On May 7, 1993, the very day that police first spoke to Damien Echols concerning the murders, 12-year-old Brandy Wilson was sitting in the concessions area of a skating rink, known as Skate World, a local hang-out in West Memphis where Damien Echols and his friends liked to socialize.
Wilson’s statement to police is as follows:
THIS IS DETECTIVE MIKE ALLEN OF THE WEST MEMPHIS POLICE DEPT TODAY’S DATE IS 06-16-93 PRESENTLY IN THE DETECTIVE DIVISION WITH BRANDY WILSON WHO 12 YEARS OLD AND MOTHER PENNY CUMMINGS THEY RESIDE AT 616 BAYLOR IN WEST MEMPHIS, AR. IT HAS BE BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION FROM ANOTHER OFFICER DON BRAY THAT YOU MAY HAVE KNOWLEDGE IN REFERNECE TO THIS HOMICIDE THAT WERE WORKING INVOLVING THE BYERS, BRANCH AND, MOORE. THE TIME IS NOW 3:00 P.M. BRANDY IF YOU WOULD EXPLAIN TO ME I UNDERSTAND YOU OVER HEARD OR HEARD A CONVERSATION AT THE SKATING RINK HERE WEST MEMPHIS CAN YOU EXACTLY WHO IT WAS YOU OVER HEARD AND WHAT YOU OVER HEARD?
WILSON – DAMIEN ECHOLS WAS SITTING NEXT TO ME AND MY SISTER WAS SITTING NEST ME ALSO ON THE OTHER SIDE BUT SHE WAS NOT LISTENING, SHE WAS TALKING TO HER OTHER FRIEND AND I WAS LISTENING TO HIS CONVERSATION AND HIM AND JASON WERE SITTING AT THE TABLE TOGETHER WITH
ALLEN – OKAY WHEN DO YOU
WILSON – DOMINICK, DOMINICK, AND JASON’S GIRL FRIEND I THINK
ALLEN – OKAY JASON WHO ARE YOU REFERRING TO WHEN YOU SAY JASON?
WILSON – I DON’T KNOW, IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE BOYS WHO DID IT, BUT HE LOOKS JUST LIKE HIM, TERRY TOLD ME JASON MY SISTER DID.
ALLEN – OKAY, AND THIS DAMIEN DID YOU KNOW OF HIS NAME ALSO?
WILSON – YEAH, BECAUSE I HEARD IT FROM JENNIFER (INAUDIBLE) SHE TOLD ME AT SCHOOL AND STUFF.
ALLEN – OKAY, UH, I’M SURE YOU HAVE SEEN THE TV AND NEWSPAPERS THIS PERSON YOUR REFERRING TO AS JASON AND THIS PERSON YOU ARE REFERRING TO A DAMIEN HAVE YOU SEEN THEM ON TV OR IN THE NEWSPAPERS?
WILSON – (INAUDIBLE)
ALLEN – OKAY IS THIS THE SAME
WILSON – DAMIEN ECHOLS I KNEW WHO HE WAS BEFORE THEY EVEN SHOWED HIS NAME ON THE SCREEN IT SHOWED 3 PICTURES AND MY MOM ASK ME WHICH ONE WAS IT AND I POINTED IT OUT BEFORE IT EVEN SHOWED HIS NAME?
ALLEN – WHAT COLOR HAIR DID THE ONE HAVE THAT YOUR CALLING DAMIEN?
WILSON – BLACK
ALLEN – AS FAR AS YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF CLOTHING HE WAS WEARING THAT NIGHT?
WILSON – I DON’T REMEMBER, HE WAS WEARING DARK CLOTHING AND HE HAD ON A DEVIL SIGN NECKLACE
ALLEN – GO AHEAD WITH WHAT YOU HEARD?
WILSON – WE WERE SITTING DOWN THERE AND DOMINICK WAS SITTING NEXT TO HIM, I WAS SITTING HERE IN THE CHAIRS ARE ARRANGED TO WHERE THERE’S LIKE FOUR HALF OF A CHAIR
ALLEN – ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT A TABLE?
WILSON – NO IT WAS A ROUND TABLE, ITS A ROUND TABLE
ALLEN – OKAY ITS A ROUND TABLE
WILSON – YEAH
ALLEN – DOES IT HAVE CHAIRS LIKE THIS?
WILSON – YEAH, AND MY SISTER WAS SITTING HERE, AND SOMEONE WAS STANDING HERE AND MY SISTER WAS TALKING TO THAT PERSON AND THEM I WAS SITTING HERE AND DAMIEN SITTING LIKE RIGHT HERE EXCEPT A LITTLE BIT CLOSER, DAMIEN SITTING HERE AND DOMINICK WAS SITTING HERE AND I GUESS JASON WAS SITTING HERE AND HIS GIRLFRIEND AND THEN SOME OTHER PEOPLE WERE TURN AROUND AT THE OTHER TABLES THAT ARE OVER HERE
ALLEN – OKAY, NOW THIS, ARE THIS ISN’T OUT BY THE FLOOR THIS IS UP NEAR THE POOL TABLE AND REFRESHMENT STAND AREA
WILSON – YEAH, THAT, OKAY, I WAS SITTING THERE AND JUST LISTENING AND HE SAID THAT HE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THESE THREE BOYS AND HIM AND JASON JUST STARTED GIGGLING AND LAUGHING
ALLEN – WHAT EXACTLY, I MEAN WHO WAS HE TALKING TO?
WILSON – HE WAS TALKING TO DOMINICK AND JASON HE WAS JUST LIKE SHOWING OFF THAT HE DID IT AND I WAS LISTENING THE THIS WHOLE TIME AND MY SISTER WAS HOLDING ME DOWN AND SHE WAS TALKING TO ANOTER PERSON AND I WAS LISTENING THIS WHOLE TIME AND SAID HE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THEM AND THAT THAT HE DID IT
ALLEN – OKAY, DID HE EVER TALK DIRECTLY TO YOU? ARE IS THIS JUST SOMETHING YOU OVER HEARD?
WILSON – I OVER HEARD HIM TALKING TO DOMINICK AND JASON AND
ALLEN – OKAY, WAS, YOU SAID THERE WAS A GIRL THERE WITH JASON DO YOU KNOW WHO SHE WAS?
WILSON – JASON I’M NOT SURE I DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT HER NAME WAS, BUT I KNOW, I THINK IT WAS DOMINICK WITH DAMIEN BECAUSE, BECAUSE I’VE HEARD THAT NAME AND STUFF, AND MR. BRAY ASK ME WHAT WAS HER NAME AND I WENT OVER TO MY FRIENDS HOUSE AND WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT IT YOU KNOW AND THEN SHE SAID DOMINICK IS HIS GIRLFRIEND SO I ASSUMED THAT MUST BE DOMINICK BECAUSE YOU KNOW UNLESS HE WAS
ALLEN – OKAY, THIS NIGHT YOU WERE AT THE SKATING RINK AND HEARD THIS DO YOU KNOW IN RELATIONSHIP TO WHEN THEY FOUND THE 3 LITTLE BOYS, DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG AFTER THAT THIS, WHAT NIGHT IT WAS YOU WERE AT THE SKATING RINK?
WILSON – IT WAS ON A FRIDAY NIGHT
ALLEN – WAS IT ON A FRIDAY NIGHT
WILSON – YES SIR. CAUSE EVERYBODY ALWAYS GOES UP THERE
ALLEN – OKAY, DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG AFTER THEY DISCOVERED THE BOYS HAD BEEN KILLED IN RELATIONSHIP, WAS IT A WEEK, TWO WEEKS, THREE WEEKS,
WILSON – I’M NOT SURE, I WASN’T THINKING ABOUT THE TIME THAT THEY WERE FOUND
ALLEN – DID YOU TELL YOUR MOTHER ABOUT WHAT YOU HAD HEARD?
WILSON – YES SIR
ALLEN – WHEN DID YOU TELL YOUR MOTHER ABOUT THAT?
WILSON – A WHILE LATER AFTER, I MEAN I JUST FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT UNTIL A WHILE LATER MR. BRAY CALLED ME, CALLED MY MAMA WENT UP TO MY SISTER’S SCHOOL AND TALKED TO HER BUT SHE DIDN’T HEAR IT
ALLEN – YOUR SISTER DIDN’T HEAR IT
Wilson’s statement is damning, as Damien and Jason Baldwin’s friend, Jason Crosby also reported to police that he had been at Skate World on May 7, 1993, and that Damien was with his girlfriend, Domini, and Jason was with his girlfriend, Heather Cliett.
And according to Crosby, he noticed something seemed wrong with Jason that night:
“States that Damien & Jason both had girls with them and Jason seemed to really be down in the dumps. States that he asked Jason what was wrong with him — he told him nothing — he just didn’t feel good.”
Wilson was also able to describe Damien’s pentagram necklace, which Damien purchased around the same time that Wilson witnessed Damien’s confession. According to Damien’s friend, Chris Littrell, he picked up Damien in his step-father’s van, and they both went to the mall on May 7, 1993, at about 5:30 and came back home about a half-hour later.
Damien told a similar story to the police during his May 10th interview, that he purchased his pentagram necklace at the mall on Saturday, May 8, the day after Wilson saw him confess.
Wilson knew what day Damien was at Skate World, she knew who he was with, and she knew about a necklace that he had just purchased earlier that day, making her a strong witness against Echols.
The next week, on May 14, 1993 Damien was once again at Skate World, when several other kids reported that they heard second-hand statements at the skating rink, in which kids were saying that Damien and a friend had killed the boys, and that he was going to kill two more before turning himself in.
A teenager, Joni Brown reported to police that on May 14, 1993, Whitney Nix and Jennifer Ashley told her a boy named Robert Burch had said that he and Damien Echols had murdered the three boys. The police statement reads:
“On Friday night, May 14th, about 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. Whitney Nix told me that Robert Burch had told her that him and Dameon Echols had murderd them three boys and that they were gonna murder 2 more kids before they turned themselves in to the police. And Jennifer Ashley told me before Whitney did. And then a guy came up to me and told me that he suggested that I stay away from them guys.”
Joni had also been told by her cousin, Toni Cissell, that she personally heard Damien confess to the murders, which is documented in a taped interview months later:
According to Joni, “They were going around bragging that they killed the three boys.”
And according to Joni Brown and her mother Judy, in the recorded statement, someone approached Joni about her statement claiming to be an FBI agent, alleging that they were sent by Inspector Gary Gitchell. It was after this meeting with the man who claimed to be an FBI agent, that Joni Brown’s name turned up on the defense team’s potential witness list. The prosecution would allege that Ron Lax, a private investigator working for Damien Echols’ defense team was intimidating witnesses into recanting or getting them to refuse to testify, possibly by lying and saying he was with the FBI or Law Enforcement.
This became evident during a hearing at the Misskelley trial, over a witness named William Jones, who along with his mother and aunt, had said that Damien Echols had confessed to him.
The following exchange is between Prosecutors Brent Davis and John Fogleman:
MR. FOGLEMAN: We’ve got a problem that has developed that may or may not affect what the testimony is. We have now had the second witness that has told us one thing about incriminating information against one of the other defendants — the second one that has now after the investigator talks to them all of a sudden they see things in a whole new light and recant everything they have told the police. This particular witness that was to be called next has maintained since before the arrests that Damien Echols told him that he did it.
MR. DAVIS: Not only before the arrest before Jessie Misskelley’s statement or anything.
MR. FOGLEMAN: That’s right. And he has maintained it in a number of conversations with Detective Ridge. I have had one conversation with him personally on the telephone after he was subpoenaed for this trial, and he says now for the first time — yesterday Investigator Lax talked to him and all Investigator Lax asked him according to him is, is your statement true, and he says, no, it’s not. Now he’s saying it is all false. And, your Honor, there’s some information to indicate that this Lax may be intimidating witnesses and, frankly, I have never had this come up in a trial. In the other case we have a videotape statement of a guy who after giving his statement — I was present when he came out. I wasn’t there during his statement. After he came out the only concern he expressed to me was a fear of Jessie and his friends and then when I seek to talk to him further, all of a sudden the police department gets a telephone call from Ron Lax saying this guy will not be coming in at that time, that this witness decided he needs a lawyer and then recants his statement that he’s given the police. Your Honor, I’m tired of it and I don’t know what the Court can do, but we would like some kind of protective order to prevent this investigator from talking to witnesses unless one of us is present because I don’t know what he’s saying to these witnesses.
It was suggested heavily by the prosecution that Ron Lax and members of the defense team had approached witnesses suggesting he might be with the FBI or Law Enforcement and telling them that their statements were fabricated and accusing them of lying, and what the consequences would be for them if they went and testified, saying they’d commit perjury and be sent to prison. Lax had even been accused of keeping witnesses in his car for lengthy car rides where he talked back and fourth with the defense and coerced witnesses to recant.
Upon calling to the stand Cheryl Aycock, a lawyer working with Ron Lax during the same court hearing regarding William Jones, the following information was learned:
A. Ah, William got in the car and Ron said he wanted to talk to him about the statement he gave to the police. William said he wanted to talk to his mother before he talked to him.
Q. Is that all Ron said is, I want to talk to you about your statement?
A. He did say, I don’t think that it is true.
Q. So he did say that to William.
Q. Did he point out any reason why he didn’t think it was true?
A. He said because the dates didn’t match.
Q. What else did he tell William Jones?
A. That is when William said, I want to talk to my mother before I talk to anybody. He said, do you want to call her now, and they called from the car phone. And we asked him if he wanted a ride to go up there. He said yes.
Q. What kind of car were y’all in?
A. ’88 BMW.
Q. So William gets in the car with you and Lax — in the BMW?
Q. What discussion took place about this statement in the car?
A. Just what I said. He said, I want to talk to you about the statement you gave to the police. I think if I recall correctly William saying, what about it. And he said, I don’t think it is true. And he said, well, why do you think that and he said because the dates don’t match up and at that time —
MR. FOGLEMAN: What dates was he referring to?
THE WITNESS: Just some dates that were mentioned when he spoke with Damien and supposedly heard what Damien said and when he gave the statement.
BY MR. DAVIS:
Q. So then you get back at his house. How long did it take you to get from the grocery store to his house?
A. Um, twenty minutes.
Q. What else transpired during the twenty minutes? That’s maybe a two or three minute conversation. What happened during the other seventeen?
A. They talked about his car. I was in the backseat, and I really couldn’t hear.
Q. So you don’t know what they discussed?
A. The only discussion — there wasn’t much to it that I heard. What discussion I heard was about the car.
Q. Was any of that conversation taped?
MR. CROW: Excuse me. Let me interrupt. I believe at this point I made a phone call to Ron.
MR. FOGLEMAN: Let her testify.
THE WITNESS: I remember now. He was on the phone with several people during that time. I think he talked with Dan and Val. He carried on several conversations.
BY MR. DAVIS:
Q. Would the gist of his conversation be that he’s got William Jones with him in the vehicle to let them know he had the witness?
A. I don’t recall him saying that. He said he was on his way to — what’s the name of that town — Haford — Heafer.
Q. When you got to the house, what happened?
A. We went in and sat down, and Mrs. Dunham and William went to the back room and talked for a while and then she came back and got Ricky Dunham and he joined them.
Q. Anybody else back there during that conversation?
A. No. Ron and I stayed in the living room.
Q. Did Ron have any independent conversations with the boy’s mother?
A. Not out of everyone’s presence.
Q. What did he say in everyone’s presence?
A. She came back and asked first of all what kind of trouble William could get into if he were to say that he lied.
Q. Did Ron tell her that perjury was a felony?
A. He told her it was against the law to lie to the police.
Q. Did he tell her that the boy would go to prison if they showed that he was lying?
A. He told him he wasn’t a lawyer.
Q. But he told him it was a criminal offense, what he was getting ready to do?
A. He informed him it was against the law to lie to the police. That’s what he said. But he also said it’s against the law to get on the stand and lie.
Q. Was that conversation recorded?
Q. At what point was the conversation recorded?
A. He asked William if he could take a statement and William agreed.
Q. Did William go over what he was going to say in that statement before he turned on the tape recorder?
A. He said, I’m going to talk to you about what we’ve discussed, and I want you to answer and tell me the truth.
Q. So if he used coercive tactics before the recorded statement, we wouldn’t know because he didn’t have the tape recorder turned on, correct?
MR. STIDHAM: That sounds familiar, Judge —
MR. CROW: — sounds familiar —
THE COURT: All right. Let’s go.
BY MR. DAVIS:
Q. And when he took the statement, what did William Jones tell him?
A. He told him that he had lied to his mother and that he had told her that he knew something that he didn’t know. Then he didn’t think she would call the police but she did because she felt like it was the right thing to do. And he — well, she accompanied him to give the statement and he didn’t want to lie in front of her.
Q. Did he also mention that for the last seven months he had continued to give this story to the police?
Q. Did he indicate that he had given this story to the police on four or five separate occasions?
A. No. I had no idea.
Q. Did he indicate that he had given the same story to Mr. Fogleman within a week of the time that y’all talked to him?
A. No. Like I said, he didn’t mention any other statements to the police or discussions with the police other than with Detective Ridge when he got the subpoena and he called and wanted to know when he was supposed to be there and what it was for.
Getting back to Joni Brown, an investigative report was made on the matter, stating that her cousin, Toni Cissell had heard Damien personally confess:
ON 2/18/94, I CONTACTED JONI BROWN AT 803 N. 18TH AND INTERVIEWED HER IN REFERENCE TO HER BEING PLACED ON THE WITNESS LIST FOR THE DEFENSE. SHE INFORMED ME THAT SHE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE MURDERS AND THAT SHE HAD ONLY BEEN INTERVIEWED ONE TIME AFTER THE MURDERS BY A WHITE MALE SHE AND HER MOTHER DESCRIBED AS BEING WITH THE FBI. JUDY, JONI’S MOTHER, STATED THAT THE INVESTIGATOR HAD BEEN SENT TO HER HOUSE BY INSPECTOR GITCHELL IN REFERENCE TO A CONVERSATION THAT JONI MAY HAVE HEARD IN WHICH DAMIEN MAY HAVE CONFESSED TO SOME CHILDREN AT THE SKATING RINK THAT HE HAD KILLED THE KIDS. JONI GAVE A TAPED STATEMENT TO ME CONCERNING HER RECOLLECTION OF THE EVENTS AT THE SKATING RINK. SHE STATED THAT SHE WAS AT THE SKATING RINK WITH HER FRIEND TONI CISSELL AND THAT SHE SAW DAMIEN ECHOLS, JASON BALDWIN AND JESSIE MISSKELLEY JR. COME INTO THE SKATING RINK AND STAY TOGETHER THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT. SHE STATED THAT TONI HAD TOLD HER THAT SHE OVERHEARD DAMIEN TELL SOME OTHER KIDS AT THE RINK THAT NIGHT THAT HE HAD KILLED THE THREE KIDS AT ROBIN HOOD WOODS.
A TAPED STATEMENT WAS TAKEN FROM JONI WITH HER MOTHER PRESENT DURING THE TAPED INTERVIEW. THE TAPED INTERVIEW WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR INSPECTION IN THE CASE FILE.
DETECTIVE B. RIDGE
WEST MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT
Whitney Nix, who had been mentioned by Joni Brown as one of her sources, reported to police that she often went to Skate World, where she frequently saw Jason, Damien, and Jessie hanging out. She also said she heard from her friend, Nicole Bumbaugh, that Damien Echols had killed the boys, but had no first hand information herself.
(11-year-old, Whitney Nix.)
When the police talked to Toni Cissell on May 22, 1993 she only informed them that she heard from some friends that Damien confessed, which is documented in police notes from the interview:
“Crystal Hensley & Jennifer Ashley told Toni Cissell that Damien Echols told Toni Cissell that Damien & Robert Burch had killed the 3 boys & were going to kill 2 more before they turned themselves in.”
In a handwritten statement also taken on May 22, 1993, she stated that her friends Crystal Hensley and Jennifer Ashley told her about Damien’s confession, and that the two girls told her not to tell anyone:
“On Friday Night on May 14, 1993 about 8:30p.m. or 9:00p.m. Crystal Hensley and Jennifer Ashley told me that Robert Burch and Damien Echols killed those three little boys and they said that they were going to kill 2 more people before they turn their self in. Crystal told me not to say anything so did Jennifer ashley. They also said try to stay away from them.”
This information was slightly contradicted though by her cousin, Joni Brown in her February 18, 1994 police interview, in which Brown alleged that Toni Cissell had also told her that she had personally heard Damien brag about the murders. And Cissell’s statement to police was awfully similar to what other witnesses testified Damien had said at a softball game, such as Jodee Medford, who heard Damien state:
“I killed the three little boys and before I turn myself in, I’m gonna kill two more and I already have one of ’em picked out.”
The only difference between those who heard Damien confess at the softball game and those who reported the confessions at the skating rink was the added bit about Robert Burch, who had told the police that he had a conversation with Jason Baldwin on May 14, 1993, the day Cissell and several other girls was alleged to have heard Damien confess:
“ROBERT STATED THAT HE WAS AT THE SKATING RINK LAST NIGHT AND THAT HE SAID JASON BALDWIN WAS THERE. JASON BALDWIN STATED THAT SOME PRIVATE DETECTIVES HAD STATED THAT HE AND JASON WERE THE ONES WHO DID THE MURDERS.”
It’s possible that the information that Jason relayed was misconstrued, because Jason and Damien had just been questioned by police on May 9th, days before the May 14th confession was alleged to have taken place. Jason could have meant, himself and Damien, not himself and Robert Burch.