong with anyone who would say that," he said.
Terry Hobbs had not been charged with anything.
Here is the complete press release from the West Memphis Three's defense attorneys:
(Mountain Home, Arkansas - January 20, 2012) Terry Hobbs' nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., allegedly told his friends "my uncle Terry murdered those three little boys," according to declarations under penalty of perjury recently given to Damien Echols' defense team. The three new witnesses were polygraphed about what they stated Michael Hobbs, Jr. told them.
"One day Michael picked us up in his truck. He was very quiet and upset. Michael then said to us, 'you are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.' According to Michael, his dad called this 'The Hobbs Family Secret' and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone."
Another witness stated, "One night last winter, Michael and I were playing pool in his basement when the third friend asked about the West Memphis Three case which had been in the news. Michael responded by saying, 'My uncle killed three kids in West Memphis.' Michael was dead serious when he said this."
The three little boys referenced in the declarations were found brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. DNA consistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, was later discovered in the knot of a shoelace used to restrain victim Michael Moore. Three eyewitnesses have also provided sworn statements that they saw Terry Hobbs with the three children on the day of the murders, immediately before they disappeared. Terry Hobbs has maintained that he never saw the three boys the day they were murdered.
A third witness stated that he was at Michael Hobbs Jr's home in 2003 or 2004 when he was told by Hobbs Jr. that the two of them could not go down to the basement to play pool because Michael Hobbs Sr. was down there having a conversation with Hobbs Jr.'s uncle. The witness said that he " listened with Michael Jr. at the top of the stairs. I heard two men talking. One appeared to be very upset even crying and he said 'I am sorry, I regret it.' The other man was trying to console him and said, 'You are in the clear, no one thinks you are a suspect, those guys are already in prison.'"
Echols' attorney, Stephen Braga of Ropes & Gray, said: "This is critical new information which reveals that the people closest to Terry Hobbs, his family members, may know much more about Terry's involvement in the West Memphis Three case than they have ever acknowledged. If this is the Hobbs Family Secret, then what a horrific cost that secrecy has imposed on the lives of so many people - perhaps most significantly Pam Hobbs who deserves to know what really happened to Stevie on the night of the murders, as do the Byers and Moore families. With the secret now out, let's hope that someone in the Hobbs family has the heart, the soul and the courage to come forward to tell the truth directly. In the meantime, I have given our investigative materials concerning these new witnesses - along with other related information - to District Attorney Scott Ellington for his review and action."
The new witnesses came forward after seeing a recording of the CBS News 48 Hours special on the West Memphis 3 case. At the end of that broadcast, attorney Stephen Braga was asked what's next in the effort to gain exoneration for the three after their plea deal. He responded: "Hopefully, some day we will find that smoking gun, that key piece of inculpatory DNA or a deathbed confession or a witness will come forward and say, "You know, this is really what happened."
Hearing those words moved the new witnesses to contact the West Memphis 3 Confidential Tip Line just a few weeks ago. The new witnesses were then interviewed by the Echols' defense team, signed declarations under penalty of perjury and passed polygraph examinations concerning what they say Michael Hobbs Jr. told them.
The Confidential Tip Line number is (501) 256-1775.
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