tonight on "nightline," west memehis free. after johnny depp and other stars line up, calling for their acquittal, three men convicted of killing three little boys in a satanic cult ritual are set free. we have the inside story of the controversial decision to release the west memphis three. got junk? with 700 bucks and a lot of pep, he built an empire out of stuff you want to get rid of. tonighgh how he's raking in millions. and basketbrawl diplomacy.
maybe america and china should just stop playing games. this melee is just the latest example of sports diplomacy gone bad with america's 1 billion frenemies. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden d bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," august 19th, 2011. > good friday evening, all. i'm bill weir. dna evidence and johnny depp. the three convicts you're about to meet had both on their side. and that proved to be enough to set them free from prison today. but 18 years ago, when they were rebel teens in their town, accused of a gruesome, satanic murder of three young boys, dna tests weren't available and there were no celebrities around to take up their cause. here's our jim avila for our series "crime and punishment." >> reporter: it's a case so stunning, so controversial, it became a major cause celebre,
with actors and musicians like johnny depp, the dixie chicks' natalee maines, and pearl jam's eddie vedder. >> i'm here to show my support for the west memphis three. >> reporter: speaking out for the defendants. three little cub scouts hogtied and left in an arkansas didih, and three teenagers enamored with satanic rituals arrested. it made headlines all over the country, even becoming the subject of three hbo documentaries called "paradise lost." >> we were the obvious choice because we stood out. >> i didn't kill these three little boys. >> reporter: the celebrities fighting for the teens' release claim the kids were railroaded because of their mullets, dark clothes, and fascination with the occult. >> it makes me scared that, you know, this could happen to any of us. >> reporter: and it did happen. to these three young outcasts who came to be known as the west memphis three after their hometown, along the arkansas-tennessee border. damien echols, jessie misskelley and jason baldwin. teenagers then. in their mid 30s today.
convicted in what many labeled a literal witch hunt. no physical evidence against them. imprisoned for nearly two decades. >> i'm just tired. you know, this has been going on for over 18 years. >> in the beginning, we told nothing but the truth, that we were innocent, and they sent us to prison for the rest of our lives. >> reporter: but today, a bizarre final chapter. with a stunning reversal. four years after abc news first broke word of dna evidence that could exonerate them, the west memphis three walked free. >> the legal tangle that has become known as the west memphis three case is now finished. >> does anyone believe that if the state had even the slightest continuing conviction that they were guilty that they would let these men free today? >> reporter: it was 1993, the three second graders are found drowned in a ditch in west memphis. it was before arkansas could handle dna testing. no physical evidence to link the teens to the crime. >> they were the unusual kids in
town, dressed in black, they listened to heavy metal music. they were goths before goths were fashionable. and so they were easy targets. >> reporter: but one of the teenagers, jessie misskelley, borderly mentally disabled with a documented low i.q., confessed after four hours of police interrogation, implicating his friends. he would later recant, but the town was already convinced the three devil-worshipping kids were guilty. >> there seemed to be a whole scare in the community around a satanic panic. >> i hope you really believe in your masters of satan. he's not going to help you. to me, this place where i stand is like hell on earth. >> reporter: all three would go to prison. damien echols, called the ring leader, was sentenced to death row, held in solitary confinement for a decade. johnny depp became so convinced of echols' innocence he gave voice to his prison journal. >> i can't remember what it's like to walk as a human being anymore. >> reporter: then, finally, new hope. new attorneys forced the state
to perform dna tests, not available in 1993, on hair from the victims. the findings are dramatic. none of it is a match to the imprisoned west memphis three. and in fact, the dna points in a different direction. >> i don't think they would have let them walk free if they didn't understand that this would be a very powerful defense. because not only would the prosecutors have a very difficult time linking these three to the crime, the defense could very legitimately point to someone else, someone specific, and say it's more likely that he did it than my clients. >> reporter: which brings us to today. in one of the most shocking and even confusing exoneraraons seen in a u.s. courtroom, the west memphis three would be allowed to walk out of prison, but prosecutors agreed to sign off on the deal only if the defendants would plead guilty. >> guilty plea today. >> guilty. >> i am pleading guilty. >> normally a judge will say you
can plead guilty but you need to tell me what you did, you need to say that you did it. this is different. >> this is totally different. this is the defendants saying almost with a wink and a nod, yeah, we'll plead guilty, in quotes. but the reality is they're saying, we didn't do it. >> it's not perfect. it's not perfect by any means. but we can still try to clear our names. the only difference is, now we can do it from the outside instead of having to sit in prison and do it. >> reporter: in fact, it was a deal the youngest of the west memphis three first resisted, wanting to fight for total exoneration, until being reminded that damien echols had been in solitary confinement for ten years and at o o point was three weeks from execution, back in 1994. >> he didn't want to take this deal in the beginning, and i recognize and acknowledge that he did do it almost entirely for me. thank you.
[ applause ] >> reporter: for "nightline," jim avila, abc news, new york. >> powerful. our thanks to jim avila. and as tonight's show unfolds, we'd love to hear your comments. i'm @billwearabc on twitter. and just ahead, it is junk almost everybody has sitting around the house. but one man fifired out how to turn it into cash. a lot of cash. [ indistinct conversations ] wrap it up, boys. while i'm still young. ♪ two hours till bedtime. let's move it./ ooh. you do your own stunts, right? well, i -- good enough. [ male announcer ] your favorite movies right when you want them. watch unlimited tv episodes and movis intantly through your game console or other devices, all for only 8 bucks a month from netflix. they know they have guns, right?
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or creates another laptop bag or hires another employee, it's not just good for business -- it's good for the entire community. at bank of america, we know the impact that local businesses have on communities, so we're helping them with advice from local business experts and extending $18 billion in credit last year. that's how we're helping set opportunity in motion.
and you're about to meet a man who realized that in america everybody wants to get rid of their mountains of junk. once that clicked, he was en route to mountains of cash. and to explain how, here's abc's neal karlinsky. >> reporter: if it's true that one man's junk is another man's treasure, then what happens if you get everyone's junk? junk, and he wants more. king of ♪ it used to be that visions of a junk man conjured up the '70s tv show "sanford and son." >> you big dummy. >> big dummy? >> how would you like one across your lips? >> reporter: the 41-year-old scuddermore is no fred sanford. >> okay, perfect. thanks. >> reporter: he's the idea man behind 1-800-got-junk. a business that's become the starbucks of trash. his trucks are seemingly everywhere. and his company has become a classic example of a simple idea
executed to perfection. and raking in millions as a result. are you surprised this business has tatan off as it has, or are you more surprised no one thought of it first? >> it's a great question. i'm surprised nobody thought of . i'm a high school dropout, university dropout. it's such a simple idea. how did it become what it is today? >> reporter: what it is today is a $10000illion a year business. just look at the incredible growth from 1999, the company's first $1 million year, to now. 1,000 trucks, exactly like this one, spread out across the united states, canada and australia, with one simple task -- to pick up people's unwanted stuff and get rid of it. is there a difference in the junk, you know, in australia versus north america? >> i thought there would be, but there's not. we had a guy from ottawa in canada go to sydney and spend a few months working in the trucks in australia and he said, brian, it's the same junk in every single city. >> reporter: they get some
pretty weird stuff, from john wayne's actual personal bible to a truckload of denture molds. a defused world war ii bomb. a trophy from a nudist colony. 50 garden gnomes. even this live kitten tucked away inside a fridge. and 18,000 cans of expired sardines. though they didn't take a picture of that one. >> thank you for calling 1-800-got-junk. >> reporter: scuddermore showed us the call center. 9:00 a.m., and the phones are ringing off the hook. have you gotten any weird calls? >> definitely. a lady said if you can pick up a cat. i know we don't do that. >> reporter: australian calls go to this section. >> they can fit quite a bit in there when they stack it all up, nice and tight. >> reporter: where people with australian accents give them a local feel thousands of miles away. >> so what is this showing right here? >> the load. we can see we've had 781 calls come in for the day. 505 of them are sales calls. >> reporter: and it's first thing in the morning.
>> it's busy. i mean, we'll have 5,000 phone calls on our record days. >> reporter: this tidy man who doesn't even have an office at his own world headquarters started with just $700 and an old pickup truck. this is brian back then, a scrappy young guy just looking to make a buck. >> called the company the rubbish boys. started knocking on doors when i saw somebody had a pile of junk in their alley. the laneway. went and introduced myself and offered to cart it away for a fee. >> reporter: as he grew the business, he thought a catchy number like 1-800-got-junk would work better. but the number was taken and rang to of all places the idaho department of transportation. 60 phone calls later he convinced them to let him have it. he runs the company with the enthusiasm of a startup. daily office huddle is mandatory. >> b best month they've ever ha. >> nice and tight. record-setting june on three. one, two, three -- >> record-setting june!
[ applause ] >> thanks, everybody. >> reporter: despite the dirty work he makes sure all the trucks are incredibly clean, and he believes in free advertising at all costs. his own car is wrapped in his company's logo. and the trucks are left parked in prominent places as billboards when not on the job. >> what do you do with all this junk you collect? >> we take it to transfer stations, recycling depots. landfills are the last resort. 61.3% of what we haul away gets reused, donated, recycled. the goal is 75% by the end of 2014. >> reporter: the business has been getting a strange boost from a weird pop culture phenomenon. "hoarders." not just the problem, but the hit a&e show, which uses s 1-800-got-junk on their calls. >> some people it's just like clean out my entire garage. and we get to work doing it. and they're kind of watching and they're like oh, geez, i didn't even know i had that. i don't think people realize how
much they have until it's time to get rid of it. >> scudamore and his company are chasing a bottomless pit of junk, seemingly endless demand, and next up they want junk from more countries, and they're planning to invade the household and professionalize more dirty jobs that are generally a pain it get done. i've read you want to make this a billion-dollar business. >> i believe we can take our model, 1-800-got-junk, and make it a billion-dollar businene, whether itit's just in junk removal or a second brand we started called 1-888-wow-1 day painting. when you think of a home, you've got carpet cleaning, landscaping, maid services, window washing. how much do we, as north americans of consumers of just not just goods but services how much do we spend on our home? >> reporter: scudamore believes even in the toughest times opportunity is out there. long as you're not afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. >> i have trouble just standing watching. >> reporter: i'm neal karlinsky for "nightline" in vancouver.
>> just need one good idea. thanks to neal karlinsky. and coming up next, our sports beef with china goes back to the '70s. you think the scene at this basketball game was ugly, oh, be grateful it wasn't ping-pong in the '70s. hey, check it out. she's using the mr. clean magic eraser bath scrubber. i've heard of it, but i haven't seen one up close. what's the word around the sink? that it removes 3 times more soap scum per swipe, and it came from outer space. it is not from outer space! no, man, it's from outer space. they're aliens on an intergalactic cleanliness mission.
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you've got to wonder what would happen if he and chairman mao split a six-pack and rolled a few flames. if recent history is any judge, they may have ended up rolling around on the lane there. but yesterday's basketball game in beige inspired a very brief history of u.s.-china sports relations. an american basketball institution travels to a hoops-crazed land. it seemed like a diplomatic slam dunk, a good will diversion as china's state-run paper scolds us for our debts and politics. as the pentagon wonders why they suddenly need that new aircraft carrier. as vice president biden drops by beijing to make nice with their presumed future leader. but when the bayi rockets and the georgetown hoyas took the floor, all that good will turned into punches and kicks. flying water bottles and menacing folding chairs. it's just the latest example of sports imitating life. our relationship with china
played out in parallel. 1971. relations were completely frozen until a u.s. table tennis team broke the ice. it was a huge turning point, best described by forrest gump. >> they decided the best way for me to fight the communists was to play ping-pong. we were the first americans to visit the land of china in like a million years or something like that. >> reporter: a year later president nixon went to beijing, and our relations changed forever. as china's stature grew on the world's stage, so did their sensitivity. taiwan dominated the little league world series with 17 champions over the years, but of course china considers taiwan their island. and with enough political pressure, the little boys that show up in williamsport each year are now known as chinese taipei. we all remember how brandi chastain sank the hearts of a billion soccer fans with her world cup-winning kick in '99. though some may have taken comfort in the probability that nike sports bra was made in
china. the amereran businessman who complains about the chinese habit of skirting the rules with pirated copyrights and cheap knockoffs may not have been so shocked when it was revealed that underage gymnasts won the bronze medal for china in sydney. ten years later, that medal was stripped and given to america. 2002, yao ming was drafted by the houston rockcks, immediately becoming the league's tallest player. a 7'6" metaphor for a nation on the rise. and while chairman mao may have used a military parade to flex that country's might, it was the stunning opening ceremonies of the 2008 beijing olympics that showed the world their capability. and breaking america's three-game string of most gold medals, that didn't hurt, either. so today these two monster nations are joined at the economic hip. they need us to buy their stuff. we need them to float ou