A famous filmmaker is using his tools to help expunge the criminal records of three exonerated men.
The West Memphis Three were released on a plea deal last year, on August 19th. They are celebrating just over a year of freedom after serving two decades in jail, fearing lifetime jail sentences or, in the case of Damien Echols, a death sentence. Over the weekend, Peter Jackson’s new film, “West of Memphis,” about the three men was released to much press coverage.
Peter Jackson is most famous for his re-tellings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is finishing a film adaptation of The Hobbit, the first installment of which will be released later this year.
The West Memphis Three were originally tried in 1993, and the teenagers were convicted on the basis of Jessie Misskelley, Jr., who suddenly confessed to that the three murdered three Cub Scouts in Arkansas. Although the confession was seen as the big break in the case, Misskelley notoriously got several details of the murders wrong. After a widely-publicized trial, the three teenagers were convicted. Echols and Jason Baldwin continued to declare their innocence from jail, and Misskelley later recanted his confession.
The West Memphis Three may have faded into history if not for an HBO documentary in 1996, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.” The documentary drew extensive celebrity attention, which helped fund a legal defense team to fight for new evidence and a re-trial. Finally, in 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing to hear witnesses – who all have several different stories – and DNA evidence. Last year, however, a plea deal was brought up which set the three men free.
The new documentary, co-produced by Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh (also producer of Lord of the Rings), decided to make the documentary about the West Memphis Three after watching the 1996 documentary. They also became involved in the group’s defense team.
Other celebrities have become involved in Jackson’s documentary, including Johnny Depp – who has since become close friends with Damien Echols – and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
At a press conference on Sunday, Jackson said that he was not trying to leverage his celebrity status, but that he was instead spreading the word about three wrongfully convicted men. “Our involvement is born of friendship, not of responsibility,” he said.
Director Amy Berg commented on the difficulty of gathering truthful testimony from witnesses for the documentary. “[T]here were so many different truths and so many versions of reality,” she said.
The team aims for the documentary to reopen the case and clear the West Memphis Three of wrongdoing. Many people are wrongfully accused of crimes, and most people do not have celebrity help. The attorneys at Strom Law, LLC, work on both state and federal criminal defense cases. We offer free consultations to discuss the facts of your case, so contact us today. 803.252.4800.