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Mother of slain Scout wants West Memphis Three case reopened

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - The mother of one of the three Cub Scouts killed in Arkansas in 1993 - a case that is the subject of a documentary nominated for an Academy Award - wants the case reopened because of what she called crucial new evidence.

"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," which was nominated this week for a documentary feature Oscar, explores the release from prison of the men known as the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley spent 18 years behind bars, accused of killing three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, a city on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Police called the murders of Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore "satanic" because the children's naked bodies had been bound and mutilated.

The three men were released in August after they took a bargain in which they could continue to claim their innocence but pleaded guilty in exchange for an 18-year sentence and credit for time served. DNA tests did not link the men to the crime scene and, in fact, showed the presence of others who have never been identified.

"I am content in my heart that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley did not murder my son," Steven Branch's mother, Pam Hobbs, said this week in a news release.

Hobbs wants the state of Arkansas to examine what she called crucial new evidence involving Terry Hobbs, her ex-husband and the stepfather of Branch.

Last week, lawyers for the West Memphis Three released polygraph tests from three new witnesses who say that Terry Hobbs' nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., told friends that his uncle murdered the three boys.

Echols' attorneys say that this new information reveals that people closest to Terry Hobbs may have more information than they previously acknowledged.

"These three young witnesses are very willing to cooperate," Lonnie Soury, a spokesman for Echols, told Reuters.

Neither Terry Hobbs nor Michael Hobbs Jr. could not be reached for comment, but Terry Hobbs has long denied any wrongdoing.

"From the very beginning until this moment, state and local officials has reassured me at every turn of the case there has never been one speck of evidence in me as a suspect," Terry Hobbs said in a statement last August after the three men were released.

Scott Ellington, a prosecutor in Jonesboro, Ark., said in August that if new, credible evidence was produced that he would be willing to re-examine the case.

He told Reuters on Tuesday that he had just received a packet from Echols' attorneys containing the new information.

"I haven't had a chance to read through it all and digest it but I will," he said.

Some parents of the three murdered children just want the case to go away.

Todd and Diana Moore, parents of Michael Moore, asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to exclude "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" from nomination consideration because they say it glorifies the West Memphis Three. The film is the third in an HBO series about the murders.

"This film should be exposed as a fraud, not rewarded with an Academy Award nomination," the Moores wrote in a letter to the Academy on Tuesday.

The case is also the subject of a second documentary, "West of Memphis." That film from "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson screened last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

(This version corrects title for Soury to show he is a spokesman for Echols, not an attorney for Echols)

(Reporting by Suzi Parker; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Paul Thomasch)

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