After they spent eighteen years in prison for the notorious 1993 murders of three young boys, the West Memphis Three were released on August 19, 2011, after they entered Alford pleas. Under an Alford plea, a defendant can voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly plead guilty while he simultaneously proclaims his innocence. But with little evidence linking the West Memphis Three to the crime and with recent DNA evidence likely establishing their innocence, was it appropriate for the Circuit Court of Craighead County, Arkansas, to allow the men to even plead guilty? This Comment argues that the circuit court in Echols v. State took a step in the wrong direction when it allowed the West Memphis Three to enter Alford pleas. This Comment discusses the background of Alford pleas and examines the inherent problems with their application, particularly in cases that involve DNA evidence. Finally, this Comment suggests a method of judicial reform that urges judges to proceed with caution and conduct a stricter factual-basis inquiry in order to prevent the injustice that arises when they allow innocent defendants to plead guilty.
The Truth Behind Echols v. State: How an Alford Guilty Plea Saved the West Memphis Three,
45 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1003
Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/llr/vol45/iss3/9