West Memphis Three Freed, with new 'Paradise Lost' Sequel to Debut in January
Paradise Lost filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were in court today to witness the stunning conclusion to a trial they’ve been following for nearly two decades, as Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley – the so-called West Memphis Three, wrongfully accused of mutilating and murdering three prepubescent boys – were set free after 18 years in prison.
The award-winning documentary series Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) spawned a worldwide movement to liberate the three, who were maligned by a conservative Arkansas community largely on the strength of rumors about their ties to “black magic” and paganism.
Set to debut on HBO in January, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will have its theatrical premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, with several festival dates to follow through the winter. The third installment will recount the entire story, from the initial arrests in 1993 through the appeals process and the uncovering of new evidence, concluding with the Three's hard-won release.
As Echols, 36, observes in the film, if not for Paradise Lost, “these people would have murdered me, swept this under the rug, and I wouldn't be anything but a memory right now."
On May 5, 1993, the bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found next to a muddy creek in the wooded Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. A month later, Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley (who is mentally disabled) were arrested, accused and convicted of raping and killing the boys. Fraught with insinuations of devil worship and allegations of coerced confessions, the case was one of the most sensational (and ultimately controversial) in the state’s history.
With the support of HBO, and private contributions from celebrity supporters including Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Peter Jackson, the filmmakers have vigorously chronicled the story for more than 18 years, hoping to raise awareness and spur debate about the events that transpired in ’93 and in the years following the convictions.
“Eighteen years and three films ago, we started this journey to document the terrible murders of three innocent boys and the subsequent circus that followed the arrests and convictions of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley,” Berlinger says. “To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.”