West Memphis Three Set Free (Video)
Three inmates who were the subject of an HBO documentary claiming their innocence in the murders of a trio of boys were released Friday.
Damien Echols, 36, Jason Baldwin, 34, and Jessie Misskelley, 36 -- or the "West Memphis Three," as they were dubbed in the media -- were convicted as teenagers for the May 1993 killings of three 8-year-old boys from West Memphis, Ark.
Echols was on death row, while Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life terms.
The second-graders -- Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore -- had been found nude and hog-tied in a watery ditch, and the murders were said to be part of a Satanic ritual.
The case was profiled by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, and a 2000 sequel, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, both of which cast doubt on their part in the murders. Both films aired on HBO. And the filmmakers have recently produced a third installment. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is scheduled to screen in January on HBO and premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. The filmmakers are in Jonesboro, Ark., filming the hearing, which will provide a poignant ending to their trilogy.
The HBO docs sparked a nationwide movement urging authorities to re-examine the convictions. Many celebrities also got on board, including Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, the members of Metallica, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Demi Lovato and Henry Rollins, who organized a benefit album for the trio. According to a report published Friday, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and his production partner Fran Walsh have been quietly funding ongoing investigative efforts on behalf of the "West Memphis Three" for the past seven years.
The prosecution of the three teens hinged on the confession of Misskelley, who has been diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded. In 2007, the case took a turn when new DNA evidence placed a fourth, uncharged man at the scene. Still, Thursday's announcement about a potential deal with prosecutors that could set the trio free immediately came as a surprise to observers. The arrangement calls for the three defendants to plead no contest to lesser charges in return for their immediate release, according to legal sources with knowledge of the deal.
According to local reports, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were instructed to gather their belongings on Thursday after which they were transported from their cells to Jonesboro, Ark. for Friday's closed door hearing. It is the first time all three have left together and they were not expected to return, said sources.
Paradise Lost directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who also helmed Metallica's Some Kind of Monster movie, will be on hand at the Toronto Film Festival with their third doc in the "West Memphis Three" series, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. See the trailer below and for the latest on the case, head over to www.wm3.org.