Jason Baldwin has been a free man for about seven months. To understand how dramatically the life of Baldwin, of the West Memphis Three, has changed since then, he’s currently planning to go to law school.
He’s starting some college courses soon and will build on the 47 credit hours he accumulated while in prison. He’s also making a lot of public appearances, including one Friday, March 30, for a symposium at the University of Memphis, and he enjoys the simple things of everyday life – like watching movies.
“My girlfriend, Holly, and I, we’ll be talking, and she’s got these friends she’s known for years,” Baldwin said. “They’ll exchange quotes from movies, and I’m like, ‘What movie is that? I haven’t seen that yet.’ I’ve got this growing list of movies I’ve got to see.”
Baldwin asks his girlfriend for the name of one he saw within the past few days.
“I just saw ‘The Princess Bride,’” he said. “It was hilarious. Holly had this magnet on her fridge of Andre the Giant, who had a role in that movie, going ‘Want a peanut?’ And it was totally over my head. But I’ve seen the movie and I get it now. I’m like, right! That is funny.”
The U of M Law Review is hosting a symposium Friday, at which Baldwin will be a featured guest along with Greene County District Court Judge Dan Stidham of Arkansas. Stidham was a defense attorney for Jessie Misskelley Jr., another of the West Memphis Three.
The two men will talk about the topic “Satanic Panic and the Defending of the West Memphis Three.” Their presentation will start at 3:50 p.m. in the Wade Auditorium of the U of M Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at 1 N. Front St.
The men commonly known as the West Memphis Three were released from prison in 2011.
To learn more about the symposium, visit www.memphis.edu/law/currentstudents/lawreview/ and click “Symposium” in the right-hand column. It’s a two-day symposium that begins Thursday.
The symposium will explore the topic of “cultural competency” and the death penalty. It will address well-known cases like that of the West Memphis Three and Guantanamo capital cases, and other featured guests include Shelby County Criminal Court Judge John Fowlkes and Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.
The life story of a defendant gets presented to a jury in a sentencing phase of a death penalty trial. For complex stories, beyond familiar themes of broken homes, drug use and the like, there’s a new method of representation called “cultural competence” which the symposium will analyze.
The event’s speakers will analyze a variety of timely cases involving foreign nationals, intellectual disability, jury selection, gangs, and the prosecutor’s perspective. There will also be a special Shelby County panel discussion of the issue.
“I’m just going to be there to kind of put a face on it and answer any questions the public might have,” said Baldwin, who moved to Seattle after being released from prison. “Hopefully, I can go to law school and get some training of my own in that area. That’s my plan now, if I can make the grade.
“You always hear things happen for a reason. I’m a firm believer that you can choose the reason. I experienced a lot of bad things in my life, but I choose to utilize that experience and couple that with a good education to try and make a difference for other people. I’ve also got several other justice issues close to my heart, one being the death penalty. I don’t agree with that. There’s other things I have issues with, like life without parole for juveniles. I understand prison is punishment, but it should also be rehabilitation.”