West Memphis 3 mom sues to see murder evidence
Hicks’ son, Stevie Branch, was one of three 8-year-old boys gruesomely mutilated, dismembered and left for dead in a West Memphis, Arkansas ditch nearly two decades ago. Now after 19 years of grieving, the boy’s mother wants to finally see the pieces of evidence that the West Memphis Police Department has hid from her all this time. With the case long closed, her attorney says Hicks is being shunned by law enforcement since the state’s Freedom of Information Act entitles her to see her son’s belongings that have been locked up this whole time.
“Momma wants to see the evidence and Momma should see the evidence,” Hicks’ attorney, Ken Swindle, tells Memphis, Tennessee’s The Commercial Appeal.
“It’s no longer an active investigation,” Swindle adds. “It’s no longer on appeal.”
Little Rock’s KTHV News reports that the state’s Rights of Victims of Crime Act reads that, in instances of crimes such as the one against Branch, "The responsible official shall promptly return the property to the victim when it is no longer needed for evidentiary purposes, unless it is contraband or subject to forfeiture."
Authorities argue that it’s just not possible, though. In Hicks’ last appeal to the City of West Memphis, officials responded that the same legislation is not applicable if evidence was “retained by a law enforcement agency following a conviction for a violent offense.”
“In accordance with A.C.A. §12-12-104(b), following any conviction for a violent offense, the physical evidence is required to be permanently impounded and securely retained by the law enforcement agency."
With police saying the case is done with, though, Hicks and her attorney say their request to see the evidence should be honored, even if it means just a glimpse. Last week Hicks was once more refused by the police and is now suing the local law enforcement agency so she can see what they’ve held on to all these years: her son’s bike, the clothes he wore during the murder and the shoe laces that were used to tie him up.
"I'm a citizen of the United States of America as well. So I don't care if it cost all the money in the world. I deserve the truth and I feel like Arkansas…I'm a wounded soul from Arkansas," Hicks told WMC-TV earlier this year.
The latest drama in the case comes less than a year after the three boys charged with the murders — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley — were freed after 18 years behind bars. Echols, the oldest of the trio, had spent roughly half of his life on death row over the incident. Then, last August, the state offered the convicted men a chance to enter an Alford plea, an unusual exchange in which they are given the chance to plead guilty by are still asserted their innocence. Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were all released.
“I am content in my heart that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley did not murder my son,” Pam Hicks told Reuters after the men entered Alford pleas last year.
Since then, Hicks has suggested that new evidence might link her former husband — Stevie Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs — to the crime. That connection has been alleged by many opponents critical of the prosecution’s attack on the three convicts, but has been largely rejected by the court.
All that might change soon, however; if the West Memphis Police Department refuses to release the wanted evidence, Hobbs may be finally considered a suspect in the case 20 years after the fact. Attorneys for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley — the West Memphis Three — have produced witness statements this year that implicate Hobbs as responsible for the murder. If the police department decides to hold onto Branch’s bike and the rest of the evidence, they could use the items to indict Hobbs.