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tv   Piers Morgan Tonight  CNN  August 18, 2012 9:00pm-10:00pm EDT

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misconception and those inconsistencies will kind of fade with time. we're very positive that this is going to do a good thing for our community. >> tonight, the case that shocked a nation. three little boys murdered and dumped in a creek. and three teenagers accused of horrendous crimes. ♪ >> whispers of devil worship and sexual abuse. then the verdicts and the three disappeared behind bars. tonight, the extraordinary 18-year effort to free them. >> we told them that we were innocent and they sernt us to prison for the rest of our lives. >> and the questions remain, did
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the killer or killers go free? >> they're one hundred percent nent. we needed someone to hate to survive because our child was dead. >> you're supposed to be accused of everybody that's on death row right now. >> west memphis three in their own words. >> it cracks you inside. >> this is piers morgan tonight. >> good everybodying, the kasz began in may, 1993 when the naked bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found in a ditch in west memphis, arkansas. the boys, s the, evie branch and michael moore and christopher had been hog tied with their own shoe laces. damian akels and jesse kelly were convicted of those murders.
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baldwin and miskelly to life. as the years pass, the west memphis three with the intention of celebrity supporters like johnny depp and paul and natalie mesne of the dixie chix. more on that in a moment. but joining me now, damien and his wife. welcome to you both. an extraordinary saga. no other way to put this. ending in the most bizarre circumstances. it will come to us a little later where eventually, we all admit guilt and then we look free which is a bizarre twist in this tale and will make no sense to anybody, probably least of all, you. let me start with you. you lost 20 years of your life for a crime you've always said you didn't commit. what has it been like for you. you in particular?
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you were sentenced to death. you had to live with that every day that you were incarcerated. you spent most of your time in isolation, i think. tell me about the experience. >> it's been actually the past 10 years in absolute solitary confinement. 24 hours a day, 7 days aweek a week i was alone. we were allowed to see each other once a week for three hours. >> she was the only person you saw? >> pretty much. every once in a while, like once a year or something, her family would call. but for the most part, she was the only person i saw. >> there was a television, no cable or anything like that. you just get the basic television channels. your shower is right there in the shell with you. there's a drain in the floor. it's solid, kwon crete walls and a solid, steel door. there's a little slot in the door that they open up to to pass food through or to give you mail. but for the most part, you're
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completely and absolutely sealed off. >> what was the bed like? >> it's a concrete slab along the back of the wall. it's about 2.5 feet up off the floor and they give you a mat like kindergarteners take naps on, and that's your bed. >> a computer? >> no, when i got locked up, there was no such thing as the internet. i had never seen the internet, i never used a cell phone. >> were you aware of news other than through the television? >> houmpb were you allowed exercise? >> as long as you do it yourself in your cell. there was no gym equipment or nothing like that. it's just whatever you could devise on your own. >> whechb did when did you see daylight? >> never. i hadn't been exposed to sun slight -- >> in ten years? >> for almost ten years, yes.
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>> what are you thinking throughout this period? i mean, this is, for an innocent man, as many believe that you are, you've always protested this. what are you thinking when you're stuck in there? >> the only thing you can do to maintain your sanity is to not think about the case and not think about what's happening to you. you have to immerse yourself in a routine and not dooef yat. work out an exercise regimen, work out a meditation regimen, start some kind of practice, artwork, writing, whatever it is, you have to create your own world in there. >> i don't know how you keep your sanity? >> you don't have a choice. it's not like you quit and say i'm going home. you do whatever it takes. >> what effect did it have on your health? >> my health department, there's almost no medical care, no dental care, thing like that. in prison. so my health was deteriorating
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very rapidly. i lost a great deal of eyesight. whenever you're in a confined space, you never get to see anything far away so you gradually start losing your ability to. >> what was it like coming out? >> it was like having a spotlight turned on in your face. >> i couldn't wait for the nightfall, you know, just to see the sun go down. i had never seen that, not in almost 20 years. i had never gotten to see a sunset. it was just one of those things i had been waiting on for so long, sunset to see the leaves change colors. this was going to be my first year, one of the things i'm really excited about. this is my first real christmas and my first real thanksgiving. it's the first in 20 years,
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18.5. >> what are the things that you had to learn again about real life? >> there are things that most people expect you to lirn. i had never seen the internet. i'm learning how to use a cell phone. how to use a computerment ir hadn't walked in 18.5 years without chains on my feet. i wasn't used to that when i first got out. so i was literally having to learn to walk again. and the first few days, i would almost fall over myself because i was used to walking with short strides. i had to learn to use a fork again. >> why? >> they don't give you fork ins there. >> how do you eat? >> with your hands. >> there will be people watching who will say had you been the person responsible for the death of three young boys in this horrible manner, they don't care how badly you're treated in
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prison. the problem comes if you're completely innocent and you're being treated in these barbaric circumstances. for someone like you to be enduring such a tolerable lifestyle, again, i come back to the question of sanity. it must have been inkreblely hard. let me take you back to what happened. may 5th, 1993. the bodies of these three 8-year-old boys are found. it's a small town. everybody knows each other. so it becomes the biggest story of the full-time. it becomes something that grips people and it's so horrifying that the desire by people to catch the perpetrators is intense. when is the first time that you hear you are going to be in trouble with this.
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>> i had been harassed a great deal. i stuck out due to the way i looked. so i had been harassed for quite a while before these murders ever even took place. >> were you a troublemaker or just a bit different? >> the most i ever got into was running away from home or something like that. >> ever broken the law? >> no. >> you were into heavy metal and liked reading steven king. >> in 1993, i never everyone heard this word. people say what i was was goth. you didn't have something like that in a small town back then. it really drew a lot of notice from, you know, a small-town crowd. and it made me stand out and that's sort of what made me a target. >> so what happened? >> just immediately, as as it
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happened, people said a murder this horrible couldn't have just happened. what would have been the reason for it. obviously, they weren't roped. so what other reason could someone possibly have for murdering these children? the only thing they could come up with was it was a satanic ritual. for them, that made sense. >> when was the moment you were going to be pulled in by the police? >> they showed up at my door after the bodies were found. >> how did that make you feel? >> there's no words to describe it. moegs people don't have anything in their frame of reference that they can compare something like that to. to know that these people are coming to you because they actually believe that you are capable of murdering three children. it does something to you psychologically that you will
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never, ever get over. >> tell me about the relationship of you and the two other men you were accused of. you were boys at the time, 16, 17. tell me about jesse because he and his testimony were the catalyst for what happened to you. what we heard is he was a very low i.q. he is mentally retarded. he's not somebody who should have been giving lengthy evidence without a plot of legal help. what happened? >> well, whenever they called him in for questioning, like you said, he was mentally retarded. he had been in special education classes and things like that. they said mentally, he functioned at the level of a 5-8-year-old child. they called him in and started questioning him. and basically, with the mentality that he had, he agreed to anything that they said. they would say did you do this? he would say yes.
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>> and very little of his testimony was ever kept on tape. >> he gives this evidence and says i saw them kill these boys and rape these buys and horrible stuff he came out with. and, as a result of that, you guys are now in very serious trouble. >> yes, i don't think he, with the mentality he had and his i.q. level, i don't think he could really comprehend the level of trouble that he was in or that he had drug us into. >> how well did you know him? >> not very well. jason baldwin, i knew a great deal better. jesse was someone we would see around somewhere. >> why did you think he was
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doing this? >> it's hard to say. i think part of it was just prompting by the police. part of it may have been he thaugts he was going to get something out of it. it's hard to say. >> what is the worst moment for you? >> it's hard to say i am want to say there were no worse moments. every single moment was worse than the last one. it doesn't ever stop. you know, you think the moment you're arrested, this's the worst moment. you think the moment you're in the troubial, that's the worst moment. you think the moment you're sentenced to death, that's the worst moment. your first execution day rolls around, that's the worst. it just gets worse and worse and worse. it's like a train that doesn't stop. it just keeps picking up speed and gets worse and worse and worse. >> very few people can understand what you've been through. one of them is going to join us after this break and he's one of the other members of the memphis three. mom: ready to go to work?
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guilty of murder of michael moore. >> damien was sentenced to death. and echols' wife is here with me now. we've been joined by michael baldwin. welcome. wlafs the evidence against you other than the word of jesse who we already established had a mental age of somewhere between 5 and 8 years old. >> the evidence against us was our personal preferences in music. i remember at one point in the trial, they lifted up our record. >> as if somehow that implied you were capable of killing young boys. there's no dna evidence against you? >> well, at the time, they had evidence and stuff. but since it didn't match us, it
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wasn't braugt up. >> nothing tangibly linking you to any of the murders. nothing other than the books you read, clothes you wear or haircuts. >> that was it. >> how do you feel? i mean, you've lned to damien out there. i'm assuming you didn't have much contact in the years that you were both incarcerated? >> no, when we first got locked up, we would rite letters to his sister, damien. but only then, the only contact we could have was through mutual friends. we would pass on words of encouragement like that. presummablely, in prison, you are pariahs, right?
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>> yeah, when i first got there, people were literally waiting for us to get there. staff alike, you know. just to do us harm. >> they would attack you? >> oh, yeah. >> houmpb? >> the first few years, a lot. >> e eve gotten a shattered skull, multiple cars on my face from it. but as the years progressed and the people got to know me and as the documentaries came out and stuff, the curses turned into prayers. >> it's just unthinkable to me that you're going through this. >> then the move dwins to change. and this's what i want to bring you in here, laurie. the campaign begins. there are rumblings of discontent about this case. people are beginning to think this doesn't add up.
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when ewe watyou watched it, ver powerful and led the viewer to an obvious, clear-cut conclusion that ungd not have been responsible. you start writing. what do you write about? >> i just knew this was someone unlike anyone i had ever known in my life. she just stood out. it was something completely and absolutely different about her. she was out of my framework reference. she was something completely magical and alien to me at the time. and it was one of those kinds of love that just hurts because it's so much.
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when you read about women to write to convicted killers and so on, there is a kind of freaky element to those relationships. this is different because you did it after watching a documentary where, as i say you couldn't conclude from that. you're running to an innocent man. that is the distinction. but you still had family, friends, people around you, presumably, as this relationship developed thinking what are you doing? fortunately, for most of my life, i've been a pretty responsible person. i think if i had been a little more e raddic in my life, then maybe -- >> you fell in love.
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you were allowed to see him and you get married. there's still the prospect of you facing an execution. how do you deal with that? psychologically? >> i never entertained the thought of it. i heard a guy talking about race car drivers chlts whenever they train race car drivers, they tell them, never look at the wall. you're going the move towards what you focus on. therefore, we wouldn't focus on that because we didn't want to move towards it. we focussed all of our attention, all of our energy and all of our work towards getting out. towards proving our innocence. >> you they know joined aggressively and began to be more public about it. i want to take another break. i want to come back and get into when you were found guilty. and also when you admitted guilt to get your freedom, which, as i said at the start of the show, a
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i did not want to take a deal from the get go. however, they're trying to kill damien. sometimes you've just got to be safe sometimes. >> the three had to plead guilty while insisting they are innocent. we should point out that we asked jesse kelly to join us tonight. this is a fascinating development. it's called the all for three. and in the end, you were able to claim your innocence while pleading guilty. jason, explain to me what this actually means. >> the alfred play was the only opportunity we were given to plead our innocence and get out
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with that. the way it was set up was the state didn't want to admit they had convicted three innocent people to prison and what they put together was an opportunity to -- for them to be able to claim that hey, we got the right guys. but the evidence doesn't, you know, prove that they're guilty. if they go to trial again, they'll win. but we're giving them an opportunity to get out now to save taxpayers some money and they can still maintain their innocence. and the state can still maintain the point that they're guilty. >> and you did an extraordinary thing for your friend because you could have done a deal and got out. but if you didn't take this deal, he would be still facing the death penalty, right? >> well, on both deals, like they came to me with the plea
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agreements like when i first got arrested. and i told my attorneys not to ever learn these plea agreements to me. but, by law, they have to. the first time, they wanted me to testify against damien. i said no, that's impossible. they want you to say that he did the crime and they'll let you out in maybe five years. i said, well, i can't do that. so jump ahead 18 years until now, this deal, this is to save an innocent life. it's a sure thing, you know. it gets him home now. it gets him out of death row where he's, you know, suffering. >> how many execution dates did you face? >> i only had one. my date was may 5th, 1994.
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>> did you genuinely think you were going to get killed? >> i thought there was a good possibility. we were convicted for something we didn't do with no evidence. if that was possible, than the execution was possible? >> how many people were on death row with you? >> it varies, on average, i would say about 40. and in the time i was there, i saw between 25 and 30 executions. >> there's a big debate about executions. when you hear this debate, how many -- i read statistics of people having sentences committed. so there you have 140 people who would have been execute d wrongly. and you could have been one of those people. >> i knew i could have been one
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of those people. people think this case is out of the ordinary. and it wasn't. you still have innocent people there in arkansas on death row right now. it happens all of the time. >> did any of your family believe you were guilty? >> none of mine. >> was the key thing in the start of the evidence? is it because it was all based on jesse's testimony to the police? most of which were never made public? and he said, first of all the, it all happened in the morning. and then finally, he watched up at a time at the timing of death. this is scandalous, isn't it? >> why do you think jesse was doing this? >> if he hadn't, i don't think any of you would have gone to prison.
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>> the closest thing i can come to explain that in my mind is the schoolyard bully who gets the kid to cry uncle under duress. the bully know he's not the other kid's uncle. but it puts him under so much pressure and pain, it's okay, let me loose. >> do you blame jesse? >> no, he's mentally handicapped. he didn't choose to be born that way. some people supported you. others, to this day, kwont to say you're responsible. how do you deal with that psychologically? skbr you just have to keep moving forward. if you do dwell on that thing, you're going to lose your mind. there's nothing you can do.
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>> and -- >> we were terrified of his safety. on may 6th, when the bodies were found, my mom was freaking out. she said oh my god, there's somebody out here killing kids. keep terry at home. watch him. make sure nothing happens to him. >> there's a part of you understand why some of their family felt they had closure? >> absolutely i understand. there's a yoet that always comes in my mind when i'm thinking about this, it did throughout the entire thing. forgive them, father, for they know not what they do. and that's what i have think of. >> i eechl going to take another break. when we come back i want to ask you who you think may have been responsible for the deaths of
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if these animals are released, you're just going to give the key to everybody that's on death row right now to open up their cells and walk out here with all the rest of us. >> i'm still standing and fighting for justice because they're innocent. they did not kill my son. >> two very dimpfferent reactio. they spent nearly a decade behind bars from the crime before being freed last month. >> how do you feel when a lot of famous people began to rally to your cause. the music we've been using to play at these break is a special thing for you. explain what that is. >> it's a song on a pearl jam album that was eddie vedder had taken lyrics from it from a piece of poetry i had written
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when i was much younger and put it to music. it was just an incredible experience, you know, hearing the finished product and seeing what it sounds like. it's just an absolutely amazing thing and something that means a great deal to me. these were people who didn't just throw money at the case. these were people who were involved on a ground floor level. >> people like johnny depp got ininvolved. these are high, high profile, very famous people. and they definitely made a difference to the atmosphere around your case. this guy here, siting next to you, you know, you come across to me, i've never met you before in my life, but you come across to me as somebody grounded, intelligent, eloquent. not the things you would associate with the portrayal in your court case, of this devil worshipping, satanic occu
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occult-obsessed, dangerous marijuana yak. you knew him very well. you saw him described as this evil ring leader, what were you thinking? >> i know everyone had it wrong. like in high school, his mom fixed him lunch in paper bags, you know. even then, the high school kids joked, what do you have in the bag? a cat? and it would be peanut butter and jelly and an apple or soda or something, you know? it was a joke to the kids, this, you know, look and everything. this personal dress and goth look and stuff. so with the children, it's fun, you know, but when the adults got in and, you know, the police and everything and they twisted that and made it sinister. >> yeah.
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>> and it was just total ly on realest eistic? >> i think i probably do with young, teenage angst that you go through as a kid. >> but not after you were put in prison. did you ever try and take your own life? >> yeah. >> i took aboverdose of sleeping pills just because it was, like you said, well, there's no light at the end of the tunnel. it seems like there's no hope. and the pressure was so great that for a moment, i lost all hope. i may spend god knows how long here going through this. and i did, i took an overdose of pills to try to end my life. >> let's take a short break.
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we can still bring up new evidence, we can still continue the investigations we've been doing.
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we can still try to clear our names. the only difference is we can do it from the outside instead of having to sit in prison and do it. >> damien echols' news conference after his first free days. that moment when you walk free, how did that feel? >> it's hard to describe, you know. like i said earlier, most people don't have anything like that in a frame of reference. but it was like having a huge weight taken off of your chest for the first time in almost 20 years. i couldn't breathe. i didn't feel like i was being crushed to death. there were times in prison that it literally felt like being crushed to death. you feel like there's a weight on you and you can't take another step. and for the first time, it felt like that had been completely lifted and taken off. >> were you surprised of the strength of damien through this? >> oh, yes. >> i mean, many lesser people in
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terms of strength of character would have crumbled under this. and, yet, i see somebody o, to me, you've come out and you've survived. that's how i see you. someone that hant been destroyed by this. damaged beyond any imagination, but not destroyed. would you akbree with that? >> oh, absolutely. there were times when it got really hard for me on the outside, just the stress and trying to get through and thinking there was no, you know, it was just hard. everything in the middle of it. and damien would get me through. so, you know, the strength of that. but i saw how hard he worked. how long he meditated, how disciplined he was with his mind, his education, his -- he's such a disciplined person. there's just so many layers to him. >> you had a son by a previous
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relationship. >> right, he's 18 years old now. he's the same age i was whenever i got locked up. >> so literally, he just arrived. >> he was born while the trial was taking place. the very first time i held him was during the trial. >> did you see him at all during the time you were inside? >> not very often, but, yeah, we would try to keep him as far from the situation. >> now he's 18. he's a young man. how does he deal with what's happened to his father? >> i don't know. i think it's going to take more time than we've had so far to get into things like that. who knows what sort of resentments he has or anything else from missing his entire childhood. >> he's another victim. so many victims. >> kpaktly. >> whole families crushed on every way you look at this. do you think death penalties, state executions, should they be abandoned? many people think they should be. there are too many miscarriages of justice. too many innocent people being
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put on death row. >> i don't think we have any idea how many innocent people have died yet. >> would you stop the death penalty. have died yet, you know? >> piers: would you stop the death penalty? did you believe in this before it? >> i would stop it. >> i didn't give it much thought. >> piers: you would? you would stop it? >> i would. >> i didn't give it thought before this. it is something i never thought of in depth. a lot of the media and prosecutors and things like this portray these images to society like all these people on death row are like hannibal lecter and they are these evil geniuses and they are not. you are talking about people mentally retarded, schizophrenic, brain damaged, just horrendously damaged people that -- >> or complete innocent. this is my issue with it. and i come from a country where we don't have the death penalty. every poll of the public says 90% would bring it back tomorrow, bring back hanging, because they do that in the belief that 100% of the people wwho ould be accused are 100% guilty.
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>> yeah. >> piers: and that is just not the case. >> exactly. >> piers: let's take another break and come back and ask you about how you can clear your names completely here, what you think you can do to get proper closure. [ male announcer ] this is rudy. his morning starts with arthritis pain. and two pills. afternoon's overhaul starts with more pain. more pills. triple checking hydraulics. the evening brings more pain. so, back to more pills. almost done, when... hang on. stan's doctor recommended aleve. it can keep pain away all day with fewer pills than tylenol. this is rudy. who switched to aleve. and two pills for a day free of pain. ♪ and get the all day pain relief of aleve in liquid gels.
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nothing worse than anything like that. force of god, you know? like every normal person in this room here knows. >> a young jason baldwin from the trial from the documentary "paradise lost." james baldwin and damien echols and his wife are with me now. a young kid there. you have lost your lives, haven't you? what has a hardest thing about reentry to normal life? can you sleep? can you get employment? what are the practical realities of your lives now? >> i sleep very well. i'm currently employed for a construction company, just get me on my feet. i think the most difficult thing
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is learning to drive. i'm working with that. i have read the dmv and took the online practice test, aced it. now i'm just trying to get down to -- >> had your first beer yet? >> oh, yeah. >> quite a few i should say, right? >> i think at one point, i went to a coffee shop and they were like what kind of coffee do you want and i'm like kind of coffee, right? they were like we have got americana, espresso. >> before you went in it, it was like, i will have a coffee. now you got to have a ventura iced latte what it is, yeah. not progress, trust me. what's it been like for you, damien? >> i think one of the most remarkable moments let me know it was really finally over, we'd friend who took us to see like an improv comedy routine and we are sitting in a room full of people watching the show and we are on the very front row and there's a bunch of people behind us and i realized i don't have
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to worry about anybody behind me stabbing me or hitting me in the back of the head. they are all watching the show. that's over. >> and that was the fear you lived with for ten years? >> every day. >> an awful thing to have to live with. have you managed to get work? >> not yet. >> why is that? >> um, i think it's just the things that i'm interested in, you know? i really started getting into the realm of art whenever i was in prison and that's what i would like to continue doing, continue writing, continue doing visual artwork and i just haven't been out long enough to pull things together to get that going. >> do you have any way of clearing your names for good? is there anything you can do pro actively to clear your names? because there will still be people out there who will see the circumstances of your release, hang on. they are pleading guilty, but maintaining their innocence? what is going on here? it's confusion for people. and therefore must be frustrating for you. the only way you could finally
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get relieveased. is there a mechanism of closure for you? >> we are trying to get pardoned. >> reporter: who would have to decide that? the governor? >> the governor of arkansas. a lot of people really getting behind the movement. same people responsible for exposing this case to the public and making sure we got free and starting up a movement for us to be a part of. >> case still open or was it closed? >> to the prosecutors, it's closed to us, it's opened. should it be reopened? of course. >> a pardon would be great. it should come to you given all the evidence in this case. but actually getting somebody put on trial with real evidence that should have happened from the start and leading to a proper safe conviction, that is when you are going to get proper
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closure. that's when everybody, right? >> in that sense that's what we have been working on all these years with the legal team and people who have helped us. we're going to continue that because that is the most important thing is to bring new evidence to the case, discover new evidence, everything we can do because we want to -- we want to discover who did this. that's the most important thing. >> we definitely want that process to be free of coerced confessions and free of pressured perjured testimony. >> listen. you have been candid and brave to do this interview. this is one of the greatest pieces of testimony against the death penalty continued in this country. you just look at cases like this, troy davis and others, you think this is just archaic. this cannot be allowed to continue. i thank you for your time.

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