Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lawyers: Funding agreement reached in West Memphis slaying case

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:45 PM CST

LITTLE ROCK - Lawyers representing the men convicted in the 1993 slayings of three boys in West Memphis said Wednesday they had reached an agreement on how donations should be funneled to their defense.

The announcement comes after another group was formed to raise money for the three men, who sympathizers refer to as the "West Memphis Three."

In a letter to supporters, the lawyers wrote that "all have benefited" from recent DNA testing done for an appeal on behalf of death-row inmate Damien Echols. A fund accepting donations from a supporters' Web site for the three covered costs of the tests, which ran "more than a hundred thousand dollars."

"We can assure supporters that arrangements are being made to ensure that future contributions will be used to meet the needs of all our clients as they prepare for further legal proceedings in state court," the letter read.

Echols, now 33, was sentenced to death for the slayings of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Jason Baldwin, 30, received a life sentence without parole, while Jessie Misskelley, 32, received a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings.

The three victims disappeared May 5, 1993, while riding bicycles in their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. The bodies of the three Cub Scouts were found the next day in a watery ditch near their homes.

John Philipsborn, a longtime attorney for Baldwin, previously said he hadn't seen any of the recent large donations that have come into the trust and legal defense fund in Echols' name, which is controlled by his wife Lorri Davis. Wednesday, Philipsborn said lawyers had held "several days of productive discussions" about the funding before issuing the letter.

"The process has been improved for all concerned," he said.

Dennis Riordan, an attorney for Echols, declined to elaborate.

Other supporters recently launched a group called The West Memphis Three Innocence Project, aiming to create a nonprofit group to equally fund defense efforts for all three men. Statements attributed to Baldwin and Echols on a Web site about the case said the men wouldn't accept any funds from the new group.

"We're tentatively optimistic about the possibility of changes being made, and hope that a resolution can occur quickly," Kelly Duda, a member of a group that organized the new project, said Wednesday after the announcement by the lawyers.

On the Net:

Supporters' Web site with Echols' fund:

The West Memphis 3 Innocence Project:

A service of the Associated Press(AP)