LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Friends and family of both the victims and the West Memphis 3 themselves were a mix of emotion after the three men plead guilty and will be released from prison.
Echols' mother Pam Hutchinson told THV's B.J. Steed that she is happy to have her son out but doesn't feel like this 18-year ordeal is over. She was crying, saying that it has been a "hellish" time for their family.
The families of the victims, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch, have had differing opinions about their guilt.
John Mark Byers, Byers' father, told THV's Ashley Blackstone that he has had a change of heart because he looked at the evidence and doesn't believe that they are guilty.
He says that there are no winners but he is happy they get to go home to their families. He only has a headstone to visit to "see" his son. He did add that "my son is not lost and I'll see him again."
He says he still believes the evidence points to Stevie Branch's stepfather, Terry Hobbs. He said before the hearing about Hobbs, "There's more DNA and proof and evidence on him and possibly his friends that they committed this crime than anybody else on this earth."
Buyers also said before the hearing, "It's wrong to make three men under duress, now, to say that they're guilty and I have to say because I have been in the Arkansas Department of Correction. I understand where they're coming from. If I had to roll the dice for my freedom, or get out today by copping to a lesser plea, I can't say for certain what I would do, but I would probably take the plea to get out of prison, but then I'm stuck in my life with the stigma 'You're the killer of the West Memphis 3' while the real killer walks free."
There were several outburts during the hearing such as, "Worst case of misjustice I have ever seen in my life," "baby killer," "it's a bunch of garbage" and "tragedy on all sides."
Felecia Epps, UALR law professor, sat with Stefanie Bryant on "Today's THV at Noon" while the press conference was going on and explains what the men's plea means.
All three entered an Alford plea which means they pleaded guilty while still maintaining their innocence. The judge sentenced them to 18 years, the time they've already served. Now they will have 10 years probation which means if they commit any crime during the next 10 years, they could go back to prison.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this statement following today's hearing in Craighead County Circuit Court:
"Since the day of their original convictions, the Attorney General's Office has been committed to defending the guilty verdicts in this case. I continue to believe that these defendants are guilty of the crimes for which they have now been twice convicted.
"My staff had been preparing to assist the elected prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington, in the next hearing ordered by the Supreme Court, which was scheduled for December. I was informed earlier this week that the prosecutor had accepted the plea agreement proposed by the defense.
"As Attorney General, I always respect the discretion and judgment of elected prosecutors. Prosecutors know their cases better than anyone. In this case, Mr. Ellington has exercised his discretion in such a way that has led to nine murder convictions that can never be appealed."
(Source: Today's THV & Attorney General's Office)