February 15, 2015

West Memphis Three Judge Now Wants to End the Death Penalty

In a serious case of irony, former judge David Burnett is introducing a bill in Arkansas that would end the death penalty.  This is ironic because Burnett was the judge that presided over the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, two of the convicted West Memphis Three.  Oh yes, he also sentenced Echols to death. 

So clearly he had no issue with the death penalty back when Echols was taking the rap for satanic panic in West Memphis but now he wants to do away with it?  Why?  Guilt maybe, since Echols, Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were released in August of 2011, after being incarcerated since 1993, on an almost unheard of Alford plea. 

One of the worst grievances Burnett committed, outside of sentencing an innocent man to death, was not severing the trials of Echols and Baldwin.  The prosecution had no case against Baldwin and were desperate to keep him as linked to Echols as possible.  (Their case against Echols was painfully weak, consisting mainly of circumstantial evidence, his own moody teenaged writings and witness testimony that was later recanted.)  Had Burnett severed the trials, Baldwin likely would have walked.  Incidentally, the prosecution made Baldwin an offer twice to reduce his sentence to five years or less if he would testify against Echols (again, showcasing their lack of case against the so-called ringleader.)  Baldwin refused both times, even as he was told he was looking at life in prison.  Not surprisingly, Baldwin would be the last to agree to the Alford plea, wanting instead to move forward with the new trial and officially have his name cleared. 

But I digress.  That is certainly a post for another time.  Back to Burnett.  He has not spoken publicly about the case other than to say that he did not agree with the State letting the West Memphis Three accept the plea deal.  Interesting given that he is now standing to do away with the very penalty he bestowed upon one of them.  So does that mean he believes in the death penalty for those cases he already ruled on or just against Damien Echols?   

What do you think prompted the change in Burnett's stance on the death penalty?  Guilty conscience?  Or to garner favor? 

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