JONESBORO, AR - Tears of joy and shouts of approval greeted the West Memphis Three as they walked out of the Craighead County courthouse free men on Friday, August 19, 2011.
Hundreds crowded around the building hoping to see the Mid-South's most famous prisoners. Almost all had never met any of the WM3, but for the last 18 years, they followed the case.
They spent hours waiting, and support never wavered. The crowd grew until the time Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly and Jason Baldwin came outside.
The mob erupted at the first sight of them. It was over in just seconds, but the brief glimpse of the men walking out was the moment these supporters had been waiting for since the WM3's 1994 convictions for the 1993 mutilation murders of three 8-year-old boys found dead and hog-tied in a West Memphis ditch.
"To see them without handcuffs, among the public being free, not being animals caged up for something they didn't do," says Preston Polson, "I'm sorry, I just can't talk. It's taking my breath away. You just can't put innocent people in prison."
"We were just hysterical when we heard," says Lisa Fancher, "when the crowd yelled and we found out."
"That was the best moment ever," adds Mecinda Smith, "seeing them free and out."
These are men and women who've never met Echols, Misskelley or Baldwin, but supporters steadfastly believe in their innocence. All dropped everything to be at the courthouse when they were let go.
"I'm a supporter," says JoAnn Flitzer. "I've always believed that these kids are innocent. These men, I mean. I still refer to them as boys, sometimes."
Those gathered, showed their support through messages on t-shirts. Many were carrying signs, all were taking pictures. And all were saying justice is finally being served.
"There are six victims all together and three of them are already in a better place," says Regina Wright. "Hopefully today, the three will be getting out and go on with the rest of their lives and their names will be cleared like they should be."
Two of the men, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, were led out of a side door of the courthouse into an SUV with darkened windows then whisked away to more cheers. Jessie Misskelley left separately out of the other side of the courthouse.
"They've suffered for 18 years," says Kathy Bryant. "Plea or no plea, let these boys go. They have a life to live."
Supporters were happy for the brief moments shared. Some say after 18 years of following the case, they're looking forward to celebrating a free future for the three.
"We will continue to follow them as long as Damien and Jesse and Jason continue to do stuff we will be followers always," says Smith.