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Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
In 1993, a horrific triple child murder was discovered in West Memphis, Arkansas, but the reaction to it precipitated a horror of its own. This film follows up on the story of the three boys, called the West Memphis Three, who were convicted for this crime with questionable evidence. For years, the boys' fate sparked a mass movement striving to prove their innocence while the state is equally determined to avoid admitting it could have been wrong. Through the swirl of new evidence and suspects, the Three tell their own tale about enduring this injustice against the opinions of the victim's families in a debate that eventually came to an inadequate resolution.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Todd and Dana Moore, the parents of 8 year-old victim Michael, wrote a letter to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences asking that the film be removed from consideration. In the letter they said that the film glorifies Damien Wayne Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. Director Joe Berlinger had in fact acknowledged during an interview with salon.com that he determined Echols was innocent after speaking with him for five minutes prior to the trial. Despite the Moore's request(or perhaps because of it) the film was nominated for Best Documentary, Features for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. It lost to Undefeated (2011). See more »
Damien Wayne Echols:
If I focused on the things I can't change, the things that have hurt me, what people have done to me, then they would have already broken me. They would have killed me inside and out. I can get up in the morning and I don't feel sorry for myself, I don't hate my life. You have a lot of people in here that all they can think about is what they don't have and how much they want out and how much they want something else. But for some reason, this situation has helped me to see more of what I do ...
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The directors said that audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011 would be the only audiences to see the film in that version. The reason is that events which took place the previous month necessitated a new ending to the film. See more »
A possible closing to some of the finest documentaries ever made
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 Burnett.
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.
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