Posted by David Koon on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 6:03 PM
We got an advance copy of Damien Echols' new book "Life After Death" (due Sep. 18 from Blue Rider Press) the other day, and probably shouldn't have read the ending first. That's because at the end of the book Echols unceremoniously throws fellow WM3'er Jason Baldwin and Baldwin's defense team under the bus.
Baldwin, you'll remember, briefly made a principled stand against accepting the Alford Plea, in which the three pled guilty to murder while maintaining their innocence, because it wouldn't fully exonerate the WM3. He eventually gave in at the urging of Echols' supporters, who got word to Baldwin that Echols was in ill health on Death Row.
An Aug. 17 story in the New York Times on the one-year anniversary of the men’s release said that Baldwin and Echols aren't speaking because of the way Baldwin — who said in a press conference just after his release that he agreed to the plea to save Echols’ life — is portrayed in Echols' book. If so, it's probably got a lot to do with passages like this:
"Over the years, Jason had grown to love prison," Echols writes. "His circumstances were not the same as mine. He had a job, he had befriended the guards and was actually looking forward to the next year in prison school. Jason had also said previously that he wasn't willing to concede anything to the prosecutors."
Another passage: "[Baldwin] also realized he was going to be left behind if he didn't come along with us on the deal. My own case had garnered much of the WM3 publicity, and if we managed to be freed without him, there would be very little interest left in his case. The funds were nearly gone as it was."
Other passages in the book speak of Baldwin's attorney Blake Hendrix — who is never referred to by name, only as "Jason's lawyer" — as insisting on talking to Baldwin before a deal could go through, but Hendrix saying "he had a brief at home he needed to work on" and that he would get to the prison to see Baldwin "within a few weeks."
"We could have been released the next day," Echols writes. "Even [Attorney Gen. Dustin] McDaniel was shocked. He said, 'Do you mean to tell me you're going to allow your client to sit in prison for weeks when he could be out tomorrow?' "
We spoke with Blake Hendrix today, and he called the allegation that he told McDaniel it would take "weeks" for him to get around to discussing the Alford Plea deal with Baldwin "false."
After reading and digesting some passages from the Echols book regarding the negotiations over the Alford Plea and Baldwin's reasons for originally being reluctant to sign off on it, Hendrix sent the following statement to the Arkansas Times:
"My co-counsel [John T. Philipsborn] and I are very sympathetic to Damien, who was wrongly convicted and unjustly spent too many years on death row. Both of us, however, must disagree with his characterization of the final negotiations and his description of Jason's viewpoints. Damien apparently is unaware that it was the Baldwin defense that uncovered the evidence of jury misconduct; insisted on a review of the pathologist's findings and obtained that review; led the discussions about DNA testing; and conducted wide ranging investigation of alibi evidence. Damien also apparently is not aware of the extensive evidence supporting the granting of a new trial that the Misskelley and Baldwin teams introduced over weeks of hearings in 2008 and 2009 which gave Jason the very justified belief that he would prevail. Jason continues to be interested in ensuring that all evidence demonstrating that he, Jessie, and Damien are innocent is placed in the public record. My co-counsel and I will be adding some significant new information about forensic science issues in the case in the coming two weeks."