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Back in 1996, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set out to
make a documentary for HBO on the West Memphis 3 three teenage kids
that were accessed of murdering three 8-year-old boys and sentenced to
life imprisonment with one of the teenagers been given the death
The documentary focused on the questionable evidence and lack of thorough police investigative work that lead to their incarceration and hit such chords with the American public that soon celebrities such as Johnny Depp were championing the cause in an attempt to get the three boys a new trial.
Four years later, Berlinger and Sinofsky followed-up their story with Paradise Lost: Revelations which was a more biased account of the teenager's innocence and used new information and footage to help promote their cause.
Fifteen years later, Berlinger and Sinofsky finish the trilogy with Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory that takes one final look at the teenagers that have grown into 30-year-old adults in prison for a crime that lacked the forensic evidence to convict if put on trial today.
Paradise Lost 3 opens in 1994 and we get the hard-to-watch actual crime scene footage of the three naked 8-year-old boys who were left hogtied with shoelaces in a small wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills.
With pressure from the media and the increasing tension amongst residents of the town, authorities soon charged teenagers Jason Baldwin, Jessie Miskelly and Damien Echols with murder and sentenced two of them (Baldwin, Miskelly) to life in prison without parole and Echols with the death penalty. The case was built upon their association with each other and loose allegations that the three were part of a satanic cult thanks to their preferred dark clothing and various graffiti and doodles of skeletons that were part of the group dynamic.
Although not as engrossing as 1996's Paradise Lost, Purgatory again presents its case of innocence by interviewing or taping experts in their fields discuss the case and with a 2007 re-examining of the evidence by authoritative members of their fields (DNA, forensics etc). Scattered interviews from 1994 through 2010 help assert that justice may not have been done and that stubborn individuals who had involvement in the case provided the judicial roadblocks to impede any progress.
Paradise Lost 3 spends a bit more time in an assumption of another potential murderer of the three boys and they are fueled by celebrities Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and even a member of the Dixie Chicks in their attempts to have new evidence presented and justice served.
Paradise Lost 3 wrapped filming in August 2011 three days later, the Memphis 3 were released from prison on a lesser charge that does not clear their innocence. Berlinger and Sinofsky informed the sold out crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival that we will be the first and the last to see this theatrical version as a new ending has since transpired (which drew a loud applause from the agreeing audience).
One of the real tragedies of the now trilogy of Paradise Lost films is watching three teenage boys age while in prison. They have missed out on an entire life's worth of experiences (one did get married while incarcerated to a female fan) and we can only hope that a follow-up film 10 years from now shows us how the three were able to assimilate back into society and become everything that they should and could have been had they not been wrongly accused.
American documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinosfsky's
third documentary feature about the The Robin Hood Hills Murders which
took place in West Memphis, Arkansas in USA in early May 1993, was
preceded by "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills"
(1996) and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000). It premiered in the
Real to Reel section at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival in
2011 and is an American production which the directors co-produced with
producer and director Jonathan Silberberg.
In 1993, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley Jr, 16-year-old Jason Baldwin and 18-year-old Damien Echols were arrested for the murder of three eight-year-old boys named Michael Moore, Steve Branch and Christopher Byers. The killings were initially perceived as some kind of satanic ritual and due to Damien Echols listening to the hard rock band Metallica, dressing in black clothes and being interested in occultism, many of the inhabitants in the populated city in Crittenden county regarded him as a devil worshiper and a ringleader which made him a probable suspect in their eyes. Almost two decades years later these three boys who became known as The West Memphis Three are revisited by the two brave filmmakers who after learning about their case eighteen years earlier decided to make a documentary that would shed light on the city of West Memphis, it's inhabitants, it's law enforcement and how the faith of three young boys who a witness claimed to have seen on that spring day in 1993 with the three victims was sealed by a society who whilst afflicted by a bestial crime, blinded by vengeance and in need of a scapegoat started a witch-hunt.
Some justice might exist after all in this "lost paradise" which contains interviews with people from both sides, and that thanks to all those who recognized the obvious miscarriage of justice that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky managed to document, went out of their way to support Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin, became activists in the name of justice and saved the lives of three young men who in the worst case scenario could have ended up as the three innocent young boys who were deprived of their lives in a very horrific way.
This scrutinizing documentary which is as judicial as it is humane, leads this shocking, provocative and heartrending true story which gained worldwide recognition in the late 1990s closer to the truth, and confirms the invaluable importance of critical journalism and documentary filmmaking. A commendable, poignant and to a certain extent liberating non-fictional feature about solidarity, survival and human greatness which shows how much people are willing to do and how far they are willing to go for the sake of someone else.
Never has a documentary possessed a title of incorruptible, divine
accuracy. We've reached a point in time where the West Memphis Three
case was in limbo, or purgatory if you will. There was nothing to
really say, and making another documentary would inevitably recap what
we already know. The case wasn't moving very fast at all, and the
numerous appeals requested by the three were never met by Judge
The murders of three second graders, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, in May 1993 was horrific and shocked the entire quiet community of West Memphis, Arkansas. It was proved that belief in Satanism was occurring, and the town was hellbent and frustrated to find the heartless brutes responsible for such a heinous, unforgivable crime. Jessie Misskelley Jr. was arrested and interrogated for over twelve hours with no parent or attorney present in the room. Possessing an IQ of only 72 made it very clear that the response we were going to get would be shaky and murky. Only the last forty-five minutes or so were recorded on tape and went on long enough to show Misskelley had contradicted himself on when the murders took place.
During the confession, Misskelley claimed to be involved with Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, two other West Memphis teenagers. Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley were all arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison and Echols was placed on death row. However, years after their conviction new evidence came forth - bite marks on one of the victim's heads. The three took bite impressions, none of them matching the bite marks on the boy's forehead.
After being denied numerous appeals in the state of Tennessee, the men finally applied for a hearing with the new evidence in the Arkansas Supreme Court. A new hearing would be set for December 2011. Though unexpectedly, in August 2011, the prosecutors and the defense lawyers negotiated a plea that would let the men be released from prison if they pleaded guilty but could maintain their innocence. They accept and now are free on the streets after serving 18 years and 78 days.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory spends about forty-five minutes recapping the events that occurred in the first two documentaries, then works around the details developed in present day. We get well conducted interviews with all three men again, and we see how greatly their personalities and attitudes have changed towards the world around them. Jason Baldwin, who didn't speak all that much in the first two films, says some of the most compelling lines in Purgatory. One of them being "Our trial was guilty until proved innocent." Just sends a shiver up your spine.
I've been saying all along that the trial of the three boys seemed to act more on impulse and personality traits of the boys rather than hardcore, indisputable evidence from the crime scene.In Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, the film danced around the fact that Christopher Byers' stepfather, John Mark Byers, might've had something to do with the murders. He is eerie in appearance, outspoken, and very suspicious on camera. Not to mention, he changes his story multiple times on his whereabouts and his false teeth during the time of the murders.
To make a dirty sea even gloomier, Purgatory offers another option that Terry Hobbs, Stevie Branch's stepfather, could've be involved in the murders. His hair was found on one of the shoestrings used to hogtie one of the boys up, and his story, like Byers', changes drastically throughout the film. It's shocking, scary, and sometimes seemingly incorruptible in presentation.
The more I watched of each film the more I grew sympathetic and fond of the three accused. They seem like intelligent people stuck in a merciless and unfair situation. Echols, my favorite of the three, is intelligent yet eclectic - a good trait in many adolescents. Sadly, it got him in a boatload of trouble. More trouble than one could possibly imagine.
This marks the possible end to what could very well be some of the greatest, deepest, most personal and up close documentaries ever captured on film. Paradise Lost isn't only focusing on a largely unfair case, but it is showing the dangers and horrors of a biased system during a serious trial. Not to mention, when finally released they are still baring an essence of guilt. That is not right. Justice did not prevail for these poor kids. They're free, sure, but are they fully innocent? That's another question.
Starring: Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin. Directed by: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I gotta say that I heard nothing about this horrific story until I was bored on my couch flipping through channels. Saw that they were showing the 1st 2 docs on HBO so I dvrd them. I was sucked into this story and for a while couldn't decide who to believe. I related to the kids in the whole being an outcast thing, but also found myself wondering how I would react if in the victims parents shoes. In my opinion, the people in this southern town are absolutely nuts. For those who've seen it know what I'm talking about. The sentences that came outta the mouths of these people had my jaw to the floor. I'm not a religious man and have no problem w/ others and their beliefs, but DAMN!!!! I've never heard verbal hellfire like this. Pretty funny actually and I definitely felt smarter after watching it all. Worth checking out unless you're easily offended by off the wall religious hoopla. Oh and yes, graphic crime scene photos are included and not recommended for weak stomachs, just a warning.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First of all, I felt really sorry for John Mark Byers. He lost his
child, then his wife, then all the health issues. But he still kept
fighting. Despite his theatrics, I really felt sad for him because he
reminded me of how hysterical my own father was on death of my mother
That said, I saw these movies without know anything about these murders or the fact that the three convicted were released later on. So, believe me when I say that Terry Hobbs from the moment I saw him in first movie, acted shady as f**k. He showed no remorse at all, not even enough to hold his wife or console her properly when she was crying. His behavior kept bothering me and lo and behold, the third movie finally shows us why. He's nothing but a psychopath.
But the worst part is, he'll go scott free. Because of the incompetence of the cops who couldn't be arsed with doing their jobs properly.
The filmmakers return to update the case of the West Memphis Three. In
1993, three boys Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers
were murdered in the woods. In 1994, three older boys Damien Wayne
Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were convicted for those
crimes. The first half of this movie basically recaps the first two
documentaries. John Mark Byers, stepfather of Christopher Byers, makes
peace with Echols and is now convinced of their innocence. In turn,
Echols apologizes for accusing John. For me, the most damning is the
accusation against the jury foreman Kent Arnold. There is new DNA
evidence against Terry Hobbs, Steve Branch's stepfather, but it's not
that convincing for me. The Three is able to win a legal victory and
after their judge moved on as a State Senator, the guys finally
accepted an Alford plea essentially guilty but maintaining their
Is this justice? It's hard to say. The most obvious problem for the justice system and this movie as a drama is that nobody is in prison for the boys' murders. For a documentary, that's always the limitation. The real world doesn't always have a neat happy ending. They are able to point the finger at Terry Hobbs but the second movie pointed the finger at Byers. There is nothing done against the various people who did harm against justice in this case. It is able to wrap up the odyssey of the West Memphis Three but justice for the murders may never be done.
Certainly an interesting documentary about the high-profile case of the
West Memphis Three (Baldwin, Echols, Misskelley), convicted of killing
three young boys in eastern Arkansas in 1993. The documentary takes the
side of the defense, in saying the three teenagers (WM3) were
railroaded through based on flimsy evidence. The verdict in 1994 was
probably unjust, given the general absence of forensic evidence at the
time. More recently, DNA evidence shows no DNA connection between the
three teenagers and the three young victims. On the other hand, the
program excludes some of the prosecution's case, which shows blatant
bias on the part of the program's producers.
In contrast, bias appears much more pronounced in the legal system in 1993, and included police coercion, sloppy police work, and obvious jury misconduct, among other problems. The small town of West Memphis was overwhelmed with emotional hysteria of family and neighbors, all wanting revenge for the killings. The police were out to convict the easiest target, and the prosecutor wanted a quick win, and was facilitated by a judge who was anything but unbiased. No DNA testing was available back then.
At one point in the program, Misskelley says he was at a Dyess, Arkansas wrestling match at the time of the murders. So how is it that the prosecutor was able to convince a jury that Misskelley was guilty? Instead of answering the alibi question, the program proceeds down a different investigative avenue.
That is one glaring problem in a program that overall does not flow well. It jerks back and forth between people and time periods. There are so many people involved in this case, it's hard to keep track of names and faces. I also didn't like the inclusion of Hollywood celebrities who, despite their lack of involvement in the original trials, think they can determine the three guys' innocence via superficial arguments and secondary sources, which reeks of celebrity arrogance.
Despite the documentary's biased point of view in favor of the WM3, and despite how the program is put together, it is worth watching. By inference, it shows how the jury system is rigged against a defendant in a murder trial. In the future, one would hope that juries will be outlawed, and replaced by forensic evidence only, correctly obtained and tested, that proves innocence or guilt. Having hysterical people render life and death decisions based on the games lawyers play is truly frightening.
A powerful, if frustrating, conclusion to the Paradise Lost films which
chronicle the extremely questionable conviction of 3 high school aged
young men for the horrible murder of three little boys. Despite the
fact that the case against the three was absurdly weak, seeming to be
based as much on the idea that they acted 'strange', or listened to
heavy metal music as in any hard evidence (the strongest 'evidence'
being a recanted confession given by one of the young men with an IQ of
72, who was questioned without council for 12 hours, and with no
recording or transcripts of what went on in the first 11 hours. And
even then, the confession was full of factual mistakes).
This third film picks up with the men having been in prison for 15 years, and finally moving towards possible exoneration under pressure on the Arkansas justice system from across the country and even the world. Mostly the film focuses on the uncovering of yet another possible 'real' killer (although the 2nd film also did so and pointed convincingly at the wrong man, showing just how hard it is to ever fully know the truth). It also shows the lengths to which those involved in the first trial, especially the judge, put their own reputation and their inability to admit error, or even questions, above a search for true justice.
The film has it's flaws; it spends a lot of time re-capping the story, and never seems to acknowledge how confusing the issue of guilt is, as the 2nd film showed in seeming to point at the wrong man for being 'weird', just as the trial did with the 3. Also the dramatic conclusion feels tacked on and incomplete not the fault of the filmmakers, as much as of timing. The film was essentially done when the directors had to race to Memphis to film a climax that ended up more like an epilogue than it should.
But this is an important document of just how easily the legal system can fail when prejudice and self-interest come into play as they will continue to do as long as we are human and frail creatures.
This film is recommended.
The third installment of this documentary continues to explore the ever-changing case and testimony of three convicts who were convicted as teenagers in the brutal killing of three young boys in Arkansas. Due to the dedication and research of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky ( and recent DNA evidence ), the case was overturned and the three man were set free after nearly twenty years of incarceration.
Some background exposition: Known as the Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin were three wild teenagers back in 1994. The town and jury all but convicted them by their Goth appearance and love of heavy metal music. Questionable witnesses and a shaky confession obtained by police from one of accused sent them to prison.
Berlinger and Sinosky persevered, as did others who feel that the verdict was unjust. Thus, their first documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations kept the story and the hopes of the Memphis Three alive. This final chapter, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, brings this sad tale to a close.
While the film uses newsreel footage of the crime and court testimony, plus endless interviews with the accused killers and family members and townsfolk, the documentary tries to remain objective, but never really does achieve that status. The film presents allegations of jury misconduct and uncovered DNA samples that can link a family member to the crime, but it never investigates those findings with much clarity. ( The film also could have been more effective if it included more of the aftermath once Echols, Misskelly, and Baldwin were released, observing their individual choices once freed. )
Still, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory does show the power of the documentary genre and the diligent efforts of the filmmakers to make a difference in the outcome of injustice. The tragic events that grew out of this heinous crime still linger with the families. ( One of the parents of the murdered boys asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science to remove the documentary from consideration as they say the film glorifies their son's killers. The film remained in competition and is nominated for Best Documentary. ) Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will linger with you too. GRADE: B
NOTE: Visit my movie blog for more reviews: www.dearmoviegoer.com
There are some pretty eyeopening realizations raised by this case of
the Memphis Three but for me these are poignantly tucked away in the
first film. That one really was a searing depiction of ignorance and
delusion worthy of Herzog, in large part because it was unfolding 'now'
in some backwoods court that was deciding the lives of kids.
This has an altogether different aim. It presses a case that had by then garnered wide traction, attempts some investigative journalism about who really did it and offers a summation of a fight that was justly won, however late for these people. It was the third film at this point, everyone by now looks more accustomed to the presence of the camera, more self-conscious about us being there to see. It has closure and a moral.
So it doesn't feel like we are catching ignorance unawares and seeing it as it mangles lives. I see instead an article about how terrible it is. I'm glad that it documents what it does of course, dismayed at the redneck judge who is now in the state senate, but that's it.
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