I listen to a lot of podcasts- I’ve heard countless episodes. But some episodes really stand out and I feel obligated to spread the word- hoping others will benefit from listening.
The insight and wisdom that comes from real life survival stories is difficult to match. Jason Baldwin stands out among them all. Some day he’ll be universally recognized for his heroism.
I’ve followed the West Memphis Three story over the last four or five years, since I first read Damien Echol’s superb book Life After Death, and Mara Leveritt’s Devils’ Knot. Even though Damien usually gets the brunt of the attention, Jason Baldwin always stood out to me as the unsung hero. It’s Jason’s refusal to blame Damien early on that lead to Jason facing years longer in prison- the prosecution had offered him deal after deal, leniency, if Jason would just point the finger at Damien. Jason never budged. For a 16/17 year old kid, that’s impressive beyond belief in the face of a national media story, and a police and prosecution army on your back.
“In 1994, while prosecutors were trying to win sentences of death for the accused child killers, they had secretly offered Jason Baldwin a separate deal. Not once, but twice. Instead of seeking the death penalty, they would seek a 40-year sentence-which would lead to eventual parole- if he would plead guilty and testify against Damien Echols. Jason refused the deal and said “This isn’t right”.
Halfway through the trial, they again approached Jason with a new deal of a 20-year sentence. Jason said “It was wrong. It was against everything I was brought up to believe in. We weren’t rich, but my mom instilled good values in us. They were telling me all they really want is Damien. Just testify against Damien. Say he done it. Get up there and lie. I told him I couldn’t help him with anything like that. I couldn’t do it even if you said you’d let me go right now.”
18 years later, it’s Jason’s selfless acceptance of the Alford Plea – a plea that he would not have likely taken had it not been for the failing health of Damien Echols- that allowed all three of the WM3 to be released from prison, Damien from death row. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session just a few weeks ago where Jason Baldwin was a panelist. He said definitively to the crowded room at the conference: “I did this to save Damien’s life.”
In many ways a great irony has emerged all these years later, the story of the West Memphis Three is not just a tragedy of unspeakable degrees, but it’s also a story of friendship, integrity, and honesty.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw that Jason did an interview with Brooke Gittings of Actual Innocence Podcast– one of my favorite podcasts going. Tezi and I both listened intently. The story Jason tells is very personal, and revealed a lot of details, about his mother and early life for example, that I had not previously known. It’s well worth the listen.
One of the reasons I chose Jason’s booking photograph as the icon for my wrongful convictions Instagram page is that I feel as if in many ways Jason Baldwin’s story, and his character, embody all at once what is so wrong with our criminal justice system, and yet what is so right about the human spirit, perseverance, faith, and humility.
For more information on the West Memphis Three:
Read Damien’s book: Life After Death.