Arkansas High School seniors got a first-hand look into the world of wrongful convictions and social justice as the school hosted a Zoom lecture with Lonnie Soury of Soury Communications Friday morning at the AHS Library. Soury led the public campaign to free Damien Echols and others of the West Memphis Three and spoke with students virtually from Spain, where he is currently working.
The guest lecture was the end of a research project unit for students of AHS Senior English teachers Jennifer Teeters and Sharon Womack. Students were assigned different topics to research about the infamous West Memphis Three murder case, which has spanned nearly three decades and is still active in the Arkansas courts. In 1993, three young boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, and soon after, three teenagers were convicted of their murder, one being sentenced to death row. It is widely speculated that the three teenagers were wrongly convicted of the crime and the real killer(s) are still at large.
Tye Hendrix, an Arkansas High senior, initially reached out to Mr. Soury while doing her research. He was listed as a contact on a website he created fighting for their exoneration. “I just wanted to see if I could get any information from him for my paper,” she says. “True crime and things involving the justice system really interest me, so I was excited when he actually responded.” Mr. Soury offered to talk to her class, and the idea grew from there.
After students finished their research, they were required to write a research paper on their findings. The project culminated with the virtual lecture Friday. “I am impressed with how engaged our seniors have been,” says Mrs. Womack. “This generation is extremely concerned with social justice and wants the criminal justice system to operate fairly for every human being, both victims and the accused.”
This project, part of Arkansas High School’s required learning standard for seniors on informational texts, has been a learning opportunity for students as they prepare for life beyond high school. “The thing I’ve stressed the most to these seniors as they turn 18 and are about to become voting, active members of our community: it doesn’t matter if you agree with your parents, or your teacher or the person sitting next to you,” says Ms. Teeters. “What matters is that you are informed; what matters is that you are engaged; what matters is that you care.”
Mr. Soury is thankful for the opportunity to speak to the group of seniors, and that the case is being used as a relevant teaching and learning tool. “It is a real testament to the leadership of the high school.”