West Memphis Murder Case Attorney Speaks to Students

Attorney Dan Stidham has been thrust into the media spotlight since being appointed to represent one of the “West Memphis 3” in 1993. Stidham will share his experiences and insight on this compelling case with students and the general public at International College in North Naples at 1 p.m., September 14.

On May 6, 1993, three eight-year-old boys, were found dead in a drainage ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teens, now adults, were convicted for allegedly torturing and mutilating the boys in a Satanic ritual. Two of those teens –Jessie Misskelley, whom Stidham represents, and Charles Jason Baldwin – were sentenced to life in prison. The third, Damien Echols, is on death row. Stidham maintains his client’s innocence and continues to represent Misskelley.

Stidham’s journey to Naples is the result of a class project Legal Studies Professor Jack Breiden assigned to summer term students in his Saturday morning Criminal Law and Procedure class.

Instead of giving his students a dry, hypothetical case study to analyze, Breiden gave them background on the West Memphis murder case on their first day. He also showed his class the two HBO documentaries on the murder case. Guest speakers also were brought in for additional perspective.

Students say they fed off of Breiden's enthusiasm and each other’s motivation. David Brinckman, 43, of Cape Coral drove more than 16 hours to visit the site where the boys were found, took photos and interviewed townspeople as part of a fact-finding mission. Another student, Celia Fellows, 42, of Naples, tracked Stidham until she was able to get him on the phone to answer questions. Fellows is now on Stidham’s “buddy list.”

Breiden said he is thrilled with his students’ initiative and determination.

“I didn’t know they’d become so involved. I feel good about being able to spark an excitement in them,” said Breiden, who has taught at the College for 10 years. “I can’t believe Dan Stidham is coming to Naples to speak with my students.”

Fellows, 42, of Naples, said Stidham’s insight was critical to answering questions for her term paper. She admits, however, that she never expected to hear from Stidham.

“I had too many unanswered questions,” Fellows said. “I looked at this case from a constitutional point of view. In my opinion, I don’t think they received a fair trial.”

Knowing how excited classmates were about the case, Fellows asked Stidham if he would visit the college. To her surprise, he agreed.

“Stidham has been very accessible and helpful. I’m so thrilled he’s coming,” she said.

Fellow student David Brinckman, of Cape Coral, 43, also is looking forward to Stidham’s visit. He and another student drove half a day to West Memphis in search of their own answers. Brinckman took photos, interviewed West Memphis citizens and Memphis police. He gathered all his notes and photos and gave a first-hand Power Point presentation to the class.

“The bottom line was, I couldn’t get the information from officials in West Memphis by phone or email. I needed to see what I was picturing in my mind,” he said. “Professor Breiden’s class really enhanced the education because we had real results.”

Dan Stidham said he is eager to speak with Breiden’s class and others at International College.

“Part of my motivation for speaking out about this case is the hope that I can somehow keep a similar tragedy from occurring again,” he said. “I hope people can somehow take away the lesson that we can all learn from this tragedy and be inspired to work to improve our justice system, not just for the West Memphis 3, but for all the potential Jessie Misskelleys out there in the world.”

As part of his interactive lecture, Stidham will cover criminal profiling, police interrogation techniques, false confessions, criminal defense strategies, juvenile and Miranda issues, forensic science issues, polygraph issues, “Satanic Panic,” and media issues in a high profile case.

Law enforcement and attorneys in Lee and Collier counties have been invited to attend Stidham’s lecture, Breiden said. Stidham has presented similar lectures at college campuses around the country and to professional organizations like the Arkansas Bar Association, the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association and the Academy for Behavioral Profiling. He has made appearances on several national television networks, including NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and Court TV’s Prime Time Justice. The first HBO documentary is entitled, “Paradise Lost.” The sequel is called “Paradise Lost: Revelation.”
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