Thursday, October 15, 2009
Oct 15, 2009 at 9:08 AM
By George Jared
JONESBORO — Neighbors of three West Memphis 8-year-olds who were murdered in 1993 have come forward, claiming they saw the juveniles around the time they disappeared.
And the new revelations conflict with statements made by one of the boys’ stepfather as to his whereabouts when the three went missing.
In affidavits presented to the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday, sisters Jamie Clark Ballard and Brandy Clark Williams and their mother, Deborah Moyer, claim to have seen Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore at 6:30 p.m. May 5, 1993.
The boys were playing in Moyer’s backyard when Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, yelled at the boys and told them to go to his house, according to court documents.
Ballard, then 13, said she spoke to Byers, telling him his older brother was looking for him. Williams, who was 11 at the time, and Ballard then left for church, documents state. Moyer said she went outside to tell the boys to get out of her yard, and she saw a man with blond hair standing down the street yelling at the boys.
That contradicts a sworn statement Hobbs gave to police, in which he said he never saw Branch or the other two on the day they disappeared.
Officials with the West Memphis Police Department have repeatedly said Hobbs is not a suspect in the murders, and he was interviewed only at the behest of prosecutors.
Hobbs has professed his innocence in various media interview and even filed a lawsuit against famed country musician Natalie Maines after he claimed she made public remarks indicating he was guilty of the killings.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were teens at the time, were convicted of capital murder in 1994 for killing the boys.
The nude, tied, bludgeoned bodies of Branch, Moore and Byers were found in a rain-filled ditch in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, a day after they went missing.
A perceived lack of DNA or forensic evidence tying the convicted to the crime has caused a international outpouring of support for new trials in the case.
Attorneys for Echols presented the neighbors’ statements to the Arkansas Supreme Court in hopes it will order new trials. It’s not known if or when the statements will be added to Echols’ case file.
Satanic or occult activity was the alleged motive for the crime.
Misskelley confessed to police in 1993
Misskelley confessed to the crime in an interview with police June 3, 1993. He claimed he, along with Echols and Baldwin, was consuming alcohol near the ditch when the three boys approached. The teens then subdued, sexually assaulted and tortured the boys before disposing of them in the water, police said.
The confession is riddled with errors, including the time of the crime and where it happened. Misskelley said ropes were used to tie the victims when in fact their own shoelaces were used. Misskelley, who has an IQ of 72, has since recanted the confession and has said that police coerced him into confessing.
Renowned forensic pathologists have recently testified at a hearing for Baldwin and Misskelley there was no evidence of a sexual assault.
State medical examiners, who were criticized for their work on the case, said there was no evidence the boys were sodomized, and no semen was collected.
Horrific injuries to all three boys, including the genital mutilation of Byers, were the result of cuts from a sharp implement or knife, state medical examiners claim. But defense forensic pathologists testified that most of the wounds, including those to Byers genitals, can be attributed to animal predation.
In Misskelley’s confession he claimed they used a knife on the victims.Hairs and other DNA collected from the crime scene were tested in 2007 and didn’t match any of the defendants. A hair found inside one of Moore’s ligatures matched Hobbs, court records state. Police said the hair could have been at the scene as a result of a secondary transfer.
Ballard, Moyer and Williams came forward with new information about the case after learning Hobbs said he didn’t see his stepson or the other boys just prior to their disappearance.
According to documents, Ballard said she was friends with Ryan Clark, Byers older brother. After school the day the boys disappeared, Ballard said Byers’ stepfather, John Mark Byers, told Clark to find his brother.
When Ballard saw Byers playing in her backyard she reportedly told him that his brother was looking for him, and he needed to go home.
Pam Hobbs, Branch’s mother who was married to Terry Hobbs for 17 years, has said recently that she believes her ex-husband was involved in the murders, and she thinks the men convicted deserve new trials.
John Mark Byers has also said he thinks Terry Hobbs was involved with the murders, and he now ademantly supports efforts to free the so called “West Memphis Three.”
Rule 37 hearings for Misskelley and Baldwin wrapped up earlier this month, and Judge David Burnett is expected to rule by the end of the year if they will get new trials. In 1999 Burnett rejected a bid by Echols for a new trial.
Copyright 2009 Jonesboro Sun
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