The West Memphis Three are free … what about the real killer?

April 30, 2013

from Indy Week

In 1993, three young boys were found brutally murdered in the small community of West Memphis, Ark. In the maelstrom of initial disclosures and media coverage, it was reported that the bodies found in a drainage ditch showed signs of ritual murder.

The community panicked, and within weeks three misfit teenagers were arrested for the killings. Even though no physical evidence tied Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to the scene, and they provided credible alibis, they were convicted and Echols, deemed the ringleader, received the death sentence.

ImageThe baffling, infuriating case of the West Memphis Three has been dragging on for two decades now. A three-part HBO documentary series on the case, the excellent Paradise Lost films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, raised multiple red flags regarding the trial, including suggestions of false testimony, coerced confessions and prosecutorial misconduct. Those films put such a bright light on the case that thousands rallied to the cause of the West Memphis Three, including celebrities Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp and filmmakers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson.

The new documentary film West of Memphis, produced by Jackson and Walsh and directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil), covers much of the same ground as the Paradise Lost films. About halfway through, however, West of Memphis shifts its focus. By way of new eyewitness and DNA evidence, the filmmakers make a persuasive case that the real killer is Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the murdered kids, and that he has been hiding in plain sight all along.

The film also chronicles recent developments in its last half-hour. Most importantly, it documents the decision by the state of Arkansas to release the three men from prison in 2011, on one condition: They agree to an obscure and dubious legal plea that would protect the state from any further civil lawsuits.

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