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CNN PRESENTS

Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis

Aired January 16, 2011 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


REPORTER: West Memphis police discover the bodies of three 8-year-old boys in a drainage ditch.

REPORTER: Autopsies showed they died from blows to the head.

DAVID MATTINGLY (voice-over): A horrific crime. Three young boys murdered.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: At 9:00 that night, I knew that I would never see him alive again.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three teenage boys suspected.

HOBBS: I wanted to bash their head up against the wall, kick their face in.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three teens demonized.

HOBBS: That was the first thing that everybody started saying, that it was a ritualistic killing, satanic killing.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three teens convicted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty of capital murder.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Their accused ringleader sent to death row.

DAMIEN ECHOLS: I'm in solitary confinement 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He deserves to be tortured and punished for the rest of his life for murdering three 8-year-old children.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But did the West Memphis three really do it? Nearly 20 years after the most infamous child murders in Arkansas history, even those who were so sure they were guilty aren't so sure anymore. If the West Memphis Three, those teenagers did not kill your son, who did?

HOBBS: Good question. Someone did.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): It was a crime almost too horrible to imagine. Three teens, worshipping Satan, murdering three 8-year-old boys. That happened right here back in 1993. Two of the teens got life in prison, a third was judged to be so evil that he was sentenced to die. They've since become known as the West Memphis Three--the most talked about case in Arkansas history. And now many are saying that recent DNA evidence may not only set them free, it could also show that the people sworn to protect the public from killers like this got it completely wrong. Our story begins on Arkansas's death row.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Between the rain and the overcast skies, it looks really bleak out here. Nothing around but farmlands and small towns probably for the last 20 miles. Penitentiary area, beware of hitchhikers. That suggests people might actually escape from this place, but this prison is the Super-Max of Arkansas, the worst of the worst go to this prison.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And at the time of his conviction, no one was considered worse than Damien Echols. Judged as the leader of a grotesque and senseless ritualistic murder spree, a jury of his peers sent him here to be executed. But that was 17 years ago.

The once cocky and defiant teenager who horrified and enraged thousands of people is now pushing 40. Escorted to our interview, handcuffed and shackled, the Damien Echols I see appears frail, lonely and eager to tell his story.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): You know, people are going to be watching you throughout this interview, and they're going to be judging you.

ECHOLS: Right.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): How do you think they're going to judge you?

ECHOLS: I don't know.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): You're either innocent and a terrible victim of a justice system gone wrong, or you're a terrible cold-blooded killer of children.

ECHOLS: I think you'll probably have people who think both.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): With prison officials listening to our every word, I'm allowed to talk to Damien for almost two hours. Through a thick glass window, I listen as this obviously intelligent and articulate man describes why he believes the justice system failed him. And why there's still one question he never gets used to hearing.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): I'll just ask you the question. Did you kill those boys?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): West Memphis, Arkansas, 1993. A small town, blue collar, steeped in religion, crisscrossed with truck traffic and interstates. Just across the Mississippi from Graceland and Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. It's a quiet place most people drive past. But it was home for three 8-year-old boys named Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore.

HOBBS: Stevie and Michael Moore were best buddies. Christopher started coming in to be friends, I'm going to say, about a month or so before they passed away. But it was always Stevie and Michael Moore. MATTINGLY (voice-over): On May 5th, 1993, the three boys went to school, came home, and went out to play. Stevie Branch's mother, Pam Hobbs, remembers it like it was yesterday.

HOBBS: We wasn't home probably five or ten minutes when Michael Moore came over and asked if Stevie could come and go ride bikes with him. And I was telling him, I said, "Not today, son. I'm getting ready for work, and I'm cooking and all that," and he and Michael just kept begging and begging, "Please, let me go, let me go." So like a lot of parents do, I gave in and I said okay.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Do you remember the last thing Stevie said to you?

HOBBS: I love you mama. And rode off and just as happy as he could be.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were all last seen right here on this street. And they were doing what 8-year-old boys would normally do. They were playing, having fun, and riding their bikes back in that direction toward where the woods used to be. But that was the last time they were seen alive. And no one is sure what happened next.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): They never came home. Families and neighbors searched frantically through the night as Pam Hobbs feared the worst.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): You had to be just beside yourself.

HOBBS: Oh, I was. I was going hysterical. My heart was in my stomach, and I knew the worst had taken place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three little boys missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. Their families frantically searching a wooded area near their homes. Pam Hobbs and her husband, Terry, among them. But Pam held little hope for her son, Stevie Branch.

HOBBS: I told Terry, I said, "He's dead. I said I'll never see him alive again," and I was crying. And he said, "No, Pam, Don't say that. It's going to be all right. We're going to find him."

Terry Hobbs was right. They did find Stevie. But Pam was right, too. She'd never see her son alive again. A shoe. Two bikes. And Stevie Branch with his two friends, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. The boys were nude and bound with their own shoelaces.

HOBBS: I run up there and one look at my ex-husband and I knew it was Stevie, and I hit the ground screaming, God, no.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Almost immediately word spread that these murders were the work of the devil.

HOBBS: That was the first thing everybody started saying, that it was a ritualistic killing, satanic killing. I overheard people saying that they'd been trying to let the police know there's been groups of teenagers out there practicing satanic rituals and things like that.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Satanic killing? An idea not so farfetched for the time. This is a community steeped in religion. A church is never far away. And it was a time before the Goth look or the notion of a romantic teenage vampire became fashionable. And this was a crime so horrendous it was easy to believe it was committed by a monster.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): When you're hearing all of this, what's going through your mind?

HOBBS: Exactly the same thing, that that's what happened. That the devil actually come and got my baby. Everybody was a suspect. I would have thought you did it back then. I mean, anybody I looked at I was mad at. I went into a world of my own and I hated people.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien Echols tells me he was also in his own world. Just beginning, he says, to hear about the three young boys found in West Memphis.

REPORTER: Investigators found the children beaten to death.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Do you remember the first time you heard about this murder?

ECHOLS: Getting up that morning. I mean, it was everywhere. You couldn't not hear it. It was on every news channel, on every newspaper, they were talking about it on the radios.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): What were you thinking?

ECHOLS: To be honest, not a lot. I didn't pay -- it was something that didn't play a big role in my world. You know? I was -- it was people I didn't know, a situation I didn't know.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): He would figure it out very quickly.

REPORTER: Police launched a massive search for the killers.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): He may have not have realized it at first, but Damien was the prime suspect.

ECHOLS: As soon as they found those bodies, they were at my house.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien was 18 years old at the time, dirt poor and troubled. He had had run-ins with the law before.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): What was their demeanor? What were their questions? What did they want to know?

ECHOLS: At first they were really friendly. They came in and they were asking, saying things like, "Maybe you can help us." You know, "Just listen to what you hear on the street, listen to what people are saying. Tell us anything you hear. Maybe you can help us crack this case." They also took a picture of me, a Polaroid picture. I didn't think anything of it at the time. I found out later that they were taking the picture around town and showing it to different people and already trying to connect me to the crime from that moment.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): So from the very first day they were treating you like a suspect.

ECHOLS: Exactly.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): And you didn't know it?

ECHOLS: Exactly. Exactly.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): When was the first time someone asked you if you had killed those boys?

ECHOLS: Maybe two or three days later.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Police kept their eyes on Damien and two other teenage boys. His best friend, Jason Baldwin, and another, Jessie Misskelley. There was no physical evidence linking them to the crime scene, but there was something investigators didn't like about them. Especially Damien.

MARA LEVERITT: Damien was kind of a smart ass, and he -- and he was a big reader.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Mara Leveritt is a journalist and author of the "Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three." She's known Damien and his story for years.

LERVITT: He would say things to this -- to Jerry Driver, the juvenile officer, that played against Driver's own concerns about the Occult and satanic activity in the area and Damien thought that he knew more because he was reading about these things.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The community was terrified. Everyone was talking about an occult killing, witchcraft and devil worship.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): People were staying inside because they were afraid.

LEVERITT: And they were keeping their children inside because they were afraid. The reputation of the police as protectors was on the line.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): They had to get somebody.

LEVERITT: They were under a lot of pressure to do that, yes. And all of the authorities there. I mean, that's what we pay our authorities to do is protect us.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three 8-year-old boys murdered. Dumped in a gully. A community, stricken with fear of the unknown, and police under the gun. For misfits like Damien and his two friends, it was the perfect storm for a presumption of guilt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ECHOLS: I came from an extremely, you know, dirt poor family.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien Echols grew up in Marian, Arkansas a mile or two from West Memphis. His best friend, Jason Baldwin, lived nearby and so did a boy named Jessie Misskelley.

Jessie Misskelley, Sr., is little Jessie's father.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): When was the last time you talked to Jessie?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): I met him at his home on a cold winter day to learn more about his son.

MISSKELLEY SR.: Everybody loved him. The little kids called him Uncle Jessie.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): 17 years.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie's father says he had a good heart, but his son struggled in school and he didn't make it past the ninth grade.

LEVERITT: At the time he was 17 years old. He came from a family that was a big family. He was a rough kid. He was low functioning in school. He had been in special ed from the time he started school.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): Low functioning?

LEVERITT: I.Q. I think at 72 is what he's been measured at.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): And what does that mean? How does he compare to a normal student?

LEVERITT: Well, if a normal student is 100, then a 72 in our state, I believe that a 70 is the cutoff for mental retardation legally. So he was just above that. And he had been in special ed until he'd finally dropped out in high school when he was 16, a year earlier than this.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie knew Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin but not very well. They lived in a neighborhood close by.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): What was your world? What was your day like? What was your life like?

ECHOLS: Poor white trash. And I think that's one of the things that made it so easy for them to put this off on us, is because we were expendable. Our lives didn't matter.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Whether that was true or not, the police were struggling to solve a crime with very few leads.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): What kind of pressure are police under at the time?

LEVERITT: Business was suffering. People were not going out. Life was not going on as normal. MATTINGLY (voice-over): And they weren't getting crucial information from the state crime lab. Three weeks after the murders, a police inspector pleaded for answers about the young victims. Time of death. Cause of death. Were the kids sodomized? We need information from the crime lab desperately, the inspector says. Our hands are tied. Police had all these theories, but what did Jessie Misskelley do for them in terms of confirming what they were suspecting?

LEVERITT: He gave them something they could run with. He gave them something that they could use.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Almost exactly one month after the murders, Jessie Misskelley told police he saw what happened in a tape-recorded statement.

DETECTIVE: Where did you go?

MISSKELLEY: We went up to Robin Hood.

DETECTIVE: What occurred while you were there?

MISSKELLEY: When I was there, I saw Damien hit this one boy real bad, and then he started screwing him and stuff.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie said he watched Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin tie up the 8-year-olds, beat them, cut them, and sodomize them.

DETECTIVE: So you saw Damien strike Chris Byers in the head?

MISSKELLEY: Right.

DETECTIVE: What did he hit him with?

MISSKELLEY: Hit him with his fist.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie Misskelley's confession gave the police the break they needed so badly. But with that statement, he had sealed his own fate and that of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. His confession itself was full of contradictions and inconsistencies, but once it was out, almost no one would believe Jessie would have admitted to doing something he hadn't done.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): In this so-called confession, he got a lot of the key points wrong that the evidence could not back up.

LEVERITT: And the police knew it.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): And they ran with this confession?

LEVERITT: And so did the prosecutors.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Despite the inconsistencies, Jessie's statement still seemed so convincing at the time that even his own father briefly believed he was guilty.

MISSKELLEY SR.: When they first had him in court, I heard the evidence, you know, and everything, I somehow, I thought he'd done it.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): I had never heard you say that about -- you were sitting in the courtroom.

MISSKELLEY SR.: I was sitting in --

MATTINGLY (on-camera): You were hearing what they were saying about it.

MISSKELLEY SR.: Yeah.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): And you actually thought --

MISSKELLEY SR.: I actually thought he was guilty until I talked to him.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): That must have been a terrible thing for a father to think about his son.

MISSKELLEY SR.: It was, I guarantee you.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But things were about to get even worse for Jessie, Sr., his son, and the other two boys accused in the murders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: You still have marks on your wrist from the handcuffs.

ECHOLS: I have permanent scars on my ankles where they've put them on so tight that I bleed sometimes.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien Echols bears the marks of a man who spent nearly half his life on Arkansas' death row.

ECHOLS: It's kind of hard to sit here and try to have a normal discussion with your family whenever they can look down and see that you're bleeding through your socks.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But even more painful, he says, is the question he's had to answer for the past 18 years.

How often has someone asked you, did you kill those children?

ECHOLS: Every single time I've done an interview, I've been asked that.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien lives in 24-hour lockdown. He's been convicted of murdering Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, all 8-year-olds, all found naked and bound in a gully on May 6th, 1993.

ECHOLS: It's hard. Like I said, it doesn't get any easier, and you would think I'd be used to this by now, but you don't get used to this. And it does continue to get worse as time goes by.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But it's a question he's had to answer ever since that day in 1993 when 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley confessed to witnessing this most heinous of crimes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JESSIE MISSKELLEY, JR.: Damien hollered, said, hey, the little boys came up there. Then they tied them up, tied their hands up, they started screwing them and stuff, cutting them and stuff.

DET. BRYAN RIDGE: Did you actually rape any of these boys?

MISSKELLEY: No.

RIDGE: Did you actually kill any of these boys?

MISSKELLEY: No.

RIDGE: Did you see any of the boys actually killed?

MISSKELLEY: Yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MARA LEVERITT, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S KNOT": He was a vulnerable kid who was in a high pressure situation for a very long time. And he started off saying, I don't know anything about it. And by the end of it, he had named two other people and himself.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The two others? Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols.

When you heard about this confession, what went through your mind?

ECHOLS: Well, the very first time I heard about it, they wouldn't even tell me what they were talking about. They brought me into the police station and the head cop comes in and he starts saying, you know, we already know you did it, you may as well go ahead and tell us what you did.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie, Damien and Jason were all arrested hours after Jessie's confession.

PAM HOBBS, STEVIE BRANCH'S MOTHER: We all, I think, breathed a sigh of relief that someone was in custody that was being accused of committing the crimes.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Pam Hobbs is Stevie Branch's mother.

(On camera): And based on what the police told you, they were 100 percent certain that these were the guilty guys.

P. HOBBS: Yes. And so believing in my justice system and believing that the police are to protect and serve, I really felt like they had the right ones, and I wanted to do something to them.

MATTINGLY: What did you want to do?

P. HOBBS: I wanted to bash their head up against the wall, kick their face in. I was just so angry. If I could have got ahold of them, I think I probably could have shredded them with my bare hands.

MATTINGLY: You wanted to kill them.

P. HOBBS: I did.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But while Jessie may have confessed, he soon took it back and steadfastly refused to testify against Jason and Damien. Ultimately, Jessie was tried separately, and ultimately it would be his own words that would convict him.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MISSKELLEY: He hit him with his fist and bruised him all up real bad, and then Jason turned around and hit Steve Branch.

RIDGE: OK.

MISSKELLEY: And started doing the same thing, then the other one took off -- Michael Moore took off running, so I chased him and grabbed him and held him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jessie's confession was played for the jury at his trial.

LEVERITT: They heard Jessie Misskelley say, I saw Damien and Jason do this, and when that one boy escaped, I caught him and held him.

MATTINGLY: On February 4th, 1994, Jessie Misskelley was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Damien's and Jason's trial was next, but the case against them was much weaker.

LEVERITT: Now, going into the trial of Damien and Jason, they don't have a confession. They don't have any information, a witness, anybody who says that these boys even knew the victims.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Six months after the child murders in West Memphis, Arkansas, prosecutors had little evidence against Jason and Damien. They had Jessie's confession but he wouldn't testify against the other two. They did, however, get a big break right here in this lake behind Jason Baldwin's home.

DENNIS RIORDAN, DAMIEN ECHOLS' ATTORNEY: There was an announcement by the prosecutor that he had a hunch that there was a knife in this lake.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Dennis Riordan is Damien's attorney.

RIORDAN: The hunch, however, turned out to be a situation where they had informed the press to be there because they would discover -- essentially, because we're going to discover the knife in this lake.

LEVERITT: So the state police divers come and go in there and very quickly come up holding in profile a serrated knife, which is what the medical examiner said had been used on one of the boys. MATTINGLY: A damning discovery that made headlines and all but sealed the fates of Damien and Jason.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY (on camera): A knife found in a lake, an alleged murder weapon, rumors of satanic rituals, and the words of a convicted killer. All of it adding up to an apparent slam dunk in the case against Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols.

ECHOLS: Any time we would go to court, you know, they were always standing along the walkway when they would lead us into the building, you know, screaming, holding signs. Wishing death on me.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Damien and Jason's trial for the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, began on February 28th, 1994.

LEVERITT: Crowds around the courthouse were irate and they believed these were three kids who, in some kind of ritual involving satan, had murdered and mutilated three 8-year-old boys.

MATTINGLY: Mara Leveritt wrote the "Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three." She questions the strength of the prosecution's case.

LEVERITT: They had very little to go on and to present to the jury. And so they made the decision they were going to say that this was an occult slaying and that's why it all happened, because these guys were dabbling in the occult. And they brought in an expert witness, they said, named Dr. Dale Griffis. And he was going to be their expert in the occult.

MATTINGLY: Dennis Riordan is Damien's attorney.

RIORDAN: This is a man who has a Ph.D. from a diploma mill in California parading as an expert in this field when the FBI has looked at this and said this whole satanic thing is utterly unfounded.

MATTINGLY: Griffis pointed out that the killings took place over a full moon and that practitioners of Satanism wore black.

ECHOLS: I just wore what I liked and the black clothes happened to be what I liked.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Listening to heavy metal, wearing black clothing. Reading Stephen king books. None of these are crimes.

ECHOLS: Well, they thought they were. To them, it may have not been a crime, but they were indicators of the type of person who would commit a crime.

MATTINGLY: When you say that, I'm sort of detecting a bit of bitterness.

ECHOLS: There is a little. I try not to be. MATTINGLY (voice-over): But his bitterness was apparent during the trial. And it cost him.

(On camera): Damien didn't exactly help himself on the stand, did he?

LEVERITT: No. No. Damien was conceited, arrogant, and he fell into something that is very adolescent.

ECHOLS: You know, when I was a teenager, I really was a smart ass. I always felt like if these people were stupid enough to look at me in that way, then, mess with them. Play on their fears, you know? I would have thought it was funny.

MATTINGLY: Well, just watching you back then, you came across, I think one of the more kind words would be, arrogant.

ECHOLS: I was a kid and I was scared out of my mind. So my strategy for dealing with that fear was to pretend that I wasn't. I don't think there was any way I could have behaved, any way I could have dressed, any way I could have -- anything I could have said that would have changed anything going on in that courtroom. I think they were absolutely determined, no matter what, to convict us of this crime.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): It wasn't just Damien's courtroom antics. Remember, prosecutors also had that knife found in the lake behind Jason Baldwin's home. But even this bit of evidence cut both ways.

LEVERITT: I think the knife that was pulled out of the lake is a problem because it had no provenance. There was nothing showing that it related directly to this case in any way other than that it was a serrated knife found in a lake near where one of the defendants lived, and the crime lab had said there was a serrated knife used. Other than that, there was nothing. But they made a big deal out of that knife in the trial.

RIORDAN: This knife could have never produced the wounds that we're talking about on these bodies. Even the state's pathologist described what it would have taken. If these wounds had been made by a knife, he said, you know, a practiced surgeon would have had a difficult time doing that. In fact, there is a ready explanation of how this occurred. It's postmortem animal predation.

MATTINGLY: Animal predation. That means it was possibly animals in that gully that had cut and scratched the bodies of the three little boys.

On March 18th, 1994, Jason and Damien were found guilty of killing Stevie branch, Christopher byers and Michael Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE DAVID BURNETT: We, the jury, find Damien Echols guilty of capital murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEVERITT: Getting accused killers off the street was a big, huge relief to people. And then trying them and convicting them just sealed that relief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY GITCHELL, CHIEF INSPECTOR, WEST MEMPHIS POLICE DEPT.: I feel wonderful at this point. I feel like we have definitely been vindicated in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now my boy can play and go on about his life in heaven the way it is, and I'll go on with mine the best I can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to say to your son?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Son, we won. And wait until Momma gets up there, and we'll have a good time when I get there with you. I'm glad it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jason was sentenced to life in prison. Damien was dealt with even more severely. He was sent to Arkansas' death row.

P. HOBBS: I was satisfied that they had the right ones in prison and I was going to go watch Damien be injected some day.

MATTINGLY (on camera): You wanted to go to Damien's execution.

P. HOBBS: Yes.

MATTINGLY: You wanted to see him injected. You wanted to see him die.

P. HOBBS: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Did you want to say anything to him on that day?

P. HOBBS: I just wanted to look at him and tell him to look into my eyes, I hope you see my son.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Hated, reviled, convicted. In the case of West Memphis three, justice was served. Or was it?

(on camera): And what does that DNA tell us?

ECHOLS: It tells us that me, Jason, Jessie, none of our DNA was found at the crime scene.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): My conversation with Damien Echols, a convicted child murderer three times over, was never supposed to happen. He's supposed to be dead. Sentenced originally to die all the way back on May 5th, 1994. Why are you still alive? ECHOLS: Over the years people have paid more and more and more attention to this case. Instead of forgetting about it, the attention paid to it has gradually built up. And I think that's why I'm still alive.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And keeping Damien's hope of getting off death row alive is this man, attorney Dennis Riordan.

RIORDAN: I was immediately very reluctant to get involved in a death penalty case. Prosecutors generally will not pursue the death penalty unless they feel the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and I was stunned to find out that there was not, in my opinion, a single piece of credible evidence in a death case of this man's guilt.

MATTINGLY: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, now known as the West Memphis Three, have all found supporters from all over the world, including celebrities, like actor Johnny Depp and rock musician Eddie Vedder.

(On camera): Do you know how rare it is for someone on death row to be set free?

ECHOLS: Yes. There are so many things about this case and about my life in general that are against the odds that things like that don't even make me blink anymore.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And that support has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars for DNA testing of a hair found at the crime scene, and that has led to some startling revelations.

RIORDAN: The DNA evidence proves there were no sexual assaults. The forensics proves that as well. The material that does exist, all three defendants are eliminated from it. They couldn't have produced it.

And on the other hand, there is evidence consistent with a relative or a family member of one of the victims. And it's a hair in one of the ligatures which ties up one of the boys, and that's consistent with Terry Hobbs, who is the stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of the victims.

MATTINGLY: But the hair was found on Stevie's friend, Michael Moore. While the DNA is consistent with Terry Hobbs, it is far from conclusive. We've reached out to both Terry Hobbs and his attorney Ross Simpson and both have declined to speak. But I did sit down with them in 2007 when the DNA results were first announced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Is it possible, Mr. Hobbs, that that was your hair?

TERRY HOBBS, STEVIE BRANCH'S STEPFATHER: Sure.

ROSS SIMPSON, TERRY HOBBS' ATTORNEY: It was his son, Steven Branch, who was murdered and he's had to deal with this for the last 15 years.

MATTINGLY: Is there anything that you feel comfortable telling me?

T. HOBBS: You live with this every day. And then to have your friends and neighbors look at you and think, is there something else there? That's -- that hurts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Terry Hobbs has never been named a suspect in this case. And authorities stand by their convictions. But his ex- wife, Pam, Stevie's mother, doesn't know what to believe anymore.

(On camera): Do you believe that any of those three young men are guilty?

P. HOBBS: At this point, no, I don't.

MATTINGLY: You think three innocent men are behind bars?

P. HOBBS: I do.

MATTINGLY: Do you believe your ex-husband could have done that?

P. HOBBS: I don't want to believe that, no. I lived with the man another 14, 15 years after my son, and if it came out that he was the one that actually committed this crime, I'm going to fall face first, I know that. But I'll get back up. And that's what scares me about the truth, was he involved?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Pam Hobbs may have changed her mind about the West Memphis Three, but Judge David Burnett who initially presided over the case has remained unmoved by any new developments.

RIORDAN: He denied an evidentiary hearing. He essentially said I don't have to listen to the DNA evidence.

MATTINGLY: That all changed, however, on November 4th, 2010, when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a new hearing be held to determine if the West Memphis Three deserve a new trial. The court ordered that all new evidence, including the DNA, must be considered at the hearing.

RIORDAN: I think Judge Burnett made some erroneous rulings in the original trial, and I can say that because every member of the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with our position in challenging his ruling, denying an evidentiary hearing on the new evidence.

MATTINGLY (on camera): But this is as close as we could get to Judge David Burnett. We came here to Osceola, Arkansas, where he lives and works. We had arranged to speak to him at his home, but he wasn't there when we arrived. We came to his office to find the office closed. We spoke to him on the phone and he says that he is not going to be giving any interviews now, unless the prosecutors in the case talk as well, and they're not talking.

The judge says that he believes that there is a circus-like atmosphere around this case, and he's tired of being called the bad judge. MATTINGLY (voice-over): We also reached out to the West Memphis police department and the original detectives on the case, including Chief Investigator Gary Gitchell. They all declined to speak with us.

JESSIE MISSKELLEY'S FATHER: These are good kids.

MATTINGLY: In the meantime, Jessie Misskelley's father is hopeful about his son's future.

(on camera): Jessie's truck that he used to drive, it's still under here?

MISSKELLEY: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Does he know you're keeping it for him?

MISSKELLEY: Yes. I'll probably have it going by the time he gets out. I've started on it, tearing it down.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And like Jessie's dad, Damien is hopeful but somewhat fearful at the same time.

ECHOLS: Because this time the world is watching. This time, you know, you've got people all over the world paying attention to this case now. So Stephen King novels and bad teenage poetry aren't going to be enough for them to do this again.

But at the same time, I guess it's -- I don't know, I guess if you've been hurt by something, there will always be some part of you that's wary of it, that's scared of it, that never completely trusts it.

MATTINGLY: While the West Memphis Three are getting a second chance, one fact remains. Three 8-year-old boys are dead. Viciously murdered. Their families devastated to this day. For them, their sons, there are no second chances.

(on camera): That has to be horrifying, to live through something like this, to lose your child, and then to come to this belief that the police got the wrong guys.

P. HOBBS: I'm as angry at the police as I was the boys that did it. It's 18 years later, and I still don't know the truth. I don't feel like I know the truth.

Ultimately, a judge will decide if the West Memphis Three deserve new trials. If that happens, then prosecutors will have to start over and again convince juries that they are guilty. If they are found innocent, it leaves everyone with a very unsettling question. If the West Memphis Three didn't kill those little boys out here, then who did?