The stepfather of one of three 8-year-old boys murdered in West Memphis, Tenn., in 1993, has not only lost his defamation case against the Dixie Chicks but has been ordered to pay singer Natalie Maines’ legal costs.
Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, filed the lawsuit against the country band Nov. 25 and it was thrown out in December. Although the suit named all three Dixie Chicks, it focused on Maines, who spoke out publicly in support of the three teenagers convicted in the murders.
Hobbs has been ordered to pay Maines $17,590 according to a ruling by District Judge Brian S. Miller and reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The defamation suit claimed that Hobbs suffered loss of income and injury to his reputation, as well as emotional, mental and physical injuries. According to the Associate Press, the judge dismissed the suit because Hobbs had “voluntarily injected himself into a public controversy.”
Branch was killed along with Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. The three children vanished May 5, 1993, and police found their bodies a day later.
Police arrested Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley – who became known as the “West Memphis Three” – after Misskelley said he watched Baldwin and Echols sexually assault and beat two of the boys as he ran after the third child trying to escape.
Misskelley was sentenced to a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings, Baldwin was given a life sentence without parole and Echols, then 19, the oldest of the three, received the death penalty.
Two documentaries about the murder case – 1996’s “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and the 2000 sequel “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” – attracted a number of celebrities to the case. Maines and others believed the teenagers were wrongly convicted partially because of their interest in heavy metal music and the occult.
In 2007, Maines posted a letter on the band’s website and MySpace page that claimed that new DNA testing of hair from the crime scene suggested that Hobbs was linked to the murders. The letter noted that Hobbs’ activities on the night of the crimes – including washing his clothes and sheets at odd hours – also indicated he was guilty. The singer also spoke out in defense of the “West Memphis Three” at a rally in Little Rock and in a PSA posted on YouTube that urged authorities to reopen the case.
A benefit CD called Free The West Memphis 3 was released in 2000 including songs by Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle and Murder City Devils. Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis 3 was released in 2002 with tunes by Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Ryan Adams and Chuck D.
Click here for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story.