Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hanging with a murderer

Last night I sat in a darkened theatre with a convicted murderer.  I even paid for the privilege.  Along with 799 other people.  You'd think that would be scary, but it wasn't because even though this man spent 18 years in prison for the crime, I don't believe he did it.

About 16 years ago I stumbled upon an outstanding documentary, Paradise Lost.  It told the story of three teenage boys in West Memphis who were accused of murdering three seven-year-old kids.  The case brought against them was ridiculous from the start, based primarily on the fact these kids wore black clothes and listened to heavy-metal music.  Obviously they were Satanists and the murders were ritualistic killings.  Yeah, right....

Over the years the original film makers have been back to make two more Paradise Lost documentaries and the West Memphis Three have gained support from people all over the world who believed in their innocence and fought to get them out of prison and off death row.  Late last year, in what has to feel like the worst kind of victory, they were set free. But they had to plead guilty to the crimes they didn't commit under what's known as an Alford plea.

Last night I was honored and privileged to be in a theatre with Damien Echols, the only member of the West Memphis Three to have been sentenced with the death penalty for a screening of the new film about the case, West of Memphis.  Alongside Damien was his wife, Lorrie who has been tireless in her pursuit of justice, and the film's producer, one Peter Jackson.

It was fascinating to hear them all speak, especially Damien because I have followed the case and his story ever since I saw that first documentary and came out feeling utterly outraged by the lack of justice.   It's incredible to see him out of prison, walking about and talking about the experience he's had.  I can't imagine how strange it must be to come from total isolation in jail into the real world again.  Talk about culture shock!

Hmmm...  Maybe I just had an idea for a new book....


  1. Yeah, I am familiar with this case. I used to be for the death penalty, and at times I still am. I just have an unease when people die knowing that they may well be innocent. Texas has freed many people from Death Row based upon previously un-submitted DNA proof. I just wonder how many have died that were innocent.

    One thing you can be sure of, those guys don't stand a chance in Memphis at all. Police have a hard on for ex-cons whether they were guilty or not.

  2. Wow, this would make a great idea for a book. It's such an interesting story.

  3. I spent many years in Memphis and lived there when they were released. To say that this was a big deal would be an understatement. I spoke with people who knew the victim's family and those who knew the three accused. One thing I heard from everyone was that no one felt justice was done.

    West Memphis is actually a tiny town on the Arkansas side of the river and everyone knows everyone. No one who lived there survived untouched by those murders.

  4. It certainly sounds outrageous. It's great the guy is finally out. Makes you wonder how many other innocent people are still in jail...