Damien Echols / Detective Bryn Ridge
On May 7th, 1993, the day after the bodies were found, parole officer Steve Jones and Crittenden County Drug Task Force Agent Lt. James Sudbury visited Damien Echols at his trailer to question him about the murders. He would be visited twice more on May 9th by Detectives Shane Griffin and Bill Durham. Then on May 10th, Damien Echols was brought into police headquarters for eight hours of interviews. These interviews with Lt. Sudbury and Detectives Bryn Ridge and Bill Durham would become the foundation for the case against him.
Over the course of the investigation, Detective Ridge became a true believer in the occult nature of the murders. He was asked on the witness stand why he believed the murders were cult related. Out of the presence of the jury, he rapidly ticked off a long list of reasons.
Ridge: One of those factors is that it was an overkill. Way more injuries than necessary to kill the children. There was torture involved. The removal of the penis. The penis is a symbol of power according to Damien's own statement. Placement in the water, water is, has Satanic symbolism according to Damien's own statement. The eight year old [portion missing] Are that items are to be returned three-fold. Three is a Satanic importance in symbolism. Crossroads area meaning neither in the middle of community but nor in the extremes of nature, it's sort of a um neither in the city nor out of the city, neither public nor completely private. Cult meetings, most cult meetings or rituals are held in deserted isolated areas, wooded areas away from people. Uh, in blood rituals many times parts of the victims are removed, possibly eaten, or kept for use in other ways. The notation being that the penis was not found. The bodies were in the nude, the Satanic term for that would be "skyclad." Stab wounds, patterns, may have been done for the purpose of bloodletting. Incision to the sex organs or mutilations, cuts or bruises. Being a clean site, Satanic or occult symbolism would be mean that a clean site would have been noted. Injury patterns, most sites would be on private property, not on public property, not normally travelled. Mutilation, sex organs would be mutilated or removed. The victims will be males, penis or testicles will be removed. The eyes will be gouged. [Detective Ridge, in limine testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]
What was said during Echols hours of interrogation became a point of contention. None of the interview was recorded. Ridge explained that Echols was not considered a suspect when he came in - but that he came to consider Echols a suspect because of his answers. As the prosecution put it:
You've got thousands of pages of paper, you've got hundreds of people who were questioned and what they came up with was, when Damien was talked to, there was no recording. Well until--as Detective Ridge testified, until he answered the questions the way he did, he was not a suspect. But because of the way he answered those questions--saying two drowned and one cut up more than the others, he certainly became a suspect. [Fogleman closing argument, Echols/Baldwin trial]When requesting an interview with Jason Baldwin, Ridge used recording as a means to defend against accusations of exaggerating or changing statements.
Angela Grinnell [Jason Baldwin's mother]: Cause I told him to, um, um cause I'm scared cause y'all put words in his mouth and make things, make a mountain out of a molehill. And uh. . .
Ridge: Well, that's the reason we got tape recorders.
Ridge: You understand that that we tape our conversations.
Angela Grinnell: a fool's worst, worst. . .
Ridge: We don't put words into people's mouths. [Angela and Terry Grinnell interview with Detective Ridge, June 4, 1993] (The interview with Baldwin never took place.)
During his testimony Ridge acknowledged there were at least four sets of notes regarding his interviews with Echols; he made handwritten notes in response to questions; he made a handwritten draft of a summary report; he made a typed summary report; and Lt. Sudbury, also present, took his own notes. Ridge referenced his typewritten summary during his testimony.
Four aspects of the Echols May 10, 1993 statements were presented during the trials as evidence: inside knowledge; cryptic statements suggestive of guilt; demonic references; and, the answers, demeanor, and affect of a killer.
Inside knowledge - the drowning
In reaching the conclusion of Echols' guilt, the jury cited, "Incriminating testimony - Ridge Too close to facts." [Jury notes, Cons, Echols] The prosecution, in their closing statements, alleged that Echols knowledge of the murders was beyond coincidence.
And then he tells Detective Ridge, when Detective Ridge asked him, "How do you think they died?" -- "Mutilation. Two of them probably drowned. One of them was cut up more than the others." Coincidence? He just guessed? Did the police even know that two drowned at that point? [Fogleman closing argument, Echols/Baldwin trial]According to the autopsy reports, the cause of death of two of the victims was multiple injuries with drowning. Fogleman conflated the testimony to fit this. Nowhere had it been claimed that Damien had said two of the victims had probably drowned. From Detective Ridge's typed summary:
When asked about what he had heard about how the murders had occurred he stated that they probably died of mutilation. He stated that he heard that some guy had cut them up. He heard that they were placed in the water and that they may have drowned. He stated that because of what he had heard he believed that at least one of the boys had been cut up. He stated that one of the boys may have been cut more than the others. [Echols interview summary, Detective Ridge, May 10, 1993]Detective Ridge referenced this during his testimony.
Fogleman: Did he tell you anything about how he believed that the children died?"Heard that they were placed in the water and that they may have drowned" changed in successive iterations by the prosecution from "heard they drowned" to "two of them probably drowned" to "saying two drowned." [Quotations from Ridge's summary, Davis' cross-examination of Echols, and Fogleman's closing arguments, respectively]
Echols denied saying he had heard they were drowned.
Davis: You indicated that you heard they were drowned?In fact, this was something Davis had invented by removing the clause between what Echols was was claimed to have said he heard "they were placed in water" and the qualified statement "they may have drowned."
Davis: And you knew about the drowning, correct?Echols testified he had gathered some of the details of the case from the media.
Price: Do you recall the Commercial Appeal newspaper article on May the 7th, 1993. Read the headline right there, please.Fogleman countered that Echols account was too specific to have come from the newspapers, again fixating on Echols' knowledge that two had drowned.
Remember reading from the newspaper article trying to suggest, well he got these details out of the newspaper. What did they read to you? Said all of them were sexually mutilated or castrated. Said they were found in water. Wasn't anything about two of them drowning. [Fogleman closing arguments, Echols/Baldwin trial] (Note. Although newspaper articles existed that did say all of the victims were sexually mutilated, the defense did not present these stories. There is no record in Ridge's notes or testimony that Echols referred to sexual mutilation or castration.)Inside knowledge - one injured more than the others.
Ridge made a note that Echols had said, "He stated that one of the boys may have been cut more than the others." [Echols interview summary, Detective Ridge, May 10, 1993] This probably referred to Chris Byers being sexually mutilated.
Davis confronted Echols about this statement.
Davis: Said, "They were probably cut up, one more than the others?" Those are your words, aren't they?
Davis: You knew that one was cut up more than the others?After the defense had presented newspaper articles with some of the facts, Davis returned to the subject of one child being more injured than the others.
Davis: Those articles [previously presented] didn't say a single thing about one person being cut up worse than the other, did they?Fogleman included this as guilty knowledge in his closing argument.
Remember reading from the newspaper article trying to suggest, well he got these details out of the newspaper? [snip] Wasn't anything about one of them cut up more than the others. And that came from this defendant's over here own mouth. [Fogleman closing argument, Echols/Baldwin trial]Although not presented at trial, Echols may have been referring to this news article. From the May 7, 1993 issue of the West Memphis Evening Times: "Byers, father of Christopher Byers, said Gitchell told him one youth had been hit above the eye, a second's jaw was injured, and the third 'was worse than that.'"
Jury notes, cons, Damien Wayne Echols
"Incriminating testimony - Ridge / Too close to facts"
Cryptic Statements Suggestive of Guilt
Ridge noted a seemingly sinister response by Echols regarding his view of evil.
Damien went further to explain that in his Wicca religion he knew that evil done comes back three times. He stated that meant that any evil done by a person would be rewarded by the person doing the deed having three times the evil done to him in revenge. [Damien Echols interview summary, Detective Ridge, May 10, 1993]The term "rewarded" was seemingly out of place with "revenge." Ridge testified about this statement.
Fogleman: What did he say about uh doing evil, about how that would return?Echols' attorney brought up that Lieutenant Sudbury, also present during the interview, had written more benign notes.
Price: (Reading from questionnaire:) Have you ever wondered what it would be like to kill someone even if you didn't go through with it? I believe the answer is on 19: Only out of anger to beat someone up. Whatever you do comes back to you three times, so does good.Echols defended his comment during testimony.
Davis: Did you tell him you never thought about killing people?Not only were Echols words seen as evidence of guilt - so was his silence.
The subject ceased to denie his involvement. (Admission through absence of denial) [Detective Bill Durham notes, Echols post-polygraph interview, May 10, 1993]This was proceeded by
[Echols said] "I will tell you all about it if you will let me talk to my mother." Detective Ridge brought his mother in to my office to talk to him. After talking to his mother he again denied being involved in the murders. After approximately twenty minutes, I asked: "Your'e never going to tell anyone about this but your doctor, are you?" he replied: "No". [ibid]Echols described the exchange during his testimony.
Price: There was -- do you recall Detective Ridge testifying that you made some comment to him about, "I will tell you everything I know if you let me talk to my mother."In cross-examination, an issue was made as to whether Echols had said, "I will tell you all about it" or "I will tell you everything I know." Echols flat-out declared the police had lied.
Davis: And you did make the statement to the officer that, "I will tell you all about it if you let me talk to my mother"?Fogleman referenced this in his closing argument.
Then you've got Damien's statements. He talks to the police and does he make an outright confession to the police? No. But what does he tell Detective Durham after he's been questioned for a while. "Look, let me talk to my mother and I'll tell you all about it, I'll tell you all about it." [Fogleman closing argument, Echols/Baldwin trial]Echols had drawn the battlelines - and in all probability had lost the war. Either the police were liars or he was.
Continued in Echols Versus Ridge, Round Two
Detective Ridge, Jury notes, Pros and Cons.
Cons: Left stick refers to sticks left behind at crime scene.
Lost blood refers to the blood samples of the Bojangles man.
"No tape" refers to not tape-recording Damien Echols.
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