THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE
THE NOT SO "WELL KNOWN" ASPECTS OF THE CASE.
Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers disappeared on the evening of Wednesday, May 5, 1993. The next afternoon, their bodies, naked and bound ankle-to-wrist with shoelaces in the same way a hunter ties a dead deer, were found submerged in a drainage ditch in a patch of woods bordered by the boys' neighborhood, an interstate highway, and a twenty-four-hour truck wash. All of the boys had been beaten. Byers's penis was missing.
Weeks passed. Terror of a sadistic sex killer quickly spiraled into panic. By early June, under enormous pressure to make an arrest, the West Memphis Police picked up Jessie, Jason, and Damien. They would seem to have been unlikely suspects.
To begin with, though they became known as the West Memphis Three, they weren't all really friends. Jessie, a short and wiry high school dropout with stripes shaved into the side of his head, knew Damien but didn't spend any time with him. "I like to go out in the sun and stuff, and he don't." "He likes to come out at night, when I want to go to bed. I don't like to go out at night. That's where the trouble is." He was friendlier with Jason, whom he'd known since Jason moved to Marion in the sixth grade, but not much. "The first time I met Jessie," Jason said "he tried to beat me up." Jason and Damien, on the other hand, were best friends, though in some ways a mismatched pair.
Damien was a high school dropout with a history of mental illness and minor delinquency. But he was also intelligent and shy, the kid who read books other people in his Bible Belt town didn't and listened to music other kids didn't like and wore clothes other people found odd. "He looked like one of the slasher-movie-type guys—boots, coat, long stringy black hair, though he cut it short sometimes," the local juvenile officer told Mara Leveritt, an Arkansas journalist, for her 2002 book, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three.
Jason, a slight boy of 112 pounds with small, crooked teeth and matchstick arms, went to school every day, got good grades, was a talented artist, and never did anything more sinister than shoplift a bag of chips. "I had a mullet," he jokes now, as if to confess the worst of his sins.