DVD+Digital: “Paradise Lost” and the agonizing story of the West Memphis Three

August 14, 2012

ImageThe disturbing saga of the West Memphis Three has been playing out for nearly 20 years now. In 1993, three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley — were tried and convicted for the horrific murder of three young boys.

The teens were accused of performing a Satanic ritual in the woods, and implicated as much for their black clothes and heavy metal records as anything else. No physical evidence tied them to the scene, and later revelations would raise multiple red flags on the trial, including suggestions of false testimony, coerced confessions and jury misconduct.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, new this week to DVD, is the third in a series of HBO original documentaries chronicling the case of the West Memphis Three. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky originally went to Arkansas in 1993 to cover a lurid and sensational trial, but soon became convinced that they were witnessing a modern day witch hunt. Their 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills was followed by a 2000 sequel Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.

The films raised such public awareness that celebrities from Metallica to the Dixie Chicks to Johnny Depp rallied to the cause. As of 2011, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley had spent 18 years in federal prison, their various appeals denied by a stubborn legal system despite mountains of new exculpatory evidence, including DNA analysis.

Last year, just weeks before Purgatory was to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the three convicted men were abruptly released from prison thanks to an obscure legal maneuver.

The DVD release of Purgatory is like an overflowing case file on the story of the West Memphis Three. The film itself includes footage from the previous two installments, as well as an epilogue covering the events of last year. There’s also a collection of previously unreleased footage; a panel discussion with Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley; and a recent interview with the filmmakers.

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