Gruhamed on the West Memphis Three
- Posted by Graham "Gruhamed" Hartmann on August 19, 2011
On February 5th, 1994, Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were convicted of the murders of three young children in the "Robin Hood Hills" area of West Memphis, Arkansas. The media frenzy took off immediately as the police and locals of the area started to attribute the murders to a "Satanic" ritual sacrifice. West Memphis police were scrutinized by the local Christian public and rushed to plaster a face onto the evil lurking within their town. The police found their pariahs in three teenagers who questioned authority, listened to Metallica and dressed in black. They were dubbed the West Memphis Three. The crimes spawned the critically acclaimed documentary, Paradise Lost. Originally meant to simply cover the trial, the filmmakers began to construct a feature-length investigative report as inconsistencies and strange events began to reveal themselves. After numerous appeals, public outcry, benefit shows, a second documentary and new DNA evidence, the West Memphis Three are finally free on this day, August 19, 2011.
I remember the first time I saw Paradise Lost. It was 2006 and I was living in Sydney, Australia at the time. Having developed a taste for true crime stories, I happened to be watching Sydney's version of TruTV when the film was shown very late into the night. Being an angst-ridden teen myself, I felt a strong connection with the Three, particularly 18 year-old Damien Echols, who came off as highly intelligent, eloquent and gentle. The film left me feeling disenchanted with the justice system and the religious right; mentally numb as I saw reasonable doubt ignored while fear and ignorance were embraced.
I followed the multiple appeal attempts at www.wm3.org, a website run by a group dedicated to heighten public awareness of the case and to raise defense funds for the Three. The group also offered contact information for the WM3, encouraging the public to write letters of support to each prisoner. (I wrote 2 letters to Damien Echols and sent $20 so he could buy food and supplies from the prison grocery). I also bought Almost Home, a beautifully written autobiography by Echols, penned while he was still on death row. An unusual wisdom filled each of the 168 pages, including one of my favorite quotes:
Love is like a vase, once it shatters it CAN be put back together, but it is never the same
So after 5 1/2 years of compulsively checking WM3.org, I finally found the words I have been dying to read:
The WM3 are Free!
Thank you so much to everyone who has made this day possible; the defense lawyers, the musicians and promoters of every benefit show, the countless public figures who spoke out, the producers of Paradise Lost 1 & 2 and especially the people at WM3.org. Because of you Jesse Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols have been given a second chance. I wish them a long and fulfilling live outside of media scrutiny, and I hope Damien Echols can finally find his vision of home.