I recently sat down to watch a documentary made by HBO called Paradise Lost 3. I often scroll through Netflix and YouTube for documentary suggestions and in light of the new film ‘Devils Knot’ starring Reese Witherspoon, being released in upcoming months, I decided I would give it a watch. Being titled Paradise Lost Three I thought this may be hard to watch without watching 1 or 2. However it was the opposite, the documentary was informative and had my attention every step of the way.
The documentary explores the serious injustice of the West Memphis Three. This story took America by storm for years however didn’t take off in any other countries. It began in 1993 when three young boys went missing in West Memphis. The whole town were devastated and frightened when it was discovered the boys had been tied up, beaten and murdered. The people of West Memphis needed an answer so they turned to three supposed “Satanists”. Damien Echols , Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin.
Jessie Misskelley suffered slight mental disabilities and after 14 hours of questioning a confused Misskelley confessed to the murder of the children alongside Echols and Baldwin. 40 minutes of tape was produced in the court case and this seemed to be enough for the three to each get life in prison and Echols and Baldwin sentenced to capital punishment. Over the years people began to discover that what happened to the three young boys was completely unjust. Even the parents of the murdered children did not believe they had done it.
HBO began the Paradise Lost series of documentaries which publicised the issue and they gained a huge amount of support by doing so. All around America people wanted to free the West Memphis three. The boys had been wrongly convicted because of the way they looked and because of their beliefs and many people felt strongly about this, in particular those in the public eye. Johnny Depp reached out to Damien Echols saying he too was made feel different because of the way he looked and he could relate to his discrimination. The country band the Dixie Chicks also joined the campaign to free the West Memphis three. With famous faces to the cause it was becoming a bigger issue and they now had the support to force the state of Memphis for another trial.
After years of new evidence, suspects and neighbours speaking out the state of Memphis gave Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin an ultimatum in 2011. Having served 18 years in prison they could plead guilty and walk free under the Alford Guilty Plea or serve further years in prison awaiting a retrial with no promise the trial would be successful. The three men took the guilty plea and on August 19, 2011, they walked free.
It’s hard for us to comprehend such a grave injustice in the world. And even harder to think about what might have been if these men hadn’t have pleaded guilty. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel because the three men have returned to their families and today almost three years later they are still adjusting to their freedom and normal life. Jason Baldwin proposed to long term girlfriend in November 2013 and is now set to be married. Damien Echols is still happily married with Lorris Davis whom he met while he was behind bars in 1999. and Jessie Misskelley now lives with his happy family.