Injustice continues to be a highly discussed topic in many scholarly disciplines, including rhetoric and law. Scholars in both fields are exploring how language in legal discourse contributes to systematic inequality, discrimination, and unfairness--racial and nonracial. This rise in scholarly interest correlates with civic concern, as there have been many court cases in the last few decades that have captured public and media attention. One of these cases involved Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, two teenage boys who were convicted for murdering three 8-year-old boys. Echols and Baldwin were tried during the late 20th-century satanic panic, a well-documented social phenomenon in which many Americans found themselves jailed for crimes they did not commit. In Echols and Baldwin's case, the prosecution leaned on the rhetorical situation of the satanic panic, convicting the teenagers with hardly any physical evidence, few reliable witnesses, and little proof that either defendant knew the victims. Though the case was later overturned, no claims of prosecutorial misconduct were admitted as justification for a retrial. This thesis analyzes the prosecution's closing arguments with a focus on Burkean pentadic ratios. The prosecution successfully convicts the defendants by claiming that Echols and Baldwin killed the boys to satisfy satanic beliefs, which becomes the pentadic element "purpose." Other pentadic elements are always contained within or paired with this purpose, thus emphasizing and prioritizing the larger rhetorical situation, the ongoing satanic panic, to promote a sense of fear in the jury that ultimately leads them to convict. The thesis concludes by suggesting that courts consider the rhetorical situation outside the courtroom as well as within to protect others against similar miscarriages of justice.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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rhetoric, pentadic criticism, West Memphis Three, moral panic, satanic panic