Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelly, collectively known as “The West Memphis Three” and the subjects of HBO’s Paradise Lost documentary trilogy, have been set free after close to two decades in prison.
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were in a Jonesboro, Arkansas courthouse last Friday to document the release of the three men. The release will alter the ending of the latest chapter, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, due to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in three weeks.
Accepting a plea deal, a judge released Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly, after 18 years in prison. As teenagers, the three were convicted of the murders of three eight-year-old boys. The bodies of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were found nude and hog-tied in an Arkansas ditch.
Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly were freed after each of them entered what’s known as the Alford Plea. Under that plea, the three men can plead guilty while also maintaining their innocence. Baldwin and Echols each pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder, while Misskelly pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. Prior to today’s activity, Echols was on Arkansas’ death row for the crime.
Berlinger and Sinofsky are expected to add the footage of their release onto Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, ahead of its September debut at TIFF and HBO airing in January.
Beginning with 1996′s Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and 2000′s Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, the documentaries put the spotlight on the trio, and sparked national and international debate concerning their guilt or innocence.
Paradise Lost 3 will tell the entire story from the arrests in 1993 to the movement to get them released, to the appeals process and discovery of new evidence, to their release.
“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,” said director and producer Joe Berlinger. “To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.”
Added co-director Bruce Sinofsky, “Today, we, along with HBO, are humbled to be a part of this remarkable outcome.”
HBO will be re-airing Paradise Lost on August 29 and Paradise Lost 2 on August 30.
(Additional files by Barry Walsh)