The Discovery of the Sticks

A controversial element to the crime, or at least controversial to supporters of the WM3 was that of the three sticks recovered by investigators at the crime scene, with many supporters refusing to believe that they may have been murder weapons as the prosecution contended, or that they had entirely no relevance to the crime alleging that because two of them were not recovered from the crime scene on the day the bodies were discovered, that they held no connection to the homicides.

The Discovery of E-138 and E-139—


(E-139, a large stick that was recovered near the body of Michael Moore.)

According to Det. Bryn Ridge, that as he was searching the ditch for evidence, approaching the location where Michael Moore’s body was discovered, a stick that was shoved down into the mud had come free and floated to the surface. The stick was shoved straight down into the bottom of the ditch with a shirt from one of the victims wrapped around it.

Testimony on the matter was elicited by Deputy Prosecutor John Fogleman at trial:

Ridge: This item is a stick that – when Sergeant Allen told me he had located the body and pointed out the area where the body had been located, I was up on the west bank which is a high bank. Ok. I proceeded to the north, come down into the creek, and began walking down into the creek and searching that creek. In searching the creek, I would start in the waterline on one side, rake all the way through and get back on the other side – see if anything was there before I would walk through that area, which could possibly destroy any evidence. Ok. I had walked approximately 10 feet and gotten almost to that body when this stick was uh – dislodged and when it came floating up out of the water uh – this shirt was discovered, and the shirt was wrapped around the end of the stick –


Fogleman: Ok.


Ridge: – and all that was jabbed down into the mud in the bottom of the ditch.


Fogleman: Alright. Now when you say it was dislodged when you were walking toward that area, what if anything could you see about that stick?


Ridge: Just the end of the stick sticking up out of the water.

This stick was documented in several crime scene photos due to the fact that it was near the body of Michael Moore and had a shirt wrapped around it. It was not originally taken in as evidence as it was unknown what the murder weapon was at that time and no autopsy had yet been done. Eventually weeks later, using photos of the crime scene, investigators recovered this stick, labeling it as E-139 and also recovered a second stick next to it as another possible weapon which they labeled as E-138.


(Photo of investigators discovering E-139 as they pull the body of Michael Moore from the ditch.)


(E-139 highlighted in the above image.)


(A visual comparison between the recovered stick known as E-139 and that of the stick shown in the ditch.)

As stated above, Bryn Ridge discovered the stick which he noticed particularly because a shirt had been wrapped around it, indicating that the killer or killers had more than likely had contact with it, an observation not made at the time.


(Victim T-shirt being removed from the end of E-139.)


(Shirt removed from E-139.)


(Testimony along with the corresponding photo depicting the discovery of E-138 and E-139.)

same stick 2

(Comparison image with a photo of E-139 again demonstrating that the stick pictured is the same one in the crime scene photos from the day the bodies were discovered.)

same stick 3

(Another comparison photo with E-139, again showing that it is the same stick that was recovered.) 

same stick

(Comparison photo showing that E-138 is indeed the stick seen floating next to E-139 in the above photo.)

Stick location

(Where the two sticks were located. This location is directly in front of what became known as the “slicked off” ditch bank which was the same location where Moore’s body was discovered.)

Neither of these two sticks were taken into evidence on the day the bodies were discovered. They were initially missed as evidence despite the significance of E-139 having the shirt wrapped around it, which again indicated that it had been handled by whoever killed the boys.

As for E-138, it was a similarly large stick found directly next to E-139, but was more dubious as there was nothing that directly demonstrated a connection between it and the murders in the same manner that E-139 did. It was recovered because it was directly next to E-139 under the premise that E-139 was a murder weapon and therefore E-138 might have been as well.

Following the confession of Jessie Misskelley, Ridge returned to the crime scene and recovered E-138 and E139, the sticks he had discovered and neglected to take into custody on the day the bodies were discovered.






The third and final stick recovered was E-17, the only stick to be taken into evidence immediately at the crime scene, due to the fact that it appeared to have parts of it carved off or missing. It was found floating around the location of the bodies of Chris Byers and Stevie Branch.


(Discovery of E-17 with testimony on it’s discovery.)


(E-17 highlighted in the discovery photo above.)


(All three sticks in evidence.)


  Testimony was given both at trial and during appeals that it appeared as if two different weapons were used to strike Michael Moore in the head. On the left side of his head were several injuries that appeared like thin lines, which were inflicted with a weapon that was consistent with a thin stick like E-17.

From the trial of Jessie Misskelley, Dr. Frank Peretti stated the following under questioning by Prosecutor Brent Davis:

Peretti: Ok. State’s exhibit 59A, 62A, 61A, 63A will demonstrate the head injuries and some of the chest injuries. State’s exhibit 59A shows a laceration over the left forehead region and also we can see an abrasion. When I talk about abrasions, I’m going to be using the terms–abrasion means a scrape or a scratch and a contusion means a bruise, in layman’s terms black and blue. Here we can see, on the left side, we can see the laceration and also we can see an abrasion on the right side of the forehead. State’s exhibit 62A is a view of the head showing the left side and here we can see…


Brent Davis: [interrupting] Doctor, excuse me just a second, was the hair shaved back so that could be photographed?


Peretti: Yes. I shaved the hair. Here we can see three impact points on the scalp. We have three separate scalp lacerations surrounded by an abrasion and contusions surrounding the wound. Above the eyebrow, we have an abrasion immediately adjacent to the eyebrow or scrape and also on this photograph, we can see a bruise or contusion noted below the left eye, this dark discoloration here. On State’s exhibit 61A, we have two abrasions or scrapes on the top of the head, that ovoid-we have two separate impact sites here.


Davis: Now Doctor, I notice that the injuries depicted in exhibit…what number is that?


Peretti: 61A.


Davis:…61A are different than those that appear in the previous exhibit 62A?


Peretti: That’s correct.


Davis: Can you explain to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, based on your experience and expertise in this field, why we have different type injuries?


Peretti: Well, we have two different instruments–weapons are being used, inflicting these type of injuries.


Davis: And when you say–what type of instrument would you expect to be used or a general description of the type of instrument that would inflict the injury in 61A, I believe?


Peretti: On 61A, we’re looking for an object with a broad surface–wide surface area.


Davis: Doctor, would that be consistent with say a log aproximately 2 to 3 or 3 to 4 inches in diameter?


Peretti: An object of that nature is consistent with inflicting these type of injuries.


Davis: Okay. Now the injuries that you see in photograph number 62A, you said it would have been inflicted by a different type weapon. What could have caused that? Or what type of instrument would you expect to cause those injuries?


Peretti: Well, this wound has different characteristics than the previously shown wound. Here we have lacerations, or in laymen’s terms cuts, on the scalp that are somewhat irregular. Some are straight, some have a stellate appearance and these type of injuries here indicate an object of a smaller diameter such as, you know, a piece of wood, a 2 by 4, a stick or broom handle are capable of inflicting these type of injuries here.


Davis: So, something about the size of a broom handle?


Peretti: Yes.

Below are links to photos of these injuries, which are shown here due to their relevant case value.

Located on the left side of Michael Moore’s head were several thin impact injuries which broke the skin on his head.

WARNING! Autopsy photo! WARNING!

Located on the right side of Moore’s head were a couple of very different injuries that were large and semi-circular in appearance, which were consistent with a large stick or log having struck him, such as E-139; the stick located near his body with the shirt wrapped around it.

WARNING! Autopsy photo! WARNING!

In the next photo, it shows the same injuries underneath the skin. It can plainly be seen that there are circular injuries creating a more clear pattern onto the skull.

WARNING! Autopsy photo! WARNING!


(E-139 presented in court. It was a likely murder weapon used in the death of Michael Moore.)

Dr. Terri Haddix, a Forensic Pathologist consulted with by the defense, stated in her own report from October 22, 2007 the following on the injuries to Moore’s head, particularly these circular fractures:

“The items potentially responsible for producing the scalp contusions, abrasions and lacerations are legion and the appearence of the cutaneous injuries doesn’t particularly help narrow the field. However, the curvilinear skull fractures identified during Moore’s autopsy are suggestive of an object with a similar curvilinear profile.”

Haddix states what you can see with your own two eyes when it comes to the wounds on the right side of his head, that the weapon that created the large circular fractures must also be similar in shape; having a rounded shape. This in turn further demonstrates that E-139 is the likely weapon responsible for those injuries.

The next relevant injury  for this discussion is yet another thin line like injury found on the top of Chris Byers’ head, again consistent with being inflicted with a weapon such as E-17.

WARNING! Autopsy photo! WARNING!

And finally, Stevie Branch, who also had injuries from being beaten with an object also had a pattern on his thigh, from which it appeared he had been restrained with a long thin object consistent with E-17.

WARNING! Autopsy photo! WARNING!

During questioning by John Fogleman at trial it was heavily suggested by Det. Gary Gitchell that in his opinion from working at the crime scene, that a stick, likely E-17 had created the clear pattern on Stevie’s thigh.

Q: Do you know whether or not – – are you aware of any evidence that would indicate that there had been some sort of binding other than the shoestrings?

A: Some markings of their legs.

MR. STIDHAM: I’m going to object to that. He’s not the medical examiner.

MR. Fogleman: He can state what he observed.

THE COURT: Are you testifying from reports, records or from your own personal observation?

THE WITNESS: From my own observation.

THE COURT: Overruled.


BY MR. Fogleman:
Q: I want to show you State’s Exhibit 59B, the mark across the leg here. Did you observe that?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What did you observe?

A: Well, the – –

MR. STIDHAM: May I interpose another objection? Your Honor, I think that calls for pure unadulterated speculation on the part of this witness who is not qualified to render such an opinion.

MR. Fogleman: Your Honor, I asked him what he observed.

THE COURT: I’m going to allow him to testify to what he observed on the victims’ bodies. I’m not going to let him speculate as to the cause of the observation. Your objection will be sustained in that regard. He may testify to what he personally observed.


BY MR. Fogleman:
Q: What did you observe?

A: I observed this bruising. I believe it was on the left leg stretching approximately three and a half inches of the leg.

Q: Did you observe a pattern?

A: Yes, sir, it appears to be of a – –


MR. STIDHAM: Your Honor, again, that calls for pure speculation. Why didn’t they ask the Medical Examiner yesterday when he was here? He may be qualified to answer that question.

MR. Fogleman: Your Honor, I think – –

THE COURT: I cannot respond to why they didn’t ask somebody something, but I’m going to let this (p. 957) witness testify to what he personally observed, but he cannot draw conclusions on what he observed.


BY MR. Fogleman:
Q: Did you observe a pattern?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: On this piece of paper, could you draw the pattern that you observed?


Q: I’m going to mark this Exhibit 105A. Is that what you observed on his leg?

A: Yes, sir.


MR. STIDHAM: Your Honor, may we approach the bench?



MR. STIDHAM: Your Honor, this witness is not qualified to render an opinion based
on – –


THE COURT: I’m not going to allow him to render an opinion as to causation, but I’m going to allow him to testify to what he saw.


MR. CROW: Can I view the photograph?


MR. Fogleman: (HANDING)


MR. CROW: I think the photograph is more adequate to show what he observed, your Honor.


MR. STIDHAM: They are trying to pass him off as (p. 958) an expert in pathology. That’s not proper.


MR. Fogleman: Your Honor, I asked him what he observed and I asked him to draw it.


THE COURT: I’m going to allow him – –


MR. STIDHAM: Your Honor, that could have been caused by a stick. That could have been caused by anything.


MR. CROW: Your Honor, the photograph shows it.


THE COURT: You are again arguing what caused these markings that he saw, which is something you can argue at the end of the case. Each of you can draw conclusions, and you can argue what you believe to be the cause of that. The officer is going to be permitted to testify to what he saw.


MR. STIDHAM: Will this exhibit be allowed to be introduced?




MR. CROW: I think the picture shows it better.


THE COURT: I’m going to allow it.

Ralph Turbyfill testified at trial to attempts made in regards to testing the sticks for fingerprints and evidence of DNA, either from the killer or the victims. The sticks had in the case of two of them sat in the elements for a number of days before they were tested, and all three had been submerged in water. Ultimately as shown in the testimony below, no prints were able to be recovered, but a reaction was made for amino acid, indicating that one of the sticks may have been handled, suggesting again that it could be a weapon.

Fogleman: I also want to hand you state’s exhibit 53 and ask if you can identify that item?


Turbyfill: This also has my initials on it, uh – case number. It’s a stick. Case number and initials are also out at the end of it. And uh – I did process this for latent fingerprints and again, there were no latent fingerprints on it at all.


Fogleman: Were there any other tests or examinations you did on that?


Turbyfill: I did – on all these items, more than one test was ran on each one in attempt to – to uh – detect latent impressions, everything from – from uh – visual examination to uh – superglue examination – exposing to superglue to develop any invisible latents. And chemical processing after which, laser was used to detect prints and no latent prints were detected.


Fogleman: Ok. Uh – now did you do some kind of test that relates to – to uh – amino acid?


Turbyfill: Right. That’s the chemical test on wood – unpainted wood and paper, cardboard items. That’s an amino acid indicator that which we exposed this – the stick to the uh -chemical and again, no prints were developed.


Fogleman: Alright. Did you have a reaction as far as the amino acids?


Turbyfill: Some – it’s the pinkish reaction that you see on the wood, is the reaction. And that also can be caused from amino acid from whatever source, which could be – you know, from the chemicals in the water – whatever. If there’s any amino acid there, it will show up pink.


Fogleman: Alright. So the – so you did have a reaction about the amino acids?


Turbyfill: It’s just strictly a chemical uh- color reaction, but no – no defined friction skin ridges or anything like that.


Fogleman: Alright. Alright. Ok. And what – I’m a little confused – what is the purpose of the thing about the amino acids?


Turbyfill: The body has amino acids in it and one of the chemicals that we use reacts or colors that particular amino acid. And this pink reaction is the result of the coloring of that amino acid. Which uh – fingerprints has that amino acid and on paper, unpainted wood, and cardboard we can detect fingerprints using that chemical. So – I mean that, just because there’s reaction, that doesn’t mean it was handled or that it was a fingerprint.


Fogleman: Ok. So it could mean that it was handled or it could be from something in the water?


Turbyfill: That’s correct. It’s possibly because it was handled.


Fogleman: Ok. I don’t have any further questions, your Honor.


It cannot be said that these sticks were not related to the crime. It can be argued that perhaps E-138 was not connected to the crime as far as being a murder weapon, but that it was merely taken into evidence because it was next to E-139, but there’s very strong evidence to believe that E-139 was a murder weapon and relative suspicion in the form of weapon patterns that either E-17 or something much like E-17 was also involved in the commission of the crime.

Statements from defense criminal profiler, John Douglas were critical of investigators for neglecting to take E-138 and E-139 into evidence on the day that the bodies were discovered, as Douglas felt they appeared to be used to weigh down evidence, and in turn meant they had been handled by the killer:

From “Law & Disorder- Inside the Dark Heart of Murder” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker:

Page 287, discussing investigators discovering the bodies and clothing of the victims-

Soon they had an almost complete collection of what the three boys had been wearing, most of it secured with sticks beneath the bottom of the creek. What was that all about? I wondered.

Later on page 287, Douglas again notes the following concerning the sticks-

I noted in my reading that investigators had not retrieved and catalogued the sticks used to submerge the clothing in the mud.

Next on page 360 during his theories on an alternative criminal profile, he further makes clear a belief that the killer had handled the sticks recovered by investigators-

Postoffense behavior reflects that he felt the need to hide the victims’ clothing at the scene. He did so by sticking small branches he found at the scene into the clothing and pushing it under the muddy water and out of view.

By the very admission of a defense expert, John Douglas, these sticks were used in the commission of this crime. And that coupled with statements by Ridge, Peretti and Gitchell and Tubyfill and Dr. Terri Haddix, and even what you can see with your own two eyes from the photos presented here in this post, that the victims were attacked with E-139 and more than likely also with E-17.

So, why is it important for supporters and even members of the defense team(Dr. Werner Spitz, a defense expert who claimed wild animals caused the head injuries to the victims.) to try and discredit the sticks as evidence? Well, to answer that, one must read the following exchange between Jessie Misskelley and the prosecution in this case:

DAVIS: Ok. Were they, at some point did they get hit with anything besides your fist?




DAVIS: Who hit’m with a stick?


MISSKELLEY: Damien, I hit, I hit one of’m with a stick and


DAVIS: Now. When you say that, do you remember what kind of stick Damien had, you saw those sticks we had in Court.


MISSKELLEY: No, I didn’t look at them. I know there’s a stick craved something into it or something. You know part of the bark off of it.


DAVIS: Do you know how long it was? Was it as long as a baseball bat or longer or?


MISSKELLEY: it was longer than a baseball bat.

Jessie had stated as can be seen in the above that HE and DAMIEN had used sticks to beat the victims, and that HE, Jessie had struck one victim with a stick. This statement would be consistent with Peretti’s statements that more than one weapon had been used to beat Michael Moore, who happened to be the victim that Jessie Misskelley had confessed to chasing down and beating.

Similarly Jessie also put a stick in his hands during the clean-up of the crime scene during a confession he gave to his lawyer:

MISSKELLEY: After they done tied them up. You know, I – I – I, you know, I wiped my footprints with a stick, you know, like a zigzag, covering up my footprints and everything. And the blood, they wiped them on, you know, like in the water, make sure all the blood was off the water – make sure the blood was off the leaves and stuff.


STIDHAM: How’d they do that?


MISSKELLEY: Rubbed together, or get their finger and just wipe if off real good. And just wipe that off.


(Mud and dirt on ditch bank, which appeared to be scraped up with an object.)

(Scraped and rubbed down area of the ditch bank near where Michael Moore’s body was recovered.)


Damien Echols and DNA


(Damien Echols in the days following the murders wearing an axe necklace.)

Of the most significant allegations made by the defense and supporters of the West Memphis three was the claim that no DNA evidence was ever recovered that connected any of the convicted men to the crime. This allegation however is dubious and wholey inaccurate as one can easily see when they discover that DNA located at the crime scene and even on evidence recovered from a necklace belonging to Damien Echols had connected Mr. Echols to the murders.


(WARNING! Link contains cropped image of autopsy photo depicting the ligatures of Stevie Branch.WARNING!)

The ligatures used to bind Stevie Branch.

DNA testing conducted years after the murders while the West Memphis Three were incarcerated revealed three DNA mixtures recovered the bodies of Stevie Branch and Michael Moore. One of these samples was located on the ligatures used to bind Stevie Branch at the crime scene. This DNA revealed a mixture of DNA, meaning there was DNA present from two different individuals on these bindings.


(The DNA findings from the ligatures, indicating three different numbers present on the D5s818 Locus.)


(DNA profiles for the West Memphis Three and the victims in the case.)

As seen in the images above, the numbers listed under D5s818 on the ligatures for Stevie Branch are 10,11,12. Normally there would only be two numbers present as seen in the second image showing the DNA profiles for the victims and the West Memphis Three, but here there is three numbers, indicating the presence of a second person’s DNA. In addition under the Locus for D13s317 are the numbers are 8,11.

Now, Stevie Branch’s profile for the D5s818 is only 10, 12. So that means the number 11 must be more than likely part of the profile from the second party who left their DNA on the ligature used to bind Stevie, and more than likely shared one of the same numbers as Stevie; either 10 or 12. And of the DNA profiles of the victims and the West Memphis Three, the only ones that could fit for D5s818 would be either Damien Echols or Jessie Misskelley, who both had 11,12 which would fit with the DNA mixture on the ligatures for Stevie Branch. However Misskelley’s profile for D13s317 does not correspond to the DNA, which is 8,11. This leaves Damien Echols as a better candidate for being the individual who’s DNA is mixed with Stevie Branch’s on the ligatures in question. So, whoever deposited the DNA on the ligatures just so happened to share a similar DNA profile to Damien Echols.

This item of evidence is often disregarded, because there was evidence of contamination present, which has been used by supporters of the West Memphis Three to suggest that any subsequent DNA recovered had to be from the real killer, and therefore any physical evidence against Damien Echols was not to be believed.



(Autopsy photo shows someone,handling Stevie Branch’s genitals without any gloves on. The penile swab taken from Stevie’s genitals, subsequently didn’t match any known suspects.)

The DNA profile for Stevie’s penile swab, revealed a profile that did not match to either Stevie, nor to any of the suspects. As can be seen, the numbers listed for D168539 are 8 and 11.

Examining the DNA profiles for all, it shows above, that Stevie’s numbers were 9,12, so the recovered sample, 8,11 is not from him. And none of the DNA samples from either the victims nor the suspects, had an 8 for D168639, so that means someone else left this sample, and the above autopsy photo shows what appears to be Dr. Peretti not wearing gloves when he was doing the autopsy photos of Stevie’s genital region at the same exact location as the penile swab.


Lastly another penile swab, this time taken from Michael Moore, may have been the result of contamination. The numbers again showed a mixture, this time for D5s818, and of this mixture it showed likely Michael Moore’s DNA and an unknown second individual’s DNA. Looking at the suspect DNA samples, none of them are consistent with the mixture of 9,12,13, which is not surprising considering that no gloves were worn when Stevie’s genitals were handled for the purpose of documenting injuries at the location. It’s therefore likely that the same may be true in the case of the DNA pulled from Moore’s genitals.

A response from the prosecution in this matter was that the bodies had sat over night in a ditch, submerged in water, and thus, any usable DNA from the killer had likely washed away. And with this in mind, the three DNA mixtures recovered from the bodies of Stevie Branch and Michael Moore were in question as likely contamination, particularly in light of the photo of someone’s bare hand touching Stevie’s genitals.

The fact of the matter was that the DNA pulled from the genital swabs was compromised during autopsy, likely by Dr. Frank Peretti, who had performed the autopsy.



(Crime Lab document detailing an investigation into dark spots located on Damien’s necklace, which later was proven to be blood.)


(Another document discussing the discovery of blood on Damien’s necklace.)

Damien Necklace

According to documents and video from the early 90’s, specs of blood were discovered on a necklace that had been worn by Damien Echols. The blood was too small at that time for exact DNA testing to be performed, but once again found a DNA mixture composited from blood from two different people on this necklace. DNA results revealed that one of the individuals who bled onto the necklace was Damien Echols, the chief suspect in the murders of the three victims. But DNA on the second individual was less clear as there was less blood. Tests determined that it either belonged to Stevie Branch, the victim who’s ligatures had DNA that could have been from Damien Echols, or the other possibility being Damien’s alleged accomplice Jason Baldwin.

To go further into this matter, there existed evidence that the necklace at one time belonged to Jason Baldwin, having most likely been given to him by a girlfriend prior to the murders. It is also known that both Damien and Jason wore this necklace as indicated in the below photo, which depicts Jason Baldwin wearing it.


In addition, Jason had several drawings in his room at the time of his arrest.


(Homework assignment belonging to Jason Baldwin with drawings in the corner.)


(Drawing of the axe necklace located on the above home work assignment.)

The question becomes, if one were to believe the blood on the necklace was Jason Baldwin’s, why was he bleeding on it? And why was there blood of Damien also? Could it be because they were killing three little boys and had they themselves been injured in the commission of the crime?

But the real more shocking scenario in this matter is the more likely probability that this DNA is that of Stevie Branch, the victim who Jessie Misskelley alleged in his confessions that Damien was most responsible for attacking and murdering.

Both matters are discussed in a deleted scene from the documentary Paradise Lost, in which the film makers for reasons unknown felt the incriminating evidence should be left out of the film.

The Bloody Necklace



These two DNA items act as physical corroborating evidence to the involvement of Damien Echols in the murder of Stevie Branch. The ligatures revealed a DNA mixture containing DNA from Stevie Branch and a second individual. This mixture as the documentation revealed was consistent with Damien Echols. Further, blood on a necklace worn by Damien and shown to be worn by him in the days and weeks after the murders, turned out to contain blood from two different people; Echols and a second individual. Testing demonstrated that it was very possible that the DNA of the second individual was that of Stevie Branch. Confessions by Jessie Misskelley also implicated Damien Echols as the killer of Stevie Branch.

The very fact that Echols could not be eliminated from the DNA mixture found on the ligatures would be corroborating evidence of the statements made by Jessie Misskelley, and per Jessie’s statements, Damien Echols had tied up Stevie Branch, therefore it would make sense that Damien’s DNA would be present there if he were guilty of the crime… of which DNA happened to be located on the ligatures which matched back to… Damien Echols just as Jessie Misskelley had stated in his confessions.

Going back to the necklace, if Damien was guilty the very fact that blood was located  on an item of clothing belonging to him (the necklace) would be yet another strong corroborating item of guilt. It’s difficult to explain away blood from both himself and a second individual in an innocent manner that does not point to guilt in the homicides. And if Damien was the one who killed Stevie Branch, as Jessie Misskelley had stated, then not only would Damien’s DNA be on the ligatures but  there would exist evidence, such as blood which would be upon his person, and it was. And if Damien was the person who killed Stevie Branch, then the blood would then be that of Stevie Branch… DNA testing showed that of the victims, the blood was consistent with that of Stevie Branch, further corroborating Jessie’s confession. IN BOTH INSTANCES of Damien Echols and DNA connecting him to the crime it always seemed to connect him to the murder of Stevie Branch. A coincidence? Very unlikely.

A Question of DNA

The narrative goes as this: Three men claiming to be wrongfully convicted have DNA tests run on the evidence in their case. The evidence doesn’t match to any of the them, but a single hair matched to a step-father of one of the victims is located. So this must mean these men are innocent? Not true, the answer is surprisingly not as simple as it would seem, and far more complicated. Despite that it has been all too often claimed that the DNA testings proved them innocent, it didn’t actually exclude them.

The natural question one may ask is, how it is that it didn’t exclude them? To answer this question, it first must be understood the situation at the crime scene, and how evidence was collected. The bodies had been submerged in the water, destroying precious DNA and blood evidence that may have been located at the scene. A possible semen stain which had been located on the pants of one victim, was more or less ruined from being in the water over night. This would make it much harder to find any physical evidence, as the submersion of the bodies, naturally washed away evidence.

Kermit Channell testified to the effects of water when it comes to physical evidence.

Fogleman: Alright. And um – in regard to these pants and all the other items that you examined, what effect if any does uh – an item of evidence being in water have on your ability to find items?

Channell: Uh – being uh – wet, especially being say, submerged in the water, or even being dirty or soiled has a very detrimental effect on any type of biological materials that you might find. Being in the water can make it virtually impossible at times to identify any type of material.

Fogleman: Okay. And uh – does cold water as opposed to hot water have any particular effect on blood in particular?

Channell: I believe with uh – there are some studies with one versus the other, but uh – regardless of water temperature, still it will deteriorate the sample.

Next one must consider how the bodies were recovered.


When the victims were recovered, the police had to enter the ditch where the bodies were located, and rifle around in the water, digging out clothing, as well as touching the bodies. This cross contaminated them, introducing hair and fibers to the scene which hadn’t previously been there before, which is surprisingly all too common in criminal investigations.

In the book “Bodies We’ve Buried” by Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, it’s remarked upon, some of the items investigators accidentally introduce to the scene. One of which is even cigarette butts.

“…as much as 30 percent of all cigarette butts found at crime scenes are not left by the perpatrator, as one might assume, but by someone who actually processed the scene. It’s a little disconcerting to think that so much time and money is wasted on a potential suspect, only to find out that “suspect” is the chief officer.”

The book also states the following…

“If you ask any CSI what the biggest problem they face in the field is, they will almost always say crime scene contamination. Contamination of the scene can not only mislead the investigation, it can also be a defense attorney’s dream come true.”


One can see from the photos that they waded around in the water.


The clothing would then be collected and set on the nearby ditch bank picking up anything that may have been there as well.


Here one can actually see items floating around in the water unrelated to the crime, further contaminating evidence.


There had been garbage and debris through-out. A simple fact was that there had been hair and fibers at the scene which may not have been from the killer(s).

Adding to this, anything from the home of the victims had additionally been introduced to the crime scene. Hair and fibers from their home environment could have been stuck to their clothing that day, further complicating the matter.

Now according to Lisa Sakevicius in her courtroom testimony, Stevie Branch was tied with two different shoe laces.

20 Q. On Exhibit 81 — if you would refer to that exhibit.
21 A. That is from Steve Branch.
22 Q. What were your findings as to the knots on Exhibit 81?
23 A. Examination of the ligatures revealed a black shoestring on
24 the right side tied in three half hitches with an extra loop
25 around the leg to a single half hitch with a figure eight around

1 the right wrist. The left side consisted of a white shoestring
2 tied in three half hitches around the wrist to three half
3 hitches around the leg.
4 Q. So on the left side on the wrist you had three half
5 hitches?
6 A. Correct.
7 Q. And on the ankle you had three half hitches?
8 A. Correct.
9 Q. On the right side on the leg you had three half hitches
10 with what?
11 A. An extra loop around the right leg.
12 Q. On the wrist you had?
13 A. A figure eight.
14 Q. With one half hitch. Is that right?
15 A. Yes, sir.

Now, the hair connected to Terry was located on a shoe lace used to bind Michael Moore, but as seen by the above testimony, Stevie was tied up with two different laces. This means that the lace used to bind Michael could have been Stevie’s. All this means then, is that the DNA test only proves that Terry Hobbs had been in the same home as Stevie, since he was his Step-Dad. It doesn’t actually connect him to the crime. And even if it were Michael’s shoe lace it would still be the same, since both boys were best friends, and often played in each other’s houses. All that can be really said about the hair is that it’s secondary transfer, and was likely brought to the scene by the victims. The defense also in an attempt to further push Hobbs as a suspect, tried to claim that a hair found on a tree stump belonged to Terry’s friend David Jacoby. This hair would match to over 7% of the population, and be found 2 full weeks after the bodies had been recovered. This meant that the hair could have come from anywhere, and belonged to dozens of people, including investigators, searchers, and family and friends of the victims, who had been to the scene since the crime had occurred.

Next, it should be considered that DNA was a new thing at the time, and evidence wasn’t collected as well back in 1993, as it would be today. Even in this age of the “CSI effect”, expectations are far too high, when it comes to evidence. Today, it can still be difficult to find the offender’s DNA. A prime example would be the Noura Jackson case. Jackson had murdered her mother in 2005. At the scene despite blood being everywhere and the fact that Noura cut herself during the crime, not a single speck of her blood or DNA was located that could prove she killed her mother. There was DNA found, but it didn’t match Noura. There was also a hair, which again didn’t seem to match Noura. There was also no blood in Noura’s car. She had seemingly lucked out and left no real physical evidence to tie her to the crime. What ended up proving that she was the killer, was the fact that she was caught on surveillance tape buying first aid products in the middle of the night, to treat a fresh cut on her hand which was even still bleeding in the video.

So, even today, DNA can be tough to link to a suspect.

For years there was confusion over the DNA results in the Boston Strangler case, with a recent DNA test proving that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Strangler, where as a past DNA test had concluded that he wasn’t the Strangler.

This is from an old article on the case.

Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 23:23 GMT
DNA doubts over Boston Strangler
A forensic investigation has cast doubts over whether the man who confessed to being the Boston Strangler actually was the infamous 1960s serial killer, and raised the possibility that the real murderer could still at large.

DNA evidence found on one of the 11 women killed by the Boston Strangler does not match that of Albert DeSalvo, who had confessed to murdering the women between 1962 and 1964.

James Starrs, professor of forensic science at George Washington University, told a news conference that DNA evidence could not associate DeSalvo with the murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan – believed to be the Boston Strangler’s last victim.

DeSalvo said he was the killer while serving a life sentence on unrelated crimes. He later recanted, but was knifed to death in 1973 before any charges could be brought.

Sullivan’s body was exhumed last year and DeSalvo’s a few weeks ago as part of the efforts by both their families to find out who was responsible for the murders.

The women were all sexually assaulted before being strangled.

Professor Starrs said an examination of a semen-like substance on her body did not match DeSalvo’s DNA.

“I’m not saying it exonerates Albert DeSalvo but it’s strongly indicative of the fact that he was not the rape-murderer of Mary Sullivan,” Professor Starrs said.

Mary Sullivan’s nephew, Casey Sherman, asked Professor Starrs to investigate the case, after learning of his involvement in other high-profile identification cases like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and the outlaw Jesse James.

“If DeSalvo didn’t kill Mary Sullivan, which he confessed to, he didn’t kill any of these women. And the real killers of these women…are still out there and they need to be brought to justice, ” Mr Sherman said.

The latest development may force the police to reopen one of America’s grizzliest crime chapters.

The killer of DeSalvo himself was never caught, and the official aim of the new investigation is to uncover the murderer’s identity.

But DeSalvo’s relatives hope the tests will also clear him of the serial murders.

Money motive

The DeSalvo and Sullivan families believe DeSalvo confessed to the crimes in the hope of securing lucrative book and film deals.

Dan Sharp, the lawyer representing the DeSalvo family, has pointed to large discrepancies between every DeSalvo confession and every crime scene.

Last year, the Massachusetts Attorney-General reopened the investigation into the case.

But the two families have accused the department of stalling in order to avoid examination of how prosecutors came to accept DeSalvo’s confession in the first place.

There would also be two books put out proclaiming that DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler, criticizing both the confessions, and the physical evidence.

A quote on the matter from the book Body in Question” By Brian Innes.

This excerpt is found on page 211.

“In December 2001, DNA analysis of semen stains from the underwear of the Strangler’s victims raised doubts about the killer’s identity, but there is no question that further similar killings did not occur following DeSalvo’s confinement. Commented one pathologist, “Not finding someone’s DNA at a crime scene doesn’t mean they weren’t there.”

The statement that just because someone’s DNA wasn’t found, didn’t mean they weren’t there, would prove accurate. As a new DNA test who show that DeSalvo was the Strangler.

Now, this is from a more recent article.

“The discrepancy between the 2001 results and today’s announced match might come down to the different samples analyzed by the different labs. “What [the 2013 investigators] have are slides from the crime scene that have semen on them, presumably from the perpetrator,” says Foran, whereas his team examined samples taken from Sullivan’s exhumed corpse. “One thing that confuses me is why they didn’t test those 15 years ago, because they could have. And we certainly did ask for them back then.” Add that to the long, long list of questions about the Boston Strangler case that might never get answered.”

Another article.

DNA tests on the remains of a man who once claimed to be the “Boston Strangler” confirm he killed the woman believed to be the serial killer’s last victim, authorities said Friday.

Lab techs were able to match DNA taken from the body of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, who was raped and murdered 50 years ago, to that of suspected killer Albert DeSalvo — who many believe was responsible for the slew of deaths that terrorized Boston in the 1960s.

DeSalvo admitted to killing Sullivan and 10 other women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964, but later recanted. He wound up in Walpole prison on other charges. He was later killed there by another inmate.

Authorities said recently that new technology allowed them to test DNA from the scene of Sullivan’s death and get a match with DeSalvo that excluded 99.9 percent of suspects. Investigators unearthed his remains a week ago to confirm.

Now over the years the defense team had tried to claim that a hair found at the crime scene from a black man was proof that their clients were innocent. They coupled this together with a sighting of a black man at a Bojangles restaurant. This was a black homeless man who had blood on him, and used the women’s restroom on the night of the murder. The man seemed disoriented and washed up in the bathroom, before leaving.

When this suspect failed, they tried to blame one of the step-parents. First they accused John Mark Byers, the Step-Father of Christopher Byers. Years later during a bitter divorce Pam Hicks, the wife of Terry Hobbs would accuse him of having molested their daughter in order to win custody of her. When this accusation failed she tried to claim that Hobbs was the real killer of her son. These accusations originated from a rumor created by her sisters, after the murders, and seemed based on their dislike for their brother in-law. The defense team soon seized on this, and pointed out how they had a hair that matched to him at the crime scene. In truth however there were countless hairs, probably several just from family members. DNA testing couldn’t even match some of the evidence at the scene to the victims, despite that they had to have been the source of some of it.

With all this background information laid out, let’s get into the documents pertaining to the DNA. Now this link shows the DNA profiles of both the victims and the WM3.

Next you have the document here from Bode, which demonstrates which items had mixtures. The items are the combined ligatures from Stevie (34AB) and Michael’s penile swab (5D).

Now here, It tells where on the charts to look for these mixtures. The locus here is D5S818.

From the information shown here pertaining to the ligature, the results on that locus are 10, 11, and 12. The results are in the fifth column. Now here should only be two numbers, but instead it’s three.

The DNA from the ligatures is compelling, in that possible tissue had been recovered from two other ligatures. This tissue, could have been left by the killer(s), and gotten there as they tied the victims. It was found though that this possible tissue they recovered was far too small, and decomposed to get DNA from.

Michael DeGuglielmo would testify to that fact at trial.

23 Q. What were the results on this Q4 and Q39, the possible
24 tissue from ligatures?
25 A. In those particular items we were not able to detect any

1 DNA from the isolation. When we initially begin a test, the
2 first thing that we do is to go through whatever the material is
3 — if it is tissue or blood — and to remove the DNA from it so
4 we can work with it.
5 Initially we go through and we quantitate that to determine
6 how much DNA is present if it’s there. We were not able to
7 recover and detect any DNA from those two items, and
8 subsequently the testing yielded no results as well.
9 Q. What are the reasons for the inability to get DNA from
10 these possible tissue specimens?
11 A. It can be one of several things. First of all, tissue
12 specimens even more so than bloodstains or seminal stains tend
13 to degrade, in other words, decompose and break down. The
14 reason for that — ah, fluids that make stains dry and when they
15 dry, they are fairly well preserved and they can last for a
16 longer period of time. But tissue or any biological material
17 that is not preserved in some way will break down.
18 Tissue specimens that you’re going to analyze generally are
19 best if they are frozen because that prevents them from
20 decomposing. When that decomposition occurs, the DNA breaks
21 apart and becomes in very small pieces so it is very difficult
22 if not impossible to test it.
23 The other possibility is these were very small samples, and
24 there may have been too little there to have recovered from for
25 the testing anyway.

1 Q. So despite your best efforts you were unable to get any DNA
2 from those items.
3 A. That’s right.

So, the killer(s) could have left DNA on the ligatures from handling them. This tissue was found on the bindings of Chris Byers, and Michael Moore, but this DNA was from the bindings on Stevie Branch, and could therefore have been left on his ligature, just as the tissue had been left on the others.

Moving on to the next item.

On the swab the numbers are 9, 12, and 13. The results are found in the second column. Again there should only be two numbers.

Now going back to the chart that lists the DNA profiles of all victims, and the others tested, on the D5S818 locus you have:

Echols is 11,12
Miskelley is 11,12
Baldwin is 9,9
Moore is 9,13
Branch is 10,12
Byers is 11,12

The ligatures’ results for that locus read 10, 11, and 12.

This means for that locus, alleles could be present from Echols, Branch, Misskelley, and, or,  Byers.

From the same ligature, the results for D3S1358 match only Steve out of the six people.

Also from the same ligature, on the locus D13S317, the results read 8 and 11.

Both Branch and Echols have the same results on their known samples for this locus.

On Micheal’s penile swab, the results for the D5S818 locus are 9,12,13 .

Looking at the chart that lists the DNA profiles of all victims and the WM3 as relates to the D5S818 locus it reads as follows:

Echols is 11,12
Misekelley is 11,12
Baldwin is 9,9
Moore is 9,13
Branch is 10,12
Byers is 11,12

All parties have either a 9, 12, or 13 at this locus, so no one can be excluded.

So, as can be seen, the men were not absolutely cleared of this crime by DNA.

They were also further linked to this crime through DNA located on a necklace belonging to Damien Echols. Blood was found on it that matched to Echols, along with blood from either Stevie Branch or Jason Baldwin. The testing at the time couldn’t say for sure if the blood was Stevie’s or Jason’s, and because of this testing all of the blood samples are used up, and impossible to re-run.

This testing is discussed in this deleted scene from Paradise Lost.


What follows are excerpts from a letter by Barry Scheck.

Michael M. Baden, M.D., director of the Medicological Investigations Unit of the New York State Police, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary indicated that ‘in less than 10% of murders, the criminal leaves DNA evidence behind.'”

“James Christy, director of the Future Explorations Unit of the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Unit was quoted as saying that “only about 1% of criminal cases introduce DNA evidence.”

“Nonetheless, there is no rigorous study I know of that establishes whether there is a higher percentage.”

Barry Scheck – Letter to the Commission | Maryland Citizens Against State Executions

Part of an article on DNA in criminal cases.

“At criminal trials, there is always talk about doubt, reasonable doubt. But in recent years, with the rise of DNA technology and other forensic evidence techniques, many Americans have a growing sense of confidence, if not certainty, that we’re locking up the guilty and freeing the innocent. The backbone of modern justice, it seems, is not a judge in a long, black robe, presiding over a courtroom, but a forensic analyst in a crisp, white coat, laboring over a microscope. In science we trust.

A 2006 survey of more than 1,000 Michigan jurors found that nearly half of the jurors expected to see some sort of scientific evidence in every criminal trial. Nearly 75 percent expected to see scientific evidence presented in murder trials. And still another study, published just this year, found that people trusted such evidence almost blindly. In this study, a random sample of 1,201 potential jurors in California said they considered scientific evidence, like DNA and fingerprints, to be far more reliable than the testimony of police officers, eyewitnesses, or even the victims themselves.

Prosecutors call it the CSI effect, suggesting that fictional television shows, like the long-running “CSI,” helped convince science-wary Americans to believe in the power of forensics. But the facts haven’t hurt, either. At trial, when possible, prosecutors are always keen on

calling forensic experts to testify — even when no forensic evidence has been found. Failure to do so, prosecutors say, would almost surely sink their chances of winning a conviction.

But does forensic evidence really matter as much as we believe? New research suggests no, arguing that we have overrated the role that it plays in the arrest and prosecution of American criminals.

A study, reviewing 400 murder cases in five jurisdictions, found that the presence of forensic evidence had very little impact on whether an arrest would be made, charges would be filed, or a conviction would be handed down in court.

A mere 13.5 percent of the murder cases reviewed actually had physical evidence that linked the suspect to the crime scene or victim. The conviction rate in those cases was only slightly higher than the rate among all other cases in the sample. And for the most part, the hard, scientific evidence celebrated by crime dramas simply did not surface. According to the research, investigators found some kind of biological evidence 38 percent of the time, latent fingerprints 28 percent of the time, and DNA in just 4.5 percent of homicides.”

In a letter from Bode Laboratories, they identify these two locations as possible DNA mixtures. It also mentions a allele, that doesn’t match either the victims or the convicted found on Stevie’s genitals. It’s unknown how this got there, or it’s significance. One could suggest it could have gotten there from moving or handling the bodies, as they were transported from the ditch and crime scene by investigators.

Both of the mixtures mentioned in this letter are in locations, that it would be expected DNA from the WM3 to be located. The DNA was located on Stevie’s ligatures, and on Michael Moore’s genitals. In the past, there had even been possible tissue pulled from the other ligatures, but the tissue had likely decayed, making it unusable. With that in mind though a mixture at this location, could suggest this was the killer(s) DNA. While not major DNA, it doesn’t exclude the WM3 as having contributed it. And this DNA could very likely be from whoever tied the ligatures.

What this all means is that the men convicted of this crime cannot be claimed to be proven innocent through DNA, due to the DNA evidence recovered from the victims does not exclude them. Blood located on a necklace belonging to Echols may also have been from one of the victims, seeming to further implicate the men convicted. And when one considers that DNA is only found in a small percentage of murders, despite a widespread notion that the offender should always leave behind DNA, it seems to further weaken the claim that DNA proved them innocent.