The documentary by the prestigious Twenty Twenty program leaves British TV viewers wondering about the state of the American justice system.
The investigation starts with the death in 1987 of two boys, Don Henry and Kevin Ives, on the railroad tracks near Mena. Their death was ruled an accident by the Clinton-appointed state medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak. But Kevin's mother, Linda Ives, knew that the official report didn't add up. After fighting the Arkansas justice system for several years she won exhumation and reautopsy. An out-of-state examiner said the cause of death was clear: murder by beating and stabbing before they were placed on the railroad tracks.
The murder case was assigned to police investigator John Brown: "When I first reviewed the case file, I found a lot of things missing...crime scene photographs were gone, the list of evidence was gone, interviews were cut short. From 1987 until 1993 no one ever went out and talked to the people who lived by the tracks. It was never intended for this case to be solved," John Brown told the British interviewer.
As the British narrator explains it: "What John Brown discovered was an extraordinary trail of evidence that led from the tracks to the Mena airport. From interviews with Mena pilots, he pieced together a very different story of what happened to the boys that night....They were hunting deer. They had no idea that the tracks were used by Mena pilots as a site for dropping off drugs and money, and that a drop had gone missing three nights previously, causing panic at Mena."
John Brown continues: "The concern wasn't the $400,000 in the [container]; it was the transmitter that was in the case that everyone was concerned with because it was trackable, and it would track them right back to Mena, Arkansas.... What these kids walked into was a group of law enforcement officials and drug dealers that were waiting to see who walked up onto their drop site.... They were chased down, and they were taken to another location. They were beaten and held. From that they were taken and then killed. They were taken back and their bodies were placed on the tracks in hopes that all evidence of the murder would be distorted by the train mangling the bodies."
Brown didn't get very far with his investigation. He was summoned to the sheriff, Judy Pridgen, and told "John, look, you're going to have to leave this alone. We're going to...shut it down. You will interview no one who tracks this case back to Mena."
John Brown resigned the next morning.
[Printed in the November 6, 1995 issue of the Washington Weekly]