According to The Pulse Of Radio, the “West Memphis Three” were freed on Friday (August 19) after 18 years behind bars by a Jonesboro, Arkansas circuit court judge. The three men — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. — were convicted as teenagers in 1993 of the murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. But the case was controversial from the start, with accusations that the prosecution coerced a confession from one of the men, ignored evidence in their favor and won their convictions largely on circumstantial evidence, panic in the Bible Belt region over alleged Satanic cult practices, and suspicion of the three teens, who liked to wear black and listen to METALLICA.
The case drew national attention as legal challenges were mounted against the prosecution’s case. Two of the teens were sentenced to life in prison, while Echols was given the death penalty. The three men won the support of numerous musicians and celebrities, including PEARL JAM singer Eddie Vedder, NINE INCH NAILS‘ Trent Reznor, METALLICA‘s James Hetfield, DISTURBED, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp and director Peter Jackson, who reportedly helped fund the men’s legal defense for years.
The men were released on Friday after concluding a deal with prosecutors in which they had to employ an odd legal maneuver of pleading guilty while maintaining their innocence — all so that they would not sue the state of Arkansas.
A hearing was scheduled for December to see if new evidence in the case warranted a retrial. Attorneys said a hair recovered from the crime scene and shoelaces from one of the slain boys had DNA not belonging to Echols, Misskelley or Baldwin. The items were not tested in the original trial.
Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and the DIXIE CHICKS‘ Natalie Maines were among those on hand to watch the proceedings on Friday as the men were freed.
The case also inspired the 1996 documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills”, and a 2000 follow-up, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”. A third film, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”, is due to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
METALLICA gave the filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, permission to use its music in the documentaries, which ultimately led to Berlinger and Sinofsky making the METALLICA documentary “Some Kind Of Monster”.
Berlinger said in a statement, “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. To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.”
METALLICA frontman James Hetfield showed his support for the West Memphis Three, calling their release an “amazing” outcome. “The way you dress, the things you listen to…” he said. “I can basically speak for myself, growing up, that that was just a sign of wanting to be creative and different.”