Mother of one of West Memphis 3 victims sues police to see evidence in case
June 22, 2012
MARION, Ark. -- The mother of one of the murdered boys in the infamous West Memphis Three case is suing police so she can see the bicycle he last rode, the clothes he last wore and the shoe laces the killer used to bind him.
Pam Hicks, mother of Stevie Branch -- one of three 8-year-old boys killed and dumped in a muddy reservoir in 1993, filed a petition Friday in Crittenden County Circuit Court asking a judge to force the West Memphis Police Department to show her physical evidence in the 19-year-old case, according to a copy of the petition.
"I don't want to touch it, but I just want the peace of mind to know they still have it," Hicks, formerly Pam Hobbs, said outside the courthouse during a press conference with her attorney, Ken Swindle.
"To them, it's old evidence," she said. "To me, things that belonged to my son are personal and precious."
John Mark Byers, adoptive father of murder victim Christopher Byers, stood by Hicks' side.
"I want to see my son, Christopher's belongings," Byers said.
"All we were asked to do is get something with our child's scent on it for the dogs to track" after the three boys disappeared.
"We were never asked to identify their clothing" after their bodies were found in a wooded area near the boys' homes.
West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oakes, a rookie when the boys were murdered, called Hicks' request "heartbreaking."
"I would never intentionally do anything that's going to make it more difficult on her," he said.
But he said his role is to preserve evidence and maintain the chain-of-custody of sealed evidence -- such as the clothes and shoe laces. Oakes said he could likely have shown Hicks some items, such as the bicycle, had she asked to see it instead of all of the evidence.
He said allegations his department lost some of the evidence are unfounded.
"I'm required by law to securely maintain the evidence indefinitely -- forever," the chief said.
Hicks said she asked to examine her son's personal items in 1993, but was told the case against the three alleged killers first had to go to trial. She asked again in 1994, after then-teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were convicted, but she was told the defendants' appeals had to first be exhausted, Swindle said.
But last year, Echols was released from death row and Baldwin and Misskelley walked out of prison -- freed amid ever-growing doubts about the case. However, they had to enter an agreement with prosecutors that allowed them to maintain their innocence but technically forced them to plead guilty.
Yet, last week, police again refused to allowed Hicks to see the evidence, according to her petition.
Swindle is arguing in his motion that the case is solved and, under Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act, Hicks is entitled to view the evidence.
"It's no longer an active investigation," her attorney said. "It's no longer on appeal.
"They're saying: 'We got the right people. We're not investigating anymore.' "
But the chief pointed to the West Memphis Three's ongoing insistence that they are innocent.
"The whole case doesn't feel over to me," Oakes said.
Supporters of the West Memphis Three are offering a $200,000 reward for information they hope will resolve the case and bring the "real killers" of three young boys to justice.
Hicks and Byers said they believe their sons' real killer has never been charged.
Byers has publicly accused Hicks' then-husband, Terry Wayne Hobbs, though Hobbs insists he is innocent and police never labeled him a suspect.
Hicks, who said she still has unanswered questions for Hobbs, eventually divorced him and reverted back to her maiden name.
Several years ago she ordered a new tombstone from McHaney Monuments to drop "Hobbs" from Stevie's name.
The new granite monument reading "Steven Edward Branch" was eventually repossessed because it still hasn't been paid for after several years, said the Blytheville business' owner Glen Whitener.
"In order to encourage them to pay, we put the original monument back out there" at the gravesite, he said.