The West Memphis polygraph room and Misskelley. Other elements are parts of a collage.
Misskelley's Many Confessions
Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was 17 years old in 1993. In his police subject description sheets he is listed as 5 foot 1 or 2 and 120 to 125 lbs. In spite of his small size, he had dreams of pro-wrestling and often got together with friends for ad-hoc wrestling matches. Steve Branch's grandfather, Jackie Hicks, who had been a pro-wrestler, was derisive of these aspirations. ''It's a joke. It's an insult to wrestling for anyone as little as him to call himself a wrestler.'' [Commercial Appeal, February 6, 1994]
Jessie had regular problems in school, having to repeat years and by age 11, he was only in the third grade. During the 9th grade he would drop out. The book Devil's Knot documents IQ exams given to him over the years. His scores were reported as 67 and 75 and 4th percentile [pp. 68-70, Devil's Knot]. To evaluate his competency for trial, Jessie took another test and scored 72, equivalent approximately to a third to fourth grade level [Dr. Wilkins testimony, November 16, 1993 hearing]
On June 3rd, 1993, Misskelley made the first of several confessions, implicating himself and Echols and Baldwin in the murders. These confessions were the turning point in the police investigation. Although Damien Echols had been a suspect from the very first, virtually nothing had appeared to link Misskelley or Baldwin to the crime. Within hours, Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were arrested for the murders. After his June 3rd confessions, Jessie would soon claim his innocence - and he would soon confess again.
Detective Victoria Hutcheson
Prior to his confessions, Jessie's connection to the case paralleled the actions of Victoria Hutcheson, "Vickie," a self-anointed amateur detective who helped out the Marion Police. Misskelley was a close friend of Vickie. He frequently babysat her children. She described him as a helpful kid.
She would turn against him. She later lamented, "I loved Jessie with all my heart. And, uh, for them to pick him for me to testify against was just totally wrong." [Victoria Hutcheson statement, June 24, 2004]
Vickie's involvement in the case was extensive and complex. Beyond her detective work described below, she was a former neighbor of the victims having lived at 1502 E. Barton until a month before the murders. Her eight year old son, Aaron, was a close friend of Michael Moore and Chris Byers. Aaron would give repeated, contradictory and increasingly elaborate statements to the police regarding what he had seen at the time of the murders. Notes from his first statement say he saw Michael Moore picked up by a black man in a maroon car on the day of his disappearance. In contrast, in Vickie's initial statement, Aaron had stayed home with her that afternoon and evening. In later statements Aaron described being present at Satanic ceremonies, at the murders and being forced to participate in the murders. After the arrests he identified Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin as being the killers. Still later he said Mark Byers was involved.
At the time the victims were found, Vickie and Aaron Hutcheson were at the Marion police department. She was to be interviewed by Detective Donald Bray as a suspect in credit card fraud. The credit card fraud was pushed aside by the seriousness of the murders. Since Aaron was a good friend of the victims, Bray believed he might have some useful information. Bray also believed the crimes had a possible cult connection. With Bray's help Vickie was to launch her own investigation into the murders. Her investigations focused on devil worshiping, the occult and Damien Echols. Misskelley was her entree to Damien; he was a friend of both Vickie and Damien.
At trial, Vickie described her motivations for "playing detective."
Stidham attempted to put on a witness, Rhonda Dedman, who said that Vickie Hutcheson had spoken with her about her interest in the reward money. The prosecution objected as to hearsay and a long argument ensued. If Vickie had said that she could not remember whether she had spoken to someone about the reward, then Dedman's testimony would be hearsay and could not be used to impeach Hutcheson. If Vickie had said she didn't tell anyone about interest in the reward, the testimony would be allowed to impeach her. No one could remember Vickie's exact phrasing. Dedman proffered her testimony but did not testify before the jury. Interestingly, the punctuation added to the transcription makes a difference. "Not to my knowledge, no." is ambiguous as to whether she is saying she didn't remember while "Not to my knowledge. No." says that she did not talk to others about the reward.
In the days after the murders, Victoria discussed the crime with Misskelley.
Even in this instance, Jessie was wholly inaccurate. Chris Byers was in school on the morning and on through early afternoon of his disappearance and presumably dead by the morning of the discovery. He was described as wearing a white shirt in the missing children's reports and a pink shirt was not among the clothes recovered.
According to Vickie, Jessie went on to describe Damien. "Jessie told me about a friend of his named Damien and this friend drank blood and stuff he just kept going on and on about how weird he was and stuff so by the way you know the stuff that we knew the public knew that was coming out in the paper and stuff I just thought how they were killed was odd but you know maybe it was like a devil worshipping thing..." [Vickie Hutcheson, ibid]
At Vickie's request Jessie introduced her to Damien. Soon, she cozied up to him. She showed interest in the occult by placing books around her trailer that the police had provided her. She also admitted to making out with him. She tried to get him to confess on tape. The police would claim these tapes were unintelligible. Vickie claimed she listened to them at the Drug Task Force headquarters. [Vickie Hutcheson statement, June 24, 2004] In all her investigations, Vickie and the police seemed oblivious to the dangers that courting a supposed multiple child-murderer might bring to her or her eight year old son, a professed witness to the crimes.
On May 19, a night with no moon, she stated Damien drove her and Misskelley to an esbat - which she variously described as a meeting of witches, or satanists, or an orgy. She said that after participants started taking off their clothes, she asked Damien to take her home, which he did.
Misskelley later stated he was unaware that Vickie had told this to the police and denied going to any such meeting. Damien would also deny that such an event took place - or that he drove anywhere or had access to a car. Vickie would repeat the esbat story as testimony. Years later, she would call the incident "a complete fabrication." [Arkansas Times, October 7, 2004]
June 2nd and 3rd.
On June 2nd, Vickie Hutcheson took and passed a police polygraph - although none of the questions were related to her trip to the esbat. The police decided it was time to talk to Misskelley.
Also on June 2nd, the night before he confessed, Jessie stayed over at Vickie's house. There had been local burglaries and he was there for her protection.
At about 9 a.m. on June 3, 1993, Misskelley's father knocked at Hutcheson's door. He told his son that the police wanted to question him regarding the crimes. Detective Mike Allen drove Jessie to police headquarters.
The police spelled out a timeline for the events that day.
The police notes from this time period include the following.
Gitchell drew a diagram, a circle. Inside the circle were three dots, outside, Xs. According to Jessie, "Gitchell pointed to the dots and said, 'This is you, Damien, and Jason. The Xs are police all around you. You can be in the circle or out.' I said I wanted to be out.'' [Devil's Knot, p. 79]
Gitchell then showed Misskelley a photograph of victim Christopher Byers on the autopsy table. Jessie misidentified the photo as "the Moore boy." He was covered to his neck by a sheet. The photo had a profound effect.
It is the policy of this site to not show photos of the injuries of their victims. According to the Byers autopsy, Misskelley would have seen scratches, abrasions, a laceration and contusions:
After have been shown the photograph, according to the police, "Jessie stated that he didn't want to be a part of this that Damien and Jason killed he did not. Will think about taking a polygraph test [none was taken]. I left room at which time Jessie informed [star] Gary Gitchell of his being present during time of murders. Witnessed murder by Damien and Jason." [Ridge notes, Misskelley interview, June 3, 1993]
Ridge left the room and Gitchell remained alone with Jessie for about 20 minutes. According to Ridge, Jessie was given time to compose himself. At 2:44 p.m., Jessie's first taped confession began.
Jessie's taped confessions.
I have researched this case for 10 years. An early turning point in my evaluation of the case was reading Misskelley's transcribed confessions. It seemed clear to me that Jessie was unable to demonstrate knowledge of the crime. He came across as a student who had no clue about a subject and desperately floundered until the teacher filled in the details. And, for Jessie, the police did fill in the details. Sometimes this was in the form of statements.
Sometimes Jessie was presented with information in the form of a question in which Jessie had only to agree with the police version.
Gitchell went on to testify that Misskelley did the pointing even though Gitchell was saying "here" - a statement that is meaningless without Gitchell pointing.
Sometimes the police corrected Misskelley when he gave wrong information. Again he was presented with a photo of the victims and was asked to identify who was who.
In spite of misidentifying photos of the victims twice, Jessie still insisted:
Although much of what Misskelley said in these taped confessions was in specific prompting by the police, Misskelley's singular admission of direct involvement in the crime appeared spontaneous. "Michael Moore took off running, so I chased him and grabbed him and held him, til they got there and then I left." [Misskelley first taped interview, June 3rd, 1993] This was presented that Misskelley was aware one victim was located separately from the others. Misskelley said that Moore ran toward the houses (he was found separately in the oppositie direction) and he said that he brought Michael Moore back, negating the idea that Moore was separate. "...he runs out, going out the, out the park and I chased him and grabbed him and brought him back." [ibid] As with many of Jessie's statements, the police chose the answer that matched the crime scene as Jessie demonstrating he had knowledge. In fact, Jessie gave a smorgasbord of answers that could suit virtually any interpretation - the three found together (brought him back), Moore found separately (grabbed him and held him until they got there and then left - although this doesn't explain what went on with the other two victims while Echols and Baldwin were "getting there"), Moore found in the direction of the houses, etc.
Even though his confession did not contain specific, relevant, accurate and verifiable supporting information, Misskelley was adamant about one thing.
The first taped statement begins "The place, we're in the Detective's Division, today's date is 6-3 of 93, the time now is 2:44 p.m." Oddly, Misskelley's arrest warrants are also stamped 2:44 p.m. and include a note saying that a taped statement had already been made. "This defendant was arrested on the authority of arrest warrant WS-93-1271 issued by Municipal Court Judge Pal Rainey. He was advised of his Miranda rights and stated he fully understood his rights and gave a verbal taped statement admitting his participation in reference to the above listed charge." [Misskelley Arrest Warrant, June 3, 1993] Jessie is not notified of his arrest on tape.
Misskelley arrest warrant (one of two), June 3rd, 2003, 2:44 p.m.
The Second Taped Statement.
A second shorter taped statement was taken that day. This was briefer and focused on the discrepancy in times from Misskelley's previous statements, the clothes they were wearing, whether the victims were held by the ears, along with some miscellaneous matters. In this case only Gitchell asked the questions. Again, the questions provided the details of the confession with Jessie agreeing to them, in some cases Gitchell had to lead Jessie to the answer over the course of several questions. In the police log this taping is listed at 3:45 p.m. with the word "incorrect" added. This taping probably did take place later, Gitchell estimated it at 5:00 p.m. The questions appear to address concerns put forward by Judge Rainey, matters to be cleared up before the search warrants were issued.
Which Jason Baldwin?
During his confessions, Jessie described Jason Baldwin as the main perpetrator. He made the initial phone call. He had the knife (and thus performed the castration). There were two Jason Baldwins related to this case. Charles Jason Baldwin, pencil thin, lived at Lakeshore. He was Damien's immediate friend and was convicted for the crimes. Jason Howard Baldwin weighed in at about three hundred pounds and lived on Johnson, not far from Weaver Elementary. Although in other interviews the police did attempt to distinguish to whom the speaker was referring, no similar attempt was made during Misskelley's statement.
In another instance of cult members being identified, Probation officer Steve Jones described a conversation with Garrett Schwarting who listed Jerry Nearns, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin.
Nearns, however, was friends with the other Jason Baldwin.
Do I believe Jessie was referring to the other Jason Baldwin in his confessions? Only indirectly. Jessie's confessions mimicked Vickie Hutcheson's description of the rumored suspects (Burch and Echols) and the cult and its members (Burch, Echols and Baldwin). However, Vickie had never met Damien's friend Jason Baldwin and she had probably included him in the cult by confusing Damien's friend with the Jason Baldwin who was a friend of the rumored killer and cult member, Burch.
More detailed analyses and descriptions of Jessie's taped confessions are discussed in greater detail on other pages. ,
Misskelley at the time of arrest.
To Be Continued in, Misskelley's Many Confessions, Part Two
Copyright © 2011 Martin David Hill