Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. - who were convicted of murdering three Boy Scouts in 1993 and who have come to be known as "The West Memphis 3" - were released today after serving 18 years in prison.
In an odd, legal twist, the trio entered a plea of guilty in court... and were subsequently set free.
The case grew in stature and publicity over the last few years, as new DNA evidence came to light that cast doubt on the conviction. Two documentaries were made about the West Memphis 3, with celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines insisting on a retrial, and even showing up in court today.
The families of two of the victims even joined forces with the defense, proclaiming that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley Jr. were innocent.Following the threesome's guilty plea, the lead prosecutor on the case issued a statement, excerpts from which read:
"In light of these circumstances I decided to entertain plea offers that were being proposed by the defense. I NEVER considered ANY arrangement that would negate the verdicts of those two juries. Guilt or Innocence was NEVER ON THE TABLE.
"Today's proceeding allows the defendants the freedom of speech to SAY they are innocent, but the FACT is, they just pled GUILTY. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today."
This arrangement is known as an ""Alford plea," with defendants essentially admitting there was enough evidence to convict at the time of the trial, yet maintaining the right to state their innocence.
Immediately following their release, Damien and Jessie held a press conference and insisted they served 18 years for a crime they "did not commit." Jason is yet to comment.