I first became privy to the case of the West Memphis Three thanks to boredom. I like to watch documentaries and there was nothing on real-time TV that I felt was worth watching. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills on HBO On Demand might be interesting, I thought. It was the case of three young teenagers, who were “possibly” wrongfully accused. They were suspects based on the long interrogation of one of them, Jesse Misskelley, who stated they had all murdered three boys. It took him HOURS to be CONVINCED of his own guilt. And the town’s rally to convict them wasn’t far from a new rendition of the Salem Witch Trials.
CSI: [insert city] doesn’t interest me. Real-life stories with real people do. Especially, cases where there is no physical evidence and only, questionable, witness testimony. Especially, cases where there is a teenager involved. Especially, cases where I just know the accused should be exonerated. All evidence, or lack there of, and the suspect’s words and demeanor often guide me to what I believe is a wrongful conviction.
In my eyes, if there is no evidence and a conviction is based solely on witness accounts, minds can be tampered with. Interrogators can convince possible suspects and witnesses, if they’re insecure in their memory. Interrogators can convince possible suspects and witnesses, if they were intoxicated or are not capable of withstanding 12 hours of grueling questioning. Obviously, this is not a hard rule, but it happens often.
Not many people could withstand 12 hours of interrogation. It has nothing to do with strength, when it comes to a teenager. They are young. They are impressionable. And they can grow tired and be swayed to believe what their interrogator tells them, however indirect. Have you ever been in a much shorter (one or two hour argument) and caved because you grew tired? Have you ever given in because the other person was convincing enough or manipulative enough to change your mind about certain events?
Thanks to all of the people whose heart strings were tugged by this case and did everything they could to make it known, a great defense team, Damien Echols’ wife and many celebrities, the West Memphis Three were exonerated. They were required to take the Alford Plea, but most people who have evaluated the case believe they never should have been accused. They spent 17 years, from 1993 to 2011, in prison for crimes there was no proof they committed. Lucky is definitely not a word to describe their exoneration. They were far from lucky, with Damien Echols only narrowly escaping death.
This leads me to a very similar case, in the respect that an accused was interrogated too long and a conviction was made without any physical evidence. A conviction was made based solely on witness testimony. The only difference in these two cases: the incident occurred in a college town and the accused was a middle class kid from a supportive family.
The accused’s name is Ryan Ferguson and I believe he is innocent. Dateline NBC may have provided me with the evidence, but I’ve done enough research to believe on my very own…that he is INNOCENT. That he has lost almost 9 years of his life because of the grueling interrogation of his friend. I’m still not convinced of the co-defendant’s innocence, but I feel without a doubt that Ryan is innocent.
I hope Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines and Peter Jackson (all supporters in the release of the West Memphis Three) can hear me loud and clear. There was no real evidence in this case. There was no DNA match. There was no matching footprint. In fact, the only shoe-print evidence found did not match that of the accused. Yet, the testimony of one drunken teenager (that of Charles Erickson, the accused’s so-called friend, who has wavered in his account three times) has helped seal Ryan with a 40-year jail sentence.
They were 17 on the night of the murder in Columbia, Missouri, a college town. It was Halloween night. Ferguson’s older sister snuck him into a local bar. He had a few drinks. He talked to a few girls. He remembers leaving the bar at closing and driving home with his initial accuser. Only he remembers his accuser being passed out on the way home. He remembers dropping him off at home.
That night, Kent Heitholt, an Editor for the Columbia Tribune, was murdered by what witnesses recall were two, young men. No suspects were identified. Two years passed after the murder, before Erickson came forward to the police and said the incidents of that night were not clear to him and that he couldn’t be sure he wasn’t there. He was then interrogated for hours, as seen here:
I believe he was convinced he was guilty and that Ferguson was guilty because they were together that night. He suddenly remembered details that he made no mention of two years prior. It’s odd that he suddenly remembered the events of that night (on which he states he was “blackout drunk”), only DURING the long interrogation by police.
In my opinion, all Ferguson did was go to a bar at 17 and get drunk. Charge him with underage drinking, if you must, but not for a murder he did not commit. I remember going to bars when I was in my twenties, not much older than Ferguson, and going home drunk. I remember talking to and being friends with people who were obliterated from alcohol abuse.
His friend’s testimony is invalid based on the fact that he was, in my mind, temporarily insane. What’s the difference between being temporarily insane and blackout drunk? Not much. I believe, neither is in their right mind and they can be convinced that they did something they possibly didn’t. More importantly, that someone else was there who wasn’t.
Eleven years later, Charles Erickson, the co-defendant, now says he was definitely blackout drunk. He has wavered from his original testimony that Ryan Ferguson committed the murders with him. He says that he doesn’t even believe either of them were at the scene of the crime.
The janitor, Jerry Trump, who originally identified Ryan as a suspect, has since recanted his testimony stating that the prosecutor showed him a news article about Ferguson and asked him if he was the boy he saw. The prosecutor also assured him that Ryan was guilty and they just needed a positive verification. Once again, possible “mental” tampering.
There is tampering of evidence and then there is tampering of a mind. I’m not sure they are much different, especially when the judicial system considers witness testimony as highly as actual evidence in cases like this. If evidence is tampered with, then it is deleted from the trial. If a witness is “tampered” with during interrogation, then shouldn’t their testimony also be deleted from the trial? Especially, if there is video evidence of the aggressive interrogation of a minor, in this case Charles Erickson?
I believe Ryan Ferguson should be exonerated. There is no evidence. He has wasted almost 9 years of his life in jail. This case is now based on the perjured testimonies of two individuals, who have both recanted their statements that Ferguson committed the crime. Why is he STILL in jail?
Please “like” and “share” the Free Ryan Ferguson fan page on Facebook to spread the word about this case. If this was your son wouldn’t you do everything in your power to free him? Put yourself in Ryan Ferguson’s parent’s shoes and sign the petition for a retrial or for his freedom.