First of all, I am not going to try and go over the details of this case and trial or what led to it. There were three teenagers convicted in this case, and although I believe all of them are innocent, I am only focusing on Damien Echols. What I have written here is only a summary of how a small town perceived Damien Echols, the ridiculous things they accused him of, and why. The offical Free the West Memphis Three website contains all of the details and evidence pertaining to this case, so be sure to visit it.
When the brutally murdered bodies of three 8-year old boys were found, Damien Echols was the first to come to mind at the local sheriff's department. The reason for this may have been his only other run-in with the law (he was suspected of stealing a piece of laser guidance equipment from a moving train, but was found innocent), but most likely it was his 'weird' appearance, consisting of black clothes and black hair.
Eventually, Damien was arrested, and the trial was set. While he was in jail awaiting trial, the people of this town (West Memphis, AK) came up with all kinds of stories about Damien, leading to a full-fledge witchcraze, or 'Satanic panic.' The father of one of the victims (and also a non-official suspect in the murders) publicly stated that his son's testicles were found in a jar under Damien's bed with Damien's fingerprints all over it. This, of course, was completely false, as were the following accusations made by other people in the town: Damien was seen wearing "dog entrails like a necktie," human skulls with skin still attached were found in Damien's closet, a goat's skull was found in his room, Damien was seen killing a dog and eating the heart during a Satanic orgy.
The prosecution's so-called 'occult expert' testified that several of Damien's drawings and doodles were evidence of occult activity (actually, they were mainly Pagan symbols, and other drawings the average teenager writes all over his or her school-book covers, and Damien never denied having an interest in the occult or religion). This 'occult expert' may have a Ph.D., but he got it by sending some money through the mail, and taking *no* classes. Even I know more about the occult than this mail-order 'expert' does, and all I do is read the occasional book to fulfill my interest in the history and evolvement of it.
At one point, the prosecution presented some writing they found in Damien's room. They asked Damien to read the first part, and then asked him what it was; "Those are lyrics by Metallica." They asked him to read the second part, and again asked him what it was; "That's Shakespeare." This was the type of 'evidence' the prosecution presented over and over again.
Even though there is nothing that links these murders to a cult, occult, or a satanic ritual, what if there was? They would still have no evidence linking Damien Echols to these murders. The town and sheriff's department needed a scapegoat, and Damien Echols, the town's 'weirdo' was it.Damien Echols was found guilty and sentenced to death.
New evidence was found recently when a forensic profiler/scientist was given the case files, and found that there were bite marks on one of the victim's faces. Before and during the trial, these bite marks were mistaken for knife nicks by the sheriff's department, the medical examiner, and the prosecution. Immediately, dental impressions were made from the three teenagers convicted of the murders. A forensic odontologist testified that none of their impressions match that of the impressions found on the victim.
Damien is still on death row.