Recently, three men known as the West Memphis Three were released from prison after serving eighteen years of life sentences for two of them and the death sentence for one.  They were found guilty of killing three eight year-old boys when they were teenagers.

The murders were brutal and there was a rush to judgment.  The prime piece of information came from the testimony of Jessie Misskelley whose IQ tested at 72.  Misskelley was questioned for twelve hours by teams of detectives calling the validity of his confession into question.  There was little, if any, attempt by the police to identify any other possible suspects.  Despite considerable problems with evidence and witnesses during the trial, the three were found guilt.

A couple of years after the trial HBO did a documentary about the murders and the trials.  HBO made it clear that there was no DNA evidence connecting the suspects to the murdered children.  The prosecution had stated that the boys were killed where they were found.  HBO discovered that there was no blood at the scene when the bodies were found.  During the trial, weight was given to the belief that because one of the suspects dressed in black and used black eyeliner, the murders were committed by Satanists.  West Memphis, Arkansas is firmly in the Bible Belt; finding jurors who did not know this was virtually impossible.

For years after the HBO documentary, celebrities promoted the injustice of the trial and forensic experts examined the evidence.  The case made it to the Arkansas Supreme Court.    ” On August 19, 2011, faced with DNA test results which some claim should exonerate the men, the prosecutors offered them a plea deal which they plead guilty to lesser charges and be allowed to walk out of prison and maintain their innocence. After weeks of negotiations, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley agreed to the deal. They were released from prison after Judge David Laser accepted an Alford plea deal, in which the three plead “no contest” to the charges, thereby conceding that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to secure a conviction while reserving the right to assert their innocence. ”

A bad investigation by the police led to the arrests and convictions of three teenagers whose families were without any economic resources.  After eighteen years, a deal is struck by which the convicted men gain their freedom by saying the state has all the necessary information to convict them.  That being the case, they would plead “no contest” (translated as “you got me” but I’m not going to say so out loud where anyone can hear me) so that they could say out loud to everyone that they are innocent.

So three little boys are murdered, the wrong people go to jail for it, and whoever did do it got way with it.  This makes Leighton’s story about justice as practiced in Brazil as simple and straightforward as a children’s book.

From Murder Is Everywhere:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Murder in Brazil #2

Brazilians have an expression: neste país, os ricos não vão para a cadeia.
It means, in this country, rich people don’t go to jail.
Not true in all cases, but…
…consider the case of Antônio Marcos Pimenta Neves, well-to-do, politically well-connected and a confessed killer.
The former managing editor of the Estado do São Paulo (Brazil’s newspaper of record; our equivalent of The New York Times) he spent four years carrying on a love affair with a young journalist named Sandra Gomide.
For much of that time, he abused her physically.
Finally, she summoned the courage to end their relationship and went to the cops. They photographed her bruises and abrasions and told Pimenta Neves to leave her alone.
He didn’t.
On the 20th of August, 2000, he showed up at her family’s farm, in the countryside nearSão Paulo to force a reconciliation.
She refused.
So he drew this revolver and shot her.
Once in the back.
And then, to make certain she was dead, again in the ear.
Arrested, he was released to await final judgment in liberty.
Final, is the operative word.
Final, inBrazil, is after all appeals have been exhausted.
The constitution that defends Pimenta Neves’ rights is one of the most modern and democratic on earth.
It exists, in part, to make sure that no one suffers unjust punishment.
And, to that end, offers numerous safeguards, numerous opportunities for appeal.
Of course, you need good lawyers to take advantage of them.
Pimenta Neves has very good lawyers.
It took six years to get him convicted.
(Yes, he confessed, but, inBrazil, murder cases still have to be submitted to a jury.)
He appealed.
In 2008, his conviction was confirmed.
But then his lawyers sought grounds for a second appeal – and found them.
And have been finding other ones ever since.
He continues to inhabit his mini mansion inSão Paulo.
He continues to spend summers at the beach in Guarujá.
In this cartoon, entitled Meanwhile, in Gurarujá, a guy’s wife is saying (black balloon) “Isn’t that Pimenta Neves, the guy who confessed to killing his girlfriend? Look, he’s got a new one.” The guy replies, “Be more discrete. Don’t comment on promiscuous relationships.” The new girlfriend is, of course, justice. And Pimenta Neves is declaring his faith in her.
People are outraged.
Pimenta Neves doesn’t care. His permit to carry a firearm has not been revoked; he’s gone out and bought himself another pistol.
He’s 72, and in excellent health for a man of his age.
Meanwhile, Sandra’s father, four years younger than Pimenta Neves, living with the frustration of seeing his daughter’s killer getting away with it, has undergone quadruple bypass surgery, has had one of his legs amputated because of a circulatory problem, has lost his job and is living on a small pension.
Living, he says, for the day he’ll see Pimenta Neves behind bars.
But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Pimenta Neves is lucky to be Brazilian.

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