August 19, 2011

The West Memphis Three, Subjects of 'Paradise Lost' Trilogy, Released from Arkansas Prison

As reported in indieWire and Deadline, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelly, subjects of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) and its 2000 follow-up, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations-were  released from an Arkansas prison today, after serving 18 years for the 1993 murders of three children. The Arkansas District Attorney made the announcement.  The three defendants registered an Alford plea--admitting guilt, while maintaining their innocence. Berlinger and Sinosky were readying Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory for its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month when they heard the news. The New York-based filmmakers  flew down to Jonesboro, Arkansas this morning to film what will be a new, happy ending--the hearing and subsequent liberation of the so-called West Memphis Three.

The three were convicted of murder, despite a lack of physical evidence and allegations of Jury misconduct. DNA evidence subsequently recovered at the crime scene failed to match that of the three defendants.

"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 Misskelly," Berlinger said in a statement. "To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for."

The final installment of the Paradise Lost trilogy will air in January on HBO, which aired the first two films.

As Berlinger explained to Deadline's Mike Fleming, it was the Internet in its nascent stages as a social media mechanism that helped the film attract the attention of such celebrities as Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and Natalie Maines.  And according to Deadline's  Nikki Finke, it was filmmaker Peter Jackson (The Lord of the  Rings Trilogy) and his producer/partner Fran Walsh who provided substantial financial and legal support over a seven-year period.

The truth--and documentaries--can indeed set you free.