This gripping film is about what appears to be a gross injustice in a deeply flawed trial of three teenagers who have become known as “The West Memphis Three”.
When three little boys aged eight were brutally murdered in 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas, the teenagers, all known to the police, were picked up within hours and charged with murder.
In an atmosphere of public outrage, fuelled by the press with suggestions of satanic rituals and drugs, the three teenagers were tried and convicted in 11 hours.
Damian Echolls, 16, deemed to be the leader, was sentenced to die by lethal injection. Jessie Misskelley, 17, and Jason Baldwin, 18, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The film poses many questions about a legal system which allows such a trial to occur and such an incompetent police investigation to go unchallenged.
The first appeal, in 1994, was thrown out by the judge who conducted the trial. Since then the case has had huge media coverage, in four films, four books and many discussions in the press and TV – and a major Hollywood feature film to come in 2013.
The making of this film, directed by Amy Berg, followed a three-part documentary called Paradise Lost, which appeared on HBO in 1996. It was viewed by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh who with the help of actor Johnny Depp, singer/songwriter Eddie Vedder, the Dixie Chicks and many other celebrities financed further investigations which led to the discovery of new evidence.
All three convicted men had had previous run-ins with the police. They all had poor and dysfunctional family lives.
Damien Echols had serious mental problems, an interest in witchcraft, long hair and wore black clothes. He had spent time in a mental institution.
His friend Jason Baldwin had been charged with vandalism and petty crime but had no criminal record.
Jessie Misskelly was not a close friend of the other two. He had an IQ of 72 and it was largely his confession, given during 12 hours of interrogation by the police, which led to the guilty verdict. His family had been involved with selling drugs and his father had done time in prison.
The three served 18 years and 78 days in prison before they were released in August 2011 under something called the Alford Plea, which peculiarly allowed them to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence.
By pleading guilty they avoided the State dragging out their incarceration for up to another 5 to 10 years. If they were eventually acquitted the State would be liable to pay up to $60 million in compensation and elected officials’ careers would be affected.
If they are innocent the perpetrator of the crime is still free and cannot be charged.
Echolls married Laura Davis while he was in prison and looks forward to a career in writing and visual art. He has written a book called “Life After Death” published by Blue Rider Press.
Baldwin works for a construction company and is interested in a law career and learning to draw.
Miss Kelley is engaged to be married and enrolled to become a motor mechanic.
There are many hours of information on the internet about The West Memphis Three which has kept me from doing little else for the last two days!
The film runs for 147 minutes and opens at the Luna, Leederville on February 14.