JONESBORO, Ark. — A teen-ager was sentenced to death Saturday for the murder of three 8-year-old boys whose bodies were found naked, battered and hogtied. An accomplice was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Damien Echols, 19, and Charles Jason Baldwin, 16, each were convicted Friday of three counts of capital murder. The same jury that convicted them recommended death by injection for Echols and life in prison without parole for Baldwin.
The victims, second-graders Steve Branch, Chris Byers and Michael Moore, disappeared May 5 while riding bicycles through their West Memphis, Ark., neighborhood. Their bodies were pulled from a drainage ditch the next day.
When Circuit Judge David Burnett asked Baldwin if there was any reason he should not impose the sentence, Baldwin said: "Because I'm innocent."
When asked the same question, Echols replied: "No, sir."
A witness said two of the 8-year-olds were raped and one was castrated. Prosecutors presented evidence suggesting that Echols was a devil worshiper and Baldwin was his loyal follower.
Burnett set Echols' execution for May 5, exactly a year after the boys were killed. However, an appeal is automatic and the execution date was set as a matter of record only.
The jury heard about 2 1/2 hours of testimony from defense witnesses for Echols before beginning deliberations on the sentences. No one testified for Baldwin.
Echols' father, Joe Hutchison, said he blamed himself for his son's problems. "I've had regrets for eight years. I didn't do what I should have done."
The prosecution pointed out that in interviews with a psychologist, Echols referred to himself as another Ted Bundy or Charles Manson and said "people will remember me."
Echols and Baldwin were arrested on June 3 after a friend, Jessie Lloyd Misskelley Jr., made incriminating statements to police. Misskelley, 18, was convicted in a separate trial of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He is serving a prison sentence of life plus 40 years.