“Seeing is believing,” as the saying goes, or as a defense attorney would say, “Who are ya gunna believe, me or your lying eyes?”
In effect, this is the situation as the case goes whenever the subject is raised in regards to the cause of the injuries to Michael Moore, Stevie Branch, and Christopher Byers.
At trial, the prosecution was able to present a fairly compelling case that the knife pulled from the lake behind Jason Baldwin’s trailer had been the murder weapon, even going so far as to demonstrate on a piece of fruit the pattern the back of the knife was able to produce.
(The murder weapon being recovered from behind Jason Baldwin’s home.)
Attorney for Damien Ehcols, Dennis Riordan in the documentary, “West of Memphis”:
“If you ask me the single greatest offense committed in this case, is what was done by John Fogleman with the knife in the lake.”
The issue in the case for the defense was to try their hardest to discredit the murder weapon, which had so strongly been demonstrated at trial to have inflicted the injuries on the victims. It was then with that in mind that after several years the defense invented a new claim, that there were no wounds inflicted by the “Lake Knife”, because the wounds had been the result of animals feeding on the bodies.
In this effort the defense attempted to elicit public support for this theory by arguing the case in the press through consensus and not by fact. The goal being that if they had enough highly regarded experts stating a similar opinion, that it would give the illusion that the defense claims were right and true, regardless of what each expert said, no matter how questionable.
Working with donations from Hollywood Director Peter Jackson, the defense went about hiring experts such as Vincent Di Maio, who himself has been at the center of controversy over the years.
(Vincent Di Maio in West of Memphis.)
(Vincent Di Maio testifying on behalf of the defense in the George Zimmerman Trial.)
Vincent Di Maio appeared in the documentary West of Memphis, and provided what appeared to be deliberately misleading information on the case, applying flawed logic and misrepresenting the prosecution’s claims on the knife injuries and emphasizing his point with blown up and out of context autopsy photos.
Vincent Di Maio in “West of Memphis“:
“The thing that’s most interesting in this case, is that while the autopsies are done in exquisite detail, to me the interpretation of the findings are completely wrong. There is nothing here that I would say is due to a knife. Either the cutting edge, the tip, or the back of the knife. If you think about how stupid it is, they’re saying that they’re killing these kids and you know, dragging the back of a knife across them. When I looked at the photographs, it’s obvious that by the appearance of the wounds they had occurred after death. If you’re gonna torture, mutilate someone, that’s to cause pain to them, but these wounds are post-mortem. So, why are you torturing and mutilating dead bodies? It doesn’t make sense. The irregular nature of the wounds, some scratches, there’s no bleeding, there’s no pattern. To me, it’s obvious animal activity.”
Through his wording he incorrectly gave an impression that all mutilations, particularly in this case were for the purposes of torture, and that if the victims were dead this rules out that they were mutilated. He also seemed to suggest there was no such thing as a post-mortem mutilation, or dismisses that the injuries could have been for the purpose of killing the boys. A flawed kind of circular reasoning that he uses to reinforce the opinion that these are turtle bites and scratches.
He also says that the knife wounds only work if you’re dragging the knife across someone. An incorrect assertion. He’s using a suggestion by Peretti on the scrapes on Michael Moore’s chest and shoulder to discredit completely a knife. Peretti himself suggested that some of the matches to the knife were only possibilities, and those were just based on his limited time comparing the knife to the bodies, essentially saying that some of the weapon comparisons are done on the fly, but these injuries will be discussed more in depth later.
Photo shown by Vincent DiMaio in West of Memphis
The implication that Di Maio was making was that the Prosecution was claiming that Michael Moore’s injuries were supposedly torture inflicted by having a knife dragged over your body. This was not the Prosecution’s theory however, nor had it ever been.
According to Dr. Frank Peretti, Michael Moore had been punched in the chest and shoulder area by someone holding a serrated weapon in their clenched fist, likely a knife. He testified that the serrations on the chest were situated over bruises, and if there were bruises present, then that meant that the serrated pattern was inflicted while Moore was alive.
Peretti’s claims were bolstered by evidence at the crime scene, which included a ligature used to bind Michael Moore. The ligature used to tie up Michael Moore was made out of one of the victim shoe laces, which had been cut in half.
Notes from the crime scene describe, finding one of the shoes belonging to the victims with a single shoe lace still intact.
“None(sic) of the tennis shoes that – the left foot of the black and purple CUGA shoe has a black shoelace still intact. The – the rest of the shoes that were found do not contain shoelaces. It appears that possibly the material used to bind the victims’ hands and feet were the shoelaces from the shoes.”
“Left Shoe – Tennis (CUGA – Shoe) – Black / Purple Shoe /
Black lace is still there.
Rest of the tennis Shoes located do not have shoe strings in
The fact was that one shoe lace belonging to the victims remained intact, but how could that be, if there were only 6 shoes, and 6 shoe laces used to tie up the victims? Yet there was a 7th shoe lace intact in one of the shoes.
(Shoe belonging to one of the victims with a lace still intact.)
Lisa Sakevicius, a prosecution expert noted in her notes while looking at Michael Moore’s ligatures, that they appeared to be made from a single shoe lace that had been cut in half.
(They frayed end of the shoe lace used to bind Moore.)
Photos from the autopsy clearly supported Sakevicius’s notes, as there was no end cap on the shoe lace shown in the picture above, and the end of the binding where the cap should be, is instead frayed, like it had been cut.
The defense themselves also admitted in a document during their appeals that the shoe lace binding Moore had been cut in half, just like Lisa Sakevicius did in her notes.
(Defense document, stating that a shoe lace from Michael Moore had been cut in half.)
Link to the defense document in question.
The fact that Moore was tied up with a single shoe lace, which had been cut in half, meant that whoever was killing Michael Moore, had a knife. This is further backed up by defensive knife injuries found on Moore’s hand.
Between the injuries to Moore’s hand, and the fact that the ligatures used to bind him were cut in half, it can only lead to the conclusion that a knife was used in Moore’s murder, however he was not mutilated or stabbed with the weapon.
So, Di Maio’s assertion that there are no knife injuries on the basis of the scrapes on Moore’s chest is ridiculous when factored in with the shoe lace evidence and the defensive knife wound evidence to Moore’s hand, which seem to corroborate Peretti’s findings that Moore was either beaten by someone who was holding a knife or struggled with someone who was holding a knife, resulting in his bruises with scrapes over them and the injuries to his hand.
The prosecution in addition during the Rule 34 appeals hearings for Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, submitted photos of other examples of serrated knife injuries; black and white images of those photos can be found in the links below.
Similar photos can also be found in such Criminal Justice books, such “Practical Homicide Investigation,” by Vernon J. Geberth. The below image is of a victim who was attacked with a serrated knife.
This injury is remarkably similar to the one found on Michael Moore’s chest.
Comparison between injuries
Comparison between injuries
And when one looks at the knife next to this same injury it becomes fairly obvious that it’s the weapon that created the serrated pattern on Moore’s shoulder and chest.
Comparison between knife and injury
In that very same scene featuring Di Maio, the filmmakers show a cropped and blown up photo of an injury to the right lower jaw portion of Stevie Branch’s face. The image is deliberately out of context to suggest turtle bites may be present, and then the film, shows the serration pattern to Moore and some knife slashes on Christopher Byers to suggest that the injuries are claw marks from snapping turtles.
John Douglas in his book, “Law and Disorder,” suggested that the wife of celebrity, Peter Jackson had formulated the idea that the injuries were created by turtles with the help of an attorney, Steve Mark.
Found on pages 364-365 of “Law and Disorder, Douglas says the following about Jackson’s wife Fran Walsh:
“Experiments clearly demonstrated that the bite marks on all three bodies corresponded exactly with test bites inflicted by alligator snapping turtles. Interestingly, it was our personal attorney, Steve Mark, who first discussed this possibility with Fran Walsh, simply by speculating about other alternatives to the court testimony and researching the types of animal predators indigenous to the area. Steve and Fran developed the idea over a series of emails.”
Photo of the alleged bite mark displayed in West of Memphis
Below is an example of a turtle bite shown in the film.
Another interesting tid-bit about this turtle video montage shown in “West of Memphis,” can be found in Vincent Di Maio’s book, “Morgue: A Life in Death,” in which Di Maio says the following on Page 225:
” The makers of the 2012 documentary, West of Memphis, tested the theory. They released several snapping turtles, like those found in the West Memphis area, near a pig carcass. The wounds they inflicted in a very short time looked nearly identical to the wounds I saw in the autopsy photos, wounds that investigators and prosecutors attributed to a serrated-blade knife and occult rituals.”
Does a staged and edited video montage, created by a Hollywood director’s wife and her lawyer, showing a few turtles eating a pig carcass constitute compelling evidence in support of animal predation? Well, Di Maio seemed to think so according to his book and his “West of Memphis” appearance, or at least seemed to be using this montage in his defense of his claims that made it into the documentary.
In regards to the case, Di Maio states the following on page 229 of “Morgue: A Life in Death,” seeming to show that at some point he looked up the case on-line to read more about the crime:
” Trying to slog through the rest of the West Memphis Three case is like wading in the filthy ditch of the Robin Hood woods. It’s murky and impossible to gain a secure foothold. Collecting facts is made especially treacherous by misinformation and disinformation, recantations, conjecture, bad journalism, Internet trolling, ‘new evidence’ submitted by partisans, armchair sleuthing from a thousand mothers’ basements, and the usual internet noise. Every account is sliced and diced, parsed into oblivion by zealous fans and foes seeking only the pieces that fit a puzzle they’ve already solved. This case stands now as both an example of everything that’s right and wrong with our system of crime and punishment. Confusion reigns.”
Was Di Maio not as familiar with the case at the time time that he rendered his opinion in “West of Memphis”? He didn’t mention the cut shoe laces on Michael Moore for example, and it’s clear from what he’s said that he’s aware of on-line “trolls” in the case and the amount of discussion the case has garnered on-line.
But on page 230, he ends the chapter on the West Memphis Three case, in a some what shocking manner, saying:
” All I know is that in those grim photos, I saw reasonable doubt. It isn’t that I believe, as some do passionately, that Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley didn’t kill those children. They are good suspects. But when I look closely at the evidence with almost forty years of forensic experience, I believe the police and prosecutors didn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He goes back to the photos, seeming to use the “West of Memphis” turtle montage as his defense, saying he just saw reasonable doubt in regards to the injuries, but then all of a sudden says that he’s not as passionate about the innocence claims of the accused and that they’re “GOOD” suspects in the murders. So if they’re good suspects, doesn’t that further put his opinions from “West of Memphis” in question?
Getting back to the injuries, the injury to Stevie Branch’s face was inflicted while he was alive. In greater context it’s clustered together with several injuries and appears to be the result of a severe beating. Testimony during appeals about this particular injury also state that it was inflicted while Stevie was still alive. And that Stevie had been hit with such force that the back of his skull fractured from his head slamming back against whatever surface he was laying on at the time of the impact.
The full injury to Stevie’s face
According to the testimony by Dr. Peretti, this was inflicted while Stevie was alive, and could not have been a turtle bite, there was even massive damage inside of Stevie’s mouth, which again reflected that he was struck in the mouth, and this was the cause for the so called “turtle bite” injury.
Injuries to inside Stevie’s mouth.
You can read more about the “turtle bite” and it’s possible cause at this link.
And the last injury shown out of context by Di Maio and the documentary “West of Memphis,” is that of the slashes found to the left buttock region of Christopher Byers. To best understand this injury is to understand the surrounding injuries and how they relate to the alleged murder weapon, the knife pulled from the lake behind Jason Baldwin’s home.
Below is a diagram showing the knife and the injuries located on the right and left thigh as well as the lower abdomen of Christopher Byers.
On the right inner thigh, shown above was a series of cuts shaped like a row of dots, believed by the prosecution to be a serrated knife pattern. On the left inner thigh, situated on the left buttock was a series of slashes into the skin. These slashes are featured incorrectly in West of Memphis as “serration” injuries. And lastly on the right side of the lower abdomen is a red impression that forms two thick red lines near Christopher’s groin, suspected to be an impression from the handle of the knife.
The prosecution stated that the knife when jammed between Byers’ thighs, sliced up both thighs during the castration, because it has a saw on one side, hence the dots on the one thigh. Below is a link to a photo of this injury.
Photo of the serration injury
Pattern of the serration injury highlighted
In this document below, Peretti states to Jason Baldwin’s lawyer that the pattern was consistent with the saw on the back of the Lake Knife.
The prosecution contended that the the slashes to the left buttock were caused by the front of the knife. It was also possible that the red marks to the abdomen were caused by the hilt or handle region of the murder weapon, which were described by defense Criminal Profiler, Brent Turvey to Jessie Misskelley’s lawyer, Dan Stidham, in the documentary “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”.
(Turvey and Stidham discussing the castration injuries in “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.”)
Brent Turvey in the documentary, “Paradise Lost 2”:
“On really close examination, and that’s why I brought you the magnifying glass, because I want you to look, right here, you can see the impression of the handle of the knife as it is being plunged. See that little squareness right there. So whoever did this went like this, and grabbed this and went like that, (Turvey then indicates in a quick stabbing motion with his hand) and that’s how they cut it up. No precision, no accuracy, no skill required to do that. And it actually to me it is consistent to what is a fishing knife. That’s got the blade on one side, and the serrated top on the other.”
A link to a photo of the knife hilt/handle impression that Turvey describes in the above scene.
Hilt/Handle Injury Photo
Turvey further described in an online chat this injury along with a host of other injuries and theories on their cause that the defense were looking into:
<Ratgrrl> What are pattern wounds exactly and what other kinds of wounds did you see on the kids?<Brent_Tur> Rat– Potential footwear impression on the back of Stevie Branches head. Belt marks from a severe whipping, cutting deep into the tissue on Chris Byers thigh, and an impression from the knife hilt in the genital area of chris byers, where he was emasculated.
Link to full chat.
An exact duplicate of the knife is shown here in a series of demonstration images, which will be discussed below.
In the photo, you can see the back of the knife presses into the right thigh, while the blade slides up underneath the left buttock region of the person in the photo.
The back of the knife can be seen to have a fairly sharp saw portion on it.
And as the prosecution stated, the saw on the knife dug into Christopher’s bare thigh, leaving the serrated pattern.
(Close-up of the saw digging into a thigh.)
Going back to Turvey’s statement in Paradise Lost 2, this defense expert cites the murder weapon as having two different cutting surfaces, a regular blade on one side and a serrated blade on the other:
“And it actually to me it is consistent to what is a fishing knife. That’s got the blade on one side, and the serrated top on the other.”
Demonstrations of the duplicate knife produced similar serration marks as those found on the inner right thigh of Chris Byers.
And infact pressing the back of the duplicate knife into your skin, the weapon could easily leave a visible pattern, consistent with that of the injury on Christopher’s thigh.
Comparison with Christopher’s injuries
It is this reason, that John Fogleman at trial, demonstrated the knife’s pattern on a grapefruit for the jury.
He then let the jury see the pattern and compared them to the thigh injury:
Further, looking at scrapes on someone’s arm made with the front blade portion of the duplicate knife, appear similar in appearance to slashes on Christopher’s buttock.
Comparison with knife slashes
A comparison photo, shows that the slash marks are located on the left buttock, the exact location the knife is in the demonstration photo.
Comparison with Demonstration Photo
You can see with your own two eyes, that the Lake Knife is consistent with the injuries then on both Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. Further there were other injuries of interest such as the possible knife hilt injury mentioned before and some knife gouges located in the groin region.
Knife hilt injury?
Lastly the injuries to Stevie Branch were extensive. Much like Michael Moore, someone had punched him while they held a knife clenched in their fist. There was also numerous cuts with similar serration patterns as those found on Chris Byers’ inner thigh.
Located all over his face were numerous circle shaped injures, which were testified to by both Dr. William Sturner and Dr. Frank Peretti during the Rule 34 appeals. Sturner stated that it was as if a cylinder shaped object like a pipe had left the injuries. Two tool experts, Peter Loomis, and Homer Campbell stated that at least one of these injuries that Sturner described as being from an object shaped like a pipe, was infact consistent with the handle of the “Lake Knife”, and that the marks found below the injury were serration marks, likely caused by the saw on the same knife.
The Knife Handle Injury on Stevie Branch’s forehead.
Homer Campbell in an email regarding the injury:
“I believe the injurie to the left forehead and upper lid of the left eye were produced by the knife recovered or one similar. I also sent the photos of the injuries and the knife to another for evaluation and he agrees.
“Have fun with this and thank you for sending it to me.
Peter Loomis in his communication with Homer Campbell, confirming for Campbell, that the injury was indeed inflicted most likely by the “Lake Knife”:
Bingo. The circular mark sure looks like the butt of the survival knife. The measurements fit. The diameter of the injury is 30mm, and the diameter of the prominent circular area of the butt of the knife is 29.8mm.
The 3 lacerations under the eyebrow look like they were made by the serrations on the back side of the knife. The measurements also fit here. The lacerations measure 11.2mm between them, and the serrated points on the knife vary between 11.1 and 11.4 mm. Of course the photo
with the wooden ruler is blurry depicting these serrations but I can still measure them.
(Handle of a duplicate of the murder weapon. The bottom of the knife is circular.)
If one looks you can also see several examples of the serration pattern present on Stevie’s face. There are even locations in his cuts that appear fairly uniform; more like a slice from a tool or weapon of some kind rather than an animal.
A serration pattern on Stevie’s face.
More serration patterns on Stevie’s face.
When viewing Stevie’s injuries, it was like a knife plunged into the front of his face and out the side of his cheek, forming a large entrance and exit wound. Surrounding this were numerous examples of serration marks consistent with the “Lake Knife.”
Photo of the stab wound in Stevie’s face.
Another photo of the stab wound.
The stab wound going out the cheek.
It is with all this said, that there can be no injury pointed to on any of the murder victims that can be said to be caused by an animal of any kind. The very fact that Michael Moore was tied up with a single shoe lace that had been cut in half proves the presence of a knife in these murders. And the demonstration photos with the duplicate knife further explain the injuries on Chris Byers. And in addition you can visibly see circular patterns on Stevie’s face, and those patterns are again consistent with the knife handle.
With all that said, one must ask if it is sinister in any way for a knife to be suspiciously disposed of at the bottom of a lake right behind the home of a murder suspect?
What are we left with? Theories from non-experts, such as the wife of celebrity, Peter Jackson and her lawyer? Cropped photos shown in a manipulative manner like in the film “West of Memphis”? Injuries portrayed as predation, but were in reality antemortem as testified to during the appeals?
In arguing in favor of animal predation, defense expert, Dr. Michael Baden insisted that he knew the injuries were predation, just because… not for any other reason, just that he knew it just because he knew it and had no scientific basis for reaching such a conclusion.
Baden’s testimony at Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley’s Rule 34 hearing:
Q] And, uh, was this conclusion something that you had to study the photos for a long time in order to make sure, or is this something that just sort of jumped out at you, or how
would you charaqcterize it?
A] No, it was looking at your grandmother. You know it’s your grandmother – – it’s either your grandmother or not. It’s looking at the photos, uh, these look very much like postmortem
animal activity. I had that opinion very quickly.
Baden however was countered by his good friend and fellow Forensic Pathologist, William Sturner, who said that Baden’s insistence that he knew it was predation just because he knew it, was unscientific.
The very clear reality is that the defense attempted to pile on as many famous experts in their favor to try and litigate their case in the media, by suggesting that the number of experts they hired some how out-weighed the facts of the case.
Experts hired by the defense included Vincent Di Maio, who worked for George Zimmerman’s defense team, Michael Baden, who worked for OJ Simpson as well as the Church of Scientology in the Lisa McPherson case, and Werner Spitz who worked for such defense teams as those of serial killer, Richard Ramirez, Casey Anthony, and Phil Spector.
(Werner Spitz at the trial of Casey Anthony.)
Werner Spitz’s credibility as a defense expert has frequently been challenged in recent years, particularly due to his defense of alleged child killer Casey Anthony.
Dr. Spitz from former prosecutor Jeff Ashton’s book “Imperfect Justice,” discussing his testimony in the Anthony case:
“Dr Werner Spitz was a forensic anthropologist who was over the age of eighty. Back in the eighties and early nineties, he was one of the leaders in his field. Over the last ten years or so, he had inserted himself into a number of high profile cases; O.J. was one, Phil Spector was another. Now he had involved himself in this case. I felt he was desperately searching for a way to maintain some relevance in his field.
“His testimony was twofold. First, Dr. Spitz attacked Dr. Garavaglia for having not opened Caylee’s skull at autopsy. She had left it intact. That was a violation of basic autopsy protocol, he continued. Second, he was the only witness trying to render the opinion the skull had been removed from the crime scene. He testified that someone could have removed it, taken it home, put duct tape on it, and returned it to the scene.
“When Dr. Spitz had performed his own autopsy, he had opened the skull and found some residue, which he claimed to be able to recognize from sight as the decomposition of the brain. To him, the residue indicated that the skull had been on its side when the brains decomposed. I called this the “brain dust” testimony.
“On cross, I started with his criticism of Dr. Garavaglia’s autopsy, about the violation of protocol claim, that Dr. G had not opened the skull. Dr. Spitz had been one of the authors of a basic text book on forensic anthropology. I took his book up to the stand, put it down in front of him, and said, “Show me where you say it is protocol to open the skull when it is skeletonized.”
“He leafed through the pages and did not find any reference to his claim. I next asked him if he was familiar with any other written protocol on the opening of the skull at autopsy. And he answered no. Next, I addressed the “removal and return of the skull” theory. I went through what I thought would be necessary to carry out what he was alleging. Someone would have to take the skull and the mandible home, put them in an anatomically correct position, tape the two pieces together, and put the skull back in the exact location where it had been. Dr. Spitz argued that though it would be difficult, it could be done.
“I showed him the photo taken at the medical examiner’s office, showing that strands of hair were draped over the skull. I asked him how the hair could fall so perfectly back to its original position in a re-created scene. I pointed out that the manner of the hair falling on the skull was not consistent with being on its side.
“Dr. Spitz got belligerent with me, to a point where he didn’t know how to answer. He said that maybe the medical examiner had staged the photo. So I showed him the photo taken at the scene with the strands of hair in exactly the same position. He then claimed that maybe the police had staged the skull. In my opinion, Dr. Spitz’s testimony ended up being completely discredited.”
Spitz’s discussing the Casey Anthony verdict.
It was Spitz, who along with Baden testified during Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley’s Rule 34 appeals, and it was Spitz who suggested that wild dogs feasted on the victims while they were still alive and submerged under water. He even said that these dogs grabbed the victims by their heads and slammed and shook them around, bashing their heads on rocks and such, causing the head injuries.
Spitz on the head injuries:
“My interpretation of the injuries to the head was that first, there is no evidence of bleeding in the brain. My interpretation is that they may have been handled by large animals, shaken around.”
“The injuries that I saw are entirely consistent and compatible with animal predation and the shaking of the bodies by an animal. The injuries to the face, to the head, the degloving of the penis, the tearing off of the scrotum, those injuries are not man-made.”
Prosecutor Brent Davis giving his closing arguments on the knife at trial:
“The other thing to keep in mind is– and John didn’t mention this, but remember this knife has two cutting surfaces. It’s got one here and it’s got this serrated portion back here. Now, the ripping type injuries you see on the children are on the inside of the thighs and the back of the thighs and the inside of the buttocks. Ok. When this surface is being used to remove the genitals and the knife is worked in and they’re trying to remove the genitals this back surface is what’s going to be coming in contact with the inside of the thigh and the back of the buttocks. The knife that you were shown over here, the Byers knife, it has but one cutting surface. If they’re using that knife to remove the genitals, then the back of that knife has no cutting surface at all and wouldn’t leave any marks on the inside of the leg or the back of the leg. And I ask you to go back there and look at this and think, when you look at those photographs and where those injuries are–think of how this knife is used, and I know it’s not pleasant. But think of it and then look at where those marks are and how they match up with this particular size of blade.”
You can read further about the murder weapon at the link below:
The Lake Knife