In March of last year I watched & wrote a blog about the Paradise Lost triology of documentaries about the triple murder of 3 little boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the trial of the 3 teenagers who were accused of the murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys in 1993. he boys on trial for the crime were Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. Damien (then 18 ) was close friends with Jason (16) and they both knew Jessie (17) but were not close with him. They were accused of killing 3 8 years olds – Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch – whose bodies were found in a ditch in a wooded area of West Memphis called Robin Hood Hills.
2012 also saw the release of another documentary, West Of Memphis, produced by Peter Jackson and Damien Echols, directed by Amy J. Berg, and released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics. Just like the other documentaries, West Of Memphis follows the case of the the triple murders but this time, it was made after the release of the WM3, hence there was more input from Echols in particular. Jackson & his partner Fran Walsh became interested in the case in 2005, financing much of the investigation covered by the movie and bringing in its director, Amy Berg ( Deliver Us From Evil). A key figure is Lorri Davis, who read about the case and contacted Echols. She became deeply involved in the defense effort, eventually marrying Echols.
The documentary is almost 2 & a half hours long and again shows us the location of the murders, the initial reports and the trials that led to the WM3 being convicted for the murders. As one critic puts it the film shows us “”a devastating account of police incompetence, civic hysteria and prosecutorial behavior that was totally at odds with a vastly persuasive body of evidence uncovered in a privately funded investigation.” The latter half of the film also focuses on Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of the victims of the 1993 crime, as a potential suspect due to physical evidence linking him to the crime and damaging statements made by his ex-wife, former neighbors, and most recently his own nephew, who claims Hobbs confessed to him. Hobbs also has a friend of his, supposedly his alibi, break down on camera as the alibi shows to be fragile. The film also has a lot interviews with the lawyers, , judges, journalists, family members, witnesses, and the West Memphis Three themselves. The West Memphis Three were released from prison in April 2011, but there was a catch. They were required to enter Alford pleas, which means that they asserted that they did not commit the acts they were accused of but admitted that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them. That is a bitter victory.
What you will also see are the celebrities who helped get the case into the public eye by putting their support behind it – in particular Natalie Maines (The Dixie Chicks), actor Johnny Depp, Henry Rollins & Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam). They also participated in a 2010 benefit concert for the WM3. After their release we see the 3 men celebrating with their families & loved ones. Jesse goes to his parents place and hugged his family & relatives and they had a big barbecue. ince his release, he has become engaged to his high school girlfriend and enrolled in a community college to become an auto mechanic. Jason Baldwin, met a close friend of his from childhood, and who kept visiting him all these years, in a hotel room and they celebrated with food. He has stated that he plans on enrolling in college to become a lawyer helping wrongfully convicted persons prove their innocence.Baldwin stated in an interview with Piers Morgan that he now works for a construction company and he is learning how to drive. Since his release, Echols has published a non-fiction book about both his childhood and incarceration, Life After Death (Blue Rider Press, 2012), which includes material from Echols’ previous memoir entitled, Almost Home: My Life Story Vol. 1, self-published while still in prison. Echols has relocated to Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and has no intentions of returning to Arkansas. In an interview with Piers Morgan, he stated that he would like to have a career in writing and visual arts.
If the West Memphis 3 are innocent, which seems to be the case, who in fact killed those 3 boys?