People on death row have a lot of time to think. Damien Echols is no different.
Since his conviction for the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys, Echols has been fighting to keep his thoughts moving forward: to study, to grow intellectually and to distance himself from the bitterness that threatens to consume him.
Echols was one of three teenagers convicted for that crime. They became known as the "West Memphis Three," probably the most feared and hated kids to ever walk into an Arkansas courtroom.The crime they were accused of was particularly heinous: the boys' bruised and mutilated bodies were found in May 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas, their arms and legs bound with their own shoelaces.
Echols was the only one sentenced to die, believed to be the ring leader in murders driven by a worship of Satan.
That was almost 18 years ago.
Today Echols spends 23 hours a day alone in a cell with nothing to do but ponder all he's lost and wonder if the Arkansas Supreme Court will be the key that finally sets him free.
Later this year, an Arkansas Supreme Court judge will determine if Echols and the rest of the West Memphis Three should have their convictions thrown out.
Prosecutors would then have the chance to retry them all and since they were sent to prison, the cases against them seem to have fallen apart.
Echols' attorneys plan to present DNA evidence not available at the time of the trial, as well as testimony that they say supports arguments that Echols and the two others are innocent.
On a dreary, overcast day in late November, I was allowed to talk to Echols for two hours about his conviction, his hopes and his most hated question -- the one he fears will follow him for the rest of his life, whether he is freed or not. I wasn't sure what to expect.
An advocate who arranged my interview with Echols cautioned that "Damien does not suffer fools gladly."
I remember thinking how pale and gaunt Echols, now 36 years old, appeared as he was escorted down a hallway to a seat behind a thick glass wall.
The handcuffs left bright red marks on his pale skin after they were removed.
"That looks like it hurt," I said. Looking down and rubbing his wrist, Echols replied softly, "It does."
He seemed a little surprised I would notice something like that. Echols says he has given hundreds of interviews, so many that there seems to be no question he would not be prepared to answer.
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