Moments after the West Memphis 3 were released from prison -- two of the men went straight to the DMV to get their very first driver's licenses. As if they haven't suffered enough ...
Sources close to the guys tell TMZ ... Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin went right from court to a nearby Arkansas Department of Motor Vehicles ... while Jessie Misskelley went home to spend some time with his family.
The guys should feel pretty comfortable at the DMV ... they're used to waiting around a long time for no reason.
West Memphis 3
8/19/2011 10:20 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
The West Memphis 3 just pled "guilty" to murdering three boy scouts in 1993 -- but all three still insist ... they never committed the crime.
Damien Nichols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin appeared for the first time as free men in a news conference today after their court hearing -- in which they pled "guilty" to the murders in exchange for their freedom.
The WM3 accepted a bargain known as an "Alford Plea" -- a "guilty" plea where the defendants still assert their innocence, despite evidence to the contrary.
But Damien and Jessie set the record straight as soon as they introduced themselves -- claiming they served 18 years for a crime they "did not commit." Jason did not immediately comment.
Jason eventually said he did NOT want to take the deal at first -- because he wanted to fight for his innocence in court, no matter how long it took.
But ultimately Jason capitulated -- claiming he took the deal to save his friend Damien from death row.
West Memphis 3
RELEASED FROM PRISON
8/19/2011 10:15 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
All three members of the West Memphis 3 have been released from prison.
The judge had a chambers meeting with each of the defendants ... and while each of the three men is still legally guilty of the crimes, the judge explained, "in the interest of justice, they will go free."
The lead prosecutor in the case just released a statement saying, "Just moments ago Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. pled guilty to the murders of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore."
The statement continues, "Since the original convictions, two of the victims' families have joined forces with the defense, publicly proclaiming the innocence of the defendants. The mother of a witness who testified about Echols's confession has publicly questioned her daughter's truthfulness, and the State Crime Lab employee who collected fiber evidence at the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died.
In light of these circumstances I decided to entertain plea offers that were being proposed by the defense. I NEVER considered ANY arrangement that would negate the verdicts of those two juries. Guilt or Innocence was NEVER ON THE TABLE.
Today’s proceeding allows the defendants the freedom of speech to SAY they are innocent, but the FACT is, they just pled GUILTY. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today."
West Memphis 3
Men CANNOT Sue Over Incarceration
8/19/2011 10:10 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
The lead prosecutor in the West Memphis 3 case claims the deal he struck with Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin PREVENTS them from ever having a chance at winning a civil lawsuit against the state of Arkansas.
Scott Ellington explained at a news conference today that because all three men pled guilty, the State is insulated from any lawsuits the men might file ... seeking damages for being locked up for crimes they previously insisted they did not commit.
Damages in such a suit could easily rise into the tens of millions of dollars.
The deal doesn't prevent the WM3 from FILING a lawsuit -- however, the prosecutor believes any judge would simply throw such a case out before it went anywhere.
West Memphis 3 Case
Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines
Arrive at Court for Support
8/19/2011 8:30 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
All three members of the West Memphis 3 arrived at the Craighead County Courthouse in Arkansas moments ago ... where at least TWO of the men are expected to be granted their release from prison.
Two huge celebrities have also arrived at the courthouse to support the men ... Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.
The WM3 -- comprised of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin -- were found guilty of killing 3 boy scouts in 1993. Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison. Echols was sentenced to death.
The case became a cause célèbre over the years after new evidence surfaced ... raising serious doubts as to whether the WM3 actually killed the three young boys.
The WM3 had maintained their innocence for years ... but according to local reports, two of the men are expected to "admit guilt" during today's hearing in exchange for their freedom.
Story developing ...
WEST MEMPHIS 3
Two Men will 'Admit Guilt'
In Exchange for Freedom
8/18/2011 2:25 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Two members of the West Memphis 3 will be released from an Arkansas prison after "admitting guilt" in the deaths of 3 Boy Scouts back in 1993 ... this according to local reports.
The WM3 -- comprised of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin -- were each sentenced to life in prison for the killings of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers -- whose mutilated bodies were found in a wooded area in West Memphis, Arkansas in May 1993.
For years, Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin have claimed they were 100% innocent of any crime -- and their plight caught the attention of HUGE Hollywood stars like Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder ... who rallied for their release from prison.
There have been several documentaries made about the case ... most of which suggest the men may not have committed the murders.
But now, according to WREG-TV, two of the men -- one of whom is reported to be Echols -- have apparently changed their tune in exchange for their release from prison ... though it's unclear when the men will be released.
It's also unclear WHY the men would be released if they're confessing to such a heinous crime.
2:52 PM: TMZ spoke with a rep for John Mark Byers -- a step-father of one of the victims who was also portrayed as a suspect in the documentary, "Paradise Lost."
The rep tells us John will "definitely" be in court tomorrow -- but calls the situation a "double-edged sword" because "even though they should never have been arrested, a murderer is getting the last laugh."