jason-baldwin mug by Kayley Kimse.jpg
Kayley Kirmse
Jason Baldwin in Seattle
Sunday marks a full year of freedom for Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. - better known


A Year of Freedom for the West Memphis Three

jason-baldwin mug by Kayley Kimse.jpg
Kayley Kirmse
Jason Baldwin in Seattle
Sunday marks a full year of freedom for Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. - better known as the West Memphis Three. Released from an Arkansas prison last year after nearly 20 years behind bars for the murder of three 8-year-old boys, the West Memphis Three's release came courtesy of an Alford plea deal - which required them to plead guilty to a crime they vehemently deny committing in exchange for their freedom.

Baldwin was 16 at the time the murders. He's now in his '30s, and as Seattle Weekly's Erin K. Thompson detailed in March, living happily in the Emerald City while maintaining a low-level celebrity status and trying to reclaim his life.

Most are familiar with the story of the West Memphis Three thanks to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's HBO documentary trilogy, Paradise Lost - which brought immediate attention to the situation by shining a light on the flawed case against the Three, from Misskelley's forced confession, to leads not followed and the ridiculous claims that Baldwin was involved in an insidious satanic cult with Echols because he owned black Metallica T-shirts. Still others learned of the injustice through the many celebrities who took up the West Memphis Three's fight, like Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines and Eddie Spaghetti.

A story from the Associated Press today commemorating a year of freedom for the West Memphis Three discusses Baldwin's new life.

Since his release, Baldwin got a driver's license, a part-time job at a law firm and an apartment in Seattle, where he stayed at Vedder's house after he and Echols were whisked away last year. He's traveled to movie screenings and film festivals, met the actor playing him in the upcoming Hollywood adaptation "Devil's Knot," and celebrated Thanksgiving in Amsterdam atop a floating Chinese restaurant.

"I just wake up every day and I'm like, `Wow,'" said Baldwin, who is taking classes and hopes to earn a law degree.

Thompson's Seattle Weekly piece from earlier this year goes into further detail, discussing the injustice Baldwin still feels because of the fact that, in the end, it had to be a guilty plea that set the West Memphis Three free.

As Thompson's article notes:

Finally free, they were still convicted felons. In one of the most poignant moments in the third Paradise Lost film, Purgatory (nominated for Best Documentary Feature in this year's Academy Awards), Baldwin is shown in the courtroom, dressed in a suit and tie. "This was not justice," he says calmly, but with a spark of fury in his eye. "In the beginning, we told nothing but the truth, that we were innocent, and they sent us to prison for the rest of our lives for it. And then we had to come here, and the only thing that the state would do for us was to say, 'Hey, we'll let you go only if you admit guilt.' And that's not justice, no matter how you look at it . . . I did not want to take the deal from the get-go. However, they're trying to kill Damien." (Echols had been sentenced to death; taking the Alford plea may have been the last shot at saving his life.)

"Sometimes you just gotta bite the gun to save somebody," says Baldwin.

Thompson's piece also discusses Baldwin's decision to relocate to Seattle along with his girlfriend, Holly Ballard:

"I just looked over at Holly and said, 'We gotta stay here,' " he says. "Every day that we're here reinforces that. I'm thinking this Seattle rain stuff is a myth just to keep everyone at bay. It's sunny today! I mean, beautiful weather!"

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that a weekend that marks one year of freedom for Baldwin will also be one of the best Seattle weather weekends of the year.

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