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The Detroit – West Memphis Connection

 

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In his autobiographical book, Life After Death, Damien Echols tells a gripping tale about growing up in poverty and suffering the unbelievable nightmare of 18 years on death row.  Echols is one of the “West Memphis Three” – three teenagers who were wrongfully convicted in 1993 of the murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As we read Echols’ account of this horrific tragedy caused by failures of the criminal justice system, we found ourselves thinking about a similar tragedy that has befallen a young boy in Detroit.Damien Echols - Life After Death

 

Documentaries have been made on the West Memphis Three’s high profile case, but you may not have heard of Davontae Sanford.  All four youth were victimized by police and prosecutors who failed to conduct a real investigation, rushed to judgment, and convicted without actual evidence. 

 

 

A common cause of wrongful conviction, it comes as no surprise that the West Memphis Three’s convictions were based on police extracting a false confession from a mentally challenged teenager.  Despite the lack of any physical evidence tying them to the crime, Damien Echols was sentenced to death and his co-defendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., were sentenced to life.  Though completely innocent, they each served more than 18 years in prison before DNA testing led to their freedom.  As in West Memphis, Davontae Sanford, a learning disabled child of 14, was manipulated into a false confession by police investigators using unethical tactics. You can see his actual video recorded "confession" here.  Despite the fact that a contract killer now admits that he committed the murders for which Davontae was convicted, our judicial system refuses to do justice.
It took Damien Echols almost twenty years to obtain justice.  We only hope it is a much shorter journey for Davontae.

 

Life After Death tells the story of a criminal justice system gone horribly wrong.  It is a true, yet, unbelievable tale about the near destruction of a young boy’s life – and one that, as Davontae Sanford’s case shows us, is not altogether unique.  Life After Death is also a compelling memoir of Echols’ personal struggles to maintain his humanity in the hellhole that is death row.  His intelligence, courage, and spiritual strength are admirable and inspiring.  It is a provocative and worthwhile read.
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