Reviving an investigation that ended 14 years ago, West Memphis police recently questioned the mother and stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of three 8-year-old boys murdered in 1993. Three teenagers were convicted of the killings.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Stevie’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, confirmed that West Memphis police had videotaped an interview with him within the last three weeks. Pam Hobbs, Stevie’s mother, also said she had been interviewed by police. The Hobbses are now divorced.
Terry Hobbs, who lives in Bartlett, Tenn., said police requested the interview with him as a result of recent DNA tests on items found with the bodies. Prior to the police interview, he said, he had been informed of the test results by Ron Lax, a Memphis private investigator.
Terry Hobbs said, “Ron claims that a piece of my hair is in the knots that tied up [victim] Michael Moore.”
“Does that bother me?” Hobbs continued. “No, ma’am, it does not. Why? Because I don’t believe a thing he has to say because he’s working for the defense team. And because if my DNA was at the crime scene, I think [Prosecuting Attorney] Brent Davis would be the one to call me about that, and not Ron Lax.”
Attorneys for the convicted men have said no DNA was found that matches their clients.
Terry Hobbs said police asked him “a bunch of questions” about his activities on May 5, 1993 — the day Stevie, Michael and Christopher Byers, the third victim, disappeared — and the following day, when the boys’ bodies were discovered submerged in a drainage ditch. He declined to answer further questions about what he was asked by police.
Pam Hobbs, who lives in Blytheville, said a lieutenant for the West Memphis Police Department also questioned her about her family’s activities around the time of the slayings. In the last couple of months, she has stated publicly that she now believes that the men convicted of the murders — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr . — are not guilty.
“We have stages of grieving that we go through,” she said. “I guess I came to forgiveness. I’ve always wanted to know the truth, and when I was called by the defense — knowing the DNA was being retested — I guess that was the big eye-opener.”
Pam Hobbs said she “chose to believe all those years” that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were guilty, despite her realization during the trials that the prosecutors “didn’t have anything” and persistent doubts afterwards that the defendants “were smart enough or hateful enough to have done it by themselves and clean it up.”
The state medical examiner ruled that Stevie and Michael died by drowning and that Christopher, who’d suffered stab wounds to his groin, died from loss of blood.
Pam Hobbs said that in 2002, at a point when she and Terry Hobbs were separating, she sent a package containing “14 or 15 knives” owned by her husband to one of the defense lawyers.
Pam Hobbs said that she had done so after discovering among the knives “a little pocket knife” that her father had given to Stevie.
She said Stevie “carried it around with him all the time, because it was like part of his granddaddy. He would have had it May the fifth. He carried it with him from the day my daddy gave it to him until the day he was murdered.”
Asked why, five years ago, she had given the knives to a lawyer for the defense, she said it was because she “didn’t trust the prosecution … because of the evidence that was not presented at the trials.”
Terry Hobbs dismissed the knives as having had “nothing to do with anything.”
“I’d bought some, and found some and Pam bought me some. I just threw them in a drawer, and that’s where they’d been for years.” He added, “Them knives were stolen out of my home and I’m fixing to try to get them back.”
Asked whether one of the knives was a pocket knife given to Stevie by his grandfather, Terry Hobbs responded: “I don’t know. It could have been. And it could have been it was in the drawer because we didn’t want him to have it. I didn’t want a kid of mine to go around with a pocket knife — not a kid who was 8 years old. Would you?”
Terry Hobbs said, “I raised Stevie from the time he was a year and a half, until he was 8. I tried to be a good daddy.”
As for his ex-wife, he said, “Pam’s got some problems. This thing has taken a toll on her. It’s really hurt her.
“I don’t think she really supports the idea they [the convicted men] are innocent. I think she’s doing it out of anger. As a matter of fact, I know it’s out of anger. It’s being angry at the world and not knowing how to deal with her anger.
“It’s kind of sad. And I’m really sorry that people think she supports that theory.”
Pam Hobbs acknowledges that she has “held anger toward Terry,” in part because of his actions on the night Stevie disappeared.
Terry usually got off work by 4 p.m., she said, in time to watch Stevie and their daughter Amanda, while Pam went to her job at a restaurant. On the day of the murders, Stevie, who had gone riding bikes with Michael, was supposed to be home at 4:30. He had not returned by 4:45, when Pam left for her job.
She said she assumed that he was just late, and that it was not until 9 p.m., when Terry drove to the restaurant with Amanda to pick her up, that she realized Stevie was not in the car.
“Terry told me he really thought he was going to find him and he didn’t want to burden me at work,” she said. “ But I held anger toward Terry over that — that he didn’t tell me Stevie was missing.”
Another element of her anger, Pam Hobbs said, relates to her brother, whom Terry Hobbs shot in the abdomen during an altercation 10 years ago. That brother died last year.
Terry Hobbs dismisses the episode. “The truth is,” he said, “when a man is trying to kill you, you have a right under the United States Constitution to defend and protect yourself.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he was charged with aggravated assault, fined and placed on probation.
When asked if she now considers her ex-husband a suspect in the murders, Pam Hobbs answered, “Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s because of the anger I still hold toward him for not telling me when Stevie was missing, and from some of his other actions or not. But I haven’t been able to shake that feeling.”
For his part, Terry Hobbs said he’s not worried and that he has nothing to hide. With regard to the retested DNA, he said, “I’ve been told that nothing that’s going on right now is going to change a thing.”
Asked who’d given him that assurance, he replied, “Brent Davis,” the prosecuting attorney.
Davis would not comment on what Terry Hobbs said about either the reported DNA or the chance that new findings would change the case. When asked who ordered the renewed questioning by West Memphis police, he explained, “I can’t comment on anything, one way or another, as it’s still in appeals and litigation.”