Last night, TADP staff along with Tennessee exonerees Michael McCormick and Paul House, attended the sold-out screening of a new documentary film, West of Memphis, at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. This was the documentary’s first post-Sundance Film Festival showing.
The documentary examines the case of the famed West Memphis Three: Damien Echols, James Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. – friends in eastern Arkansas convicted of the 1993 brutal murders of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts and friends Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers. Echols received a death sentence, while Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences. The three served 18 years in prison and then in 2010, after much publicity and celebrity support, the defendants got new hearings from the Arkansas Supreme Court when defense lawyers pointed to new DNA evidence that implicated others. The men were released this past August on the rarely used Alford plea, which allows them to maintain innocence while acknowledging that there is enough evidence for convictions.
In addition to showing the unfolding relationship between Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, who helped in the long struggle to free the men, the film takes a hard look at the faulty confessions and physical evidence that were used to convict the three teenagers, as well as the lives of the victims’ families in the aftermath of the murders and the trial. Two of the victims’ parents, who believe the three men were not involved in the murders of their sons, attended last night’s screening. Also present were James Baldwin, the defense attorneys, as well as Echols and Davis, who were co-producers of the documentary. They all took questions from the crowd after the screening along with the film’s director, Amy Berg.
Though the West Memphis Three are now free, they are still awaiting justice. The Alford plea closes the case, but does not exonerate the men. This deal not only keeps the murders on their record, but it also keeps the state from finding the real killer. Please take action now. Sign this petition urging Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe to fully pardon the three men based on their innocence.
(Photo credit: Jeanne Reasonover of The Tennessean. Before the showing of West of Memphis at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville on Thursday are: Amanda Hobbs, left; Pam Hobbs, mother of victim Stevie Branch; Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three and also a producer of the documentary; Amy Berg, West of Memphis director; John Mark Byers, adoptive father of victim Christopher Byers; Lorri Davis, Echols’ wife and another producer; and Jason Baldwin, another of the West Memphis Three.)
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