The lives of the “West Memphis Three,” convicted of the 1993 brutal killings of three Cub Scouts in Arkansas, shifted dramatically last week, reports the Christian Science Monitor. On Monday, Damien Echols was on death row while Jason Misskelley and Jason Baldwin faced life without parole sentences. By Friday afternoon, they were free men with no restrictions on travel and undefined futures after 18 years behind bars. At a hearing Friday morning, the trio agreed to a maneuver that allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence against them to find guilt.
Important questions had been raised about crime scene evidence and conduct of the trial. They were sentenced to time served and immediately released. Such a startling change in circumstances could have dire effects on the three men locked up as teenagers and now in their mid-30s. “It's disconcerting when an inmate leaves the system so abruptly,” says Prof. Frederick Reamer of the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. “And it's extraordinarily unusual. To go from zero to 75 within a matter of hours is likely to be overwhelming for anybody. There hasn't been enough time to construct the scaffolding that an ex-offender absolutely needs after entering society.” An Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman said no inmate had ever walked off death row like Echols.