The updated AP report is, "Judge frees 3 men convicted in Arkansas scouts’ deaths after 18 years in prison."
Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts and dumping their bodies in an Arkansas ditch were freed from nearly two decades in prison Friday, after they agreed to plead guilty to secure the release of one of them from death row.
Under the plea bargain, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were being freed immediately. The boys’ families were notified about the pact ahead of time but were not asked to approve it.
The defendants, known by their supporters as the West Memphis 3, agreed to a legal maneuver that lets them maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors have enough evidence against them.
“I am innocent of these charges but I am entering an Alford guilty plea,” Echols told the judge. Baldwin and Miskelley also reasserted their innocence.
“Although I am innocent, this plea is in my best interest,” Misskelley said.
The three were credited with time served, and Echols is being freed from Arkansas’ death row. They were placed on 10 years’ probation and if they re-offend they could be sent back to prison for 21 years, Prosecutor Scott Ellington said.
“I believe that it would be practically impossible after 18 years to put on a proper trial in this case,” Ellington said.
“I believe this case is closed and there are no other individuals involved,” he said.
Baldwin and Echols each pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. Misskelley pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. The Alford plea allows the men to maintain their claims of innocence.
After the hearings, Baldwin told reporters that he had been reluctant to plead guilty to crimes he maintains he didn’t commit, but that they agreed to the deal because they had to get Echols off death row.
“That’s not justice, however you look at it,” he said.
Echols thanked Baldwin and called his release “overwhelming.”
"West Memphis Three set free after pleading guilty to 1993 murders," is the Memphis Commercial Appeal post written by Clay Bailey and Marc Perrusquia.
The pleas were based on a seldom-used North Carolina case allowing the defendants to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence. All three expressed their innocence in the case.
Judge Laser said he had never heard of the law being used in his 14 years on the judicial bench.
“I realize this is confusing,” the judge said, later adding: “The court does believe in this particular case that it is in the best interest of everyone.”
He described the case as “a tragedy on all sides.”
Earlier coverage of the case begins at the link