Jan. 20, 2012

Although the West Memphis Three weren’t day care workers, their notorious case – most recently updated in HBO’s “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” – holds obvious parallels to that of the Edenton 7.

In both courtrooms voodoo justice ruled.

Most poignant to me, however, is that prosecutors in Arkansas and North Carolina shared a dedication to ensuring the defendants’ long-overdue release bore the least possible resemblance to exoneration.

In August 2011 the West Memphis Three were required to enter an Alford plea, maintaining their innocence but acknowledging that sufficient evidence existed to convict them.

On May 23, 1997, Nancy Lamb announced the decision not to challenge the overturned convictions of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson in order to “allow wounds to heal…. The paramount thing is not having to drag these children through this again.” Her timing seemed aimed – futilely, as it turned out – at averting the national outrage that would come four days later with the airing of the final episode of “Innocence Lost.”

Two years later, when the last charges against Kelly were dismissed, here’s how Joseph Neff of the News & Observer described the scene:

“The prosecutors in the longest, most expensive criminal case in North Carolina history picked a day when all attention was focused elsewhere to quietly throw in the towel.

“It was Sept. 15, as Hurricane Floyd churned northward toward landfall the next day, that Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb filed a two-page document with the Clerk of Superior Court in Edenton, dismissing eight counts of sexual abuse against Robert Kelly.”