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An excellent overview of a complex and troubling miscarriage of justice
runamokprods24 November 2012
While the story of the West Memphis Three, their awful flawed trial and subsequent efforts to obtain freedom were well covered in the "Paradise Lost" trilogy of films, this single film overview has a lot of value.

Perhaps because the case can now be looked back on in total, it feels like there is a clearer focus here than in the excellent "Paradise Lost" series. There also seems to be more of an emphasis on the emotion and humanity of all the victims – the three falsely convicted young men, but also the families that lost children.

Last, the film makes some of the awful holes in the prosecution case more simple and clear than earlier accounts, as well as putting a chilling spotlight on the possible real perpetrator, but without the theatrics that harmed 'Paradise Lost 2', which seemed guilty of what the trial did to the three boys; throw suspicion on a subject largely because he 'acted weird'.

Here the investigation into another possibility feels more dispassionate and scientific, and less manipulated, leaving one with questions rather than forcing conclusions.

The world might not have 'needed' another film on the subject, but personally, I feel the more injustice can be intelligently examined and exposed the better off we are as a society.
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A riveting experience
Howard Schumann4 March 2013
Martin Luther King said, "The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice." Justice has been a long-time coming for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, three marginalized teenagers wrongfully convicted of the 1993 murders of three eight-year-olds: Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, found dead in a creek in West Memphis, Arkansas. The subject has been brought to the screen before in the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, yet the documentary West of Memphis, directed by Amy Berg and written by Billy McMillin, adds another dimension to our knowledge and understanding of the circumstances and the characters involved. It is a film of extraordinary power that has the ability to stir a range of emotions from frustration, anger, depression, to even joy.

After the victims were found beaten, bruised, and sexually mutilated, hysteria gripped the town and word circulated about the killings being the work of a satanic cult. Despite a lack of physical evidence, the accused teenagers were charged with three counts of capital murder and brought to trial. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, while Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley both received life sentences. Jesse confessed to the crime but the audio recording of Jessie's interrogation reveals that the prosecution took advantage of the mildly retarded boy by feeding him the desired answers. Soon after the verdict was handed down much to the relief of the bereaved parents and frightened residents, critics of the case began to point to serious discrepancies in the evidence.

It was also found out later that many of the visible physical injuries were caused after the children's death by turtles living in the swamp. The subsequent media attention led to a twenty-year campaign to free the inmates who become known as the Memphis 3. West of Memphis includes archival footage of the trial and press reports, a police investigation video, and contemporary interviews with victim's families, supporters of the convicted men including their attorneys, and celebrities such as Johnnie Depp, Eddie Vedder, and filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. If not for the courage and, of course, the financial support of those who fought a long battle to overturn the convictions, Damian might have been executed years ago.

Of the three convicted men, much of the film's focus is on Damian, a self-educated and highly articulate young man, describing his correspondence and subsequent marriage to New York Landscape Architect Lorri Davis. Despite the community protest and continued investigation of the case that unearthed new evidence, particularly DNA evidence, it became increasingly apparent that the justice system in Arkansas would rather perpetuate a lie than admit serious mistakes and become vulnerable to a series of damage suits. Even though he is presented with overwhelming evidence for a new trial, the original judge, David Burnett (now a state senator) refused to reconsider the case.

As a result of the continued pressure by those working for the boys' release, another suspect emerges who has never been investigated before and was the last person seen with the murdered boys. The thrust of this new lead propels West of Memphis toward a dramatic and surprising conclusion. Although some of the tactics of the investigation are open to question, such as filming a young girl's session with a psychiatrist and recording a private telephone conversation, West of Memphis is a riveting experience that suggests incidents of injustice and abuse of power such as this may be more common than we think.
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Shocking Story of Injustice
meggz39 September 2012
Alright, let me be completely honest with you about how I stumbled upon this documentary.

For most of my life, I had no idea who or what the West Memphis 3 were. I'm a 23 year old girl, living in Toronto. When these crimes were committed, I was in kindergarten likely learning how to read. So the fact I never heard of the crime never exactly surprised me. And if it wasn't for Johnny Depp, I probably would have never heard of the crimes to begin with.

I first learned about the West Memphis 3 watching a Johnny Depp interview on David Letterman. I was intrigued, looked up the case, became slightly disturbed, and unfortunately, forgot about it for a while. I hadn't actually heard about the case again until TIFF announced the final films in its 2012 program. West of Memphis sounded familiar, and low and behold, it had been the topic of the discussion in that said interview. After reading that Depp was attending and discussing the film after, I purchased the tickets.

Now I'll be honest, it may be slightly sad or pathetic, but Johnny Depp was the main reason I decided to see West of Memphis. I'm a huge fan of his work, and I had the opportunity to see him discuss a film, so of course I was getting the tickets. I realized after the film, if it wasn't for Depp I'd never even know about the West Memphis 3, and that made me realize how much the media and publicity truly helped their case. I barely knew a thing about them before I walked into the screening, but coming out, I was glad I blindly followed Depp towards it.

West of Memphis tells a true story that the world needs to hear. It's a film that I sincerely believe everyone needs to see simply so they can be aware of how cruel the justice system really can be.

he story of the Memphis 3 is eye opening, and disturbing. It's terrifying to know how badly the justice system can fail somebody. For nearly two decades Damien Echols, Jason Misskelley and Jason Baldwin sat behind bars for no real reason, while a murderer walked free. The crimes they were charged with were absolutely horrendous, and they were suspects purely because they fit a stereotype. That fact alone is just plain wrong. Facts were ignored, forensics were wrong, and three young men suffered due to the failure and lies of others. Stuff like this shouldn't happen, but yet it does. The worst part about it all is that the three men are still technically guilty. They may be free from imprisonment, but they're not innocent in the eyes of the law.

I'm not normally very big on documentaries, but I think this is an important film to watch purely because it's a crime and trial that shouldn't be forgotten. The film is over, but the story isn't. Justice hasn't been served yet, and that's something that needs to change.

For more reviews check out http://confessionsfilmaholic.blogspot.ca/
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Leaves a bitter taste in the mouth
tomgillespie20029 June 2013
The 'West Memphis 3' were first brought to my attention back in 2007/2008 when I viewed the astonishingly eye-opening documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), which I watched back-to-back with its sequel Revelations: Paradise Lost 2 (2000). The case was so fascinating due to its unbelievable revelations of the flaws in the American justice system that I was more than happy to spend over 5 enthralling hours of my night watching it unravel. Those films brought mass attention to the case, due to the fact that the three accused - Damien Wayne Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley - were so blatantly innocent of this terrible crime. I assumed justice would prevail, and it soon left my mind. So it was shocking to learn upon the release of the third instalment of the trilogy, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011), and this, West of Memphis, that these three were still in prison, 19 years after the murders, with everything from mere bureaucracy and political motivations standing in their, and thousands of others, way.

For those unacquainted with the case, back in 1993, the mutilated bodies of three young boys - Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore - were found in a stream in the Robin Hood Hills, West Memphis. With no evidence, prosecutors quickly deemed the murders a result of Satanic ritual, due to (apparently) sexual mutiliation, and sought out any locals known to practise such an art. They were given the names of three youngsters, Echols, Baldwin and Miskelley, who were known to listen to heavy metal music and act much like your typical isolated, 'gothic' teenagers. Through manipulation of the jury, and a trial by media, the three were quickly convicted (again, with no evidence against them, apart from a heavily dubious 'confession' by the borderline mentally retarded Misskelley). They were given life, with Echols possibly facing the death sentence. Interest in the case quickly gathered, due to many aspects not making any sense, and gathered support of musicians such as Metallica, Henry Rollins, Patti Smith, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. West of Memphis focuses on the fight to free the West Memphis 3, with new evidence gathered and possibly a revelation as to who the killer may actually be.

West of Memphis doesn't spend much time treading the same ground as the Paradise Lost trilogy, and quickly covers the original trial. It consists mainly of original footage, such as the lawyers and investigators funded by supporters of the West Memphis 3 and various celebrities such as the film's producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh trying to find fresh evidence in favour of the 3, and footage of the various concerts designed to raise awareness and make money. But where West of Memphis truly invigorates is the alarming case built against Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steven Branch, who was all but ignored by police in the original investigation. Paradise Lost 2 brought up the possibility of another stepfather, John Mark Byers, being the culprit, but often felt like he was a suspect due to him simply being quite strange, which seems hypocritical considering the West Memphis 3 were convicted for the same reason. But there is strong evidence against Hobbs, such as a violent past, the lack of an alibi during the time of the deaths, and his hair being found within the knot of the shoelaces to which the three boys were hog-tied with.

Above all, West of Memphis is a staunch reminder of the darkness of this case. This was a horrific crime, almost beyond belief (and the sights of the three corpses really hammers this home), and an equally disturbing path of 'justice' that followed. This is a deep, dark stain on the American justice system, where political aspirations, ignorance and outright lying stand in the way of true justice. They do walk free in the end, but not without leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. They had 19 years of their life stolen from them, yet to be free they must plead guilty to a crime everyone knows they did commit. In the eyes of the law, the West Memphis 3 are child murderers, while the real murderer walks free with a clean name. The Paradise Lost films and West of Memphis, if anything, are a testament to the power of film, along with Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line (1988), which exposed police ineptitude and helped set an innocent man free, but above all else, they are a terrifying and utterly depressing indictment of a country that needs to take a good look at itself.

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West of Memphis, a moment to remember.
aziz19893 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Life is made up of many moments whether they are good, bad, or ugly. Rarely do we ever witness a moment that hits as at our core. I was lucky enough to witness one of those moments at the screening of West of Memphis.

It was a moment in time that I'll never forget. Now if you haven't been following the case of the West Memphis Three over this past decade here's a little breakdown. Three young boys were murdered in Arkansaw in 93 and three teens labelled as the 'West Memphis Three' (Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin) were hastily convicted of the murders. However nothing really added up from the witch hunt-styled case the state bought forward to the 'encouraged' (or as I see it, forced) confession of the mildly retarded Misskelley. Echols was to take full blame and serve a death row sentence while the other two received life in prison and all because they were viewed as a little off centre making them satanic worshippers… clearly. Fast-forward a decade – along with the noted Paradise Lost documentaries, things well… still didn't make sense.

This was the story. I say was because it has long developed since then and all thanks to (ironically) another three that go by the name of Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and the director of 'West of Memphis' Amy Berg. Good things come in three? Sorry bad joke. Not only did they create this master piece of a documentary, they provided actual help in the way of defence teams, an actual authentic investigation, and an array of officials to the 'West Memphis Three' to aid in their case. This was very much a story of the filmmaker becoming an investigator and doing the job that the state of Memphis should have done all those years ago. Filmmakers – 1, Judicial System – 0.

And so this brings me to the screening. Note mild spoiler coming up. Not only were we one, viewing this amazing story in the historical Civic Theatre (which in itself was amazing), two, in the company of Sir Peter Jackson, but we had the honour of meeting the Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis (who played an integral role in story). The film was quickly followed by one of the most empowering standing ovations one could hope for and a Q and A session with Jackson, Echols, and Davis. Some questions were most certainly cringe worthy, others shared stories, but the best were the short stabs of curiosity that encouraged Echols to give us a real insight into his world. The cherry on the cake was when Echols said he wouldn't be adverse to living in New Zealand because he loved it – little kiwi pride there for you.

What an amazing man. Having served 18 years in prison on death row you would think that he would be bitter with the world having lost all faith in humanity. And you know what? In some ways he was arguably but rightfully so – at least when the Judicial system is concerned. But what we mainly saw was an intelligent, forward thinking man that could have easily crawled up in a corner hating the world but decided you know what? I've got my life back and so I'm going to live it.

That was the moment. To see that such an incredible human being come back so strong after everything he had endured. Those are the stories that make your spine tingle. Those are the stories that demand attention. Those are the stories that really do put faith back into the cruel humanity we have come to know.

The film has very explicit footage so be warned. It is approximately 2 hours and a half long, but worth every second. It serves as a statement on what humans are, what they're not, and what they can be… (See? Good things come in three's). At times you will feel despair, and then be enlightened by a strong sense of empowerment to do the right thing – all things good films are made of. The journey was rough and it was real and my emotion scale was certainly forced on a roller-coaster ride. If you've watched it you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, and if you haven't you owe it to do yourself a favour.

"Celebrity… that's not something I have thought about, I'm no celebrity… I'm living my life day by day… It's the only thing I can do… the only thing I want to do", Echols answered after being asked about his new 'celebrity' status. This was one moment in my life that I will never forget.
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trjgrubb-230-22508829 July 2012
Just saw this at the premier in Wellington. It is a great film. The events themselves are incredible and this documentary more than does them justice.

Its late in the evening and I can't go into a long review - I also think I need to let the film sink in. My initial feeling is that this is a really amazing film - it is very carefully crafted and is a deeply compelling study on justice, family, love, commitment and friendship.

My head is spinning a bit. Watching the film felt like sitting in a room with all of those involved - listening to them talk and sharing their experience. It was such a messed up crime and the subsequent events so shocking that this has left me feeling a bit shocked.
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Well made, best paired with "Paradise Lost 3"
Niklas Pivic17 January 2013
This is a great partner to "Paradise Lost 3", which is the third installment of the trilogy that makes the documentary of the West Memphis Three, e.g. three young teenage boys who were judged as murderers in lieu of the real killer(s). Where this film is at its worst too skipping in time, it makes up for in spades where tempo, humanity and questioning the bad is concerned. A slew of people are interviewed and as the film progresses, we're thrown into the arms of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys. One wonders how this could have happened, especially considering how the evidence _against_ the boys were in-place, paired with the prosecution almost having planted evidence, not to mention how the court really wanted to condemn these boys. This is a well-made documentary, but should perhaps only be seen after having delved into "Paradise Lost 3".
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Innocence Is Not Enough in Arkansas
ligonlaw21 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Three young boys were murdered on May 5th, 1993. Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers were eight-year-old neighbors who disappeared in the evening of May 5th. Their dead bodies were found mutilated. Three local teenagers were charged with the crimes and found guilty after a trial which was notable for prosecutorial dishonesty, preposterous expert evidence and a bizarre, unfounded theory of the case. The prosecutor, John Fogelmann, with an assist from the trial judge, nearly murdered an innocent teenager and ruined the lives of two more teenagers. Officials were hoping to bury their mistakes rather than go to the trouble of finding the person responsible for the slaughter of the three children.

Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. They were innocent but Arkansas refused to look at evidence which would have disproved the prosecution's theory. The incompetent judge later ran for the Senate, and the corrupt prosecutor ran for the Arkansas Supreme Court,illustrating how such unqualified men aspire to higher office.

"West of Memphis," released in 2012, is the fourth documentary on the case. That is an incredible number of documentaries on the same case, and is probably a cinematic and judicial record of some kind. The first three films were called Paradise Lost 1, 2 and 3. Every few years, documentary teams have returned to Arkansas to find what else officials got wrong.

The documentaries present a laundry list of the ways in which the Arkansas criminal justice system is flawed. Arkansas is not alone in its ability to make mistakes, but The West Memphis 3 were so clearly not guilty that it was an easy case to criticize. Police overreaching, dishonest prosecutors, and brain-dead trial judges are much more routine than we would hope, but Arkansas must be the bottom of the barrel.

The three men convicted of the crimes, though not guilty, served nearly 20 years for crimes the State of Arkansas knew or should have known they did not commit. Whenthe evidence pointed elsewhere. The State, for fear of embarrassment, allowed the killer of three children to remain free and persisted in keeping the innocent behind bars. The real killer still remains at large. The real killer was found by the documentary makers, but, Arkansas has not prosecuted him partly because the State will not admit the error.

One criminal offense by prosecutor, John Fogelmann, was the planting of a knife in a lake where it would be found by scuba divers, at a moment in time when the press were on hand to observe the retrieval of the weapon. The knife was flashed in front of the jury and used to explain cut marks on the slain children, and to convince the jury that the teens had mutilated the bodies of the children. Photographs of the mutilated bodies were shown to horrified jurors.

It was later learned that the knife brandished by the prosecutor had nothing to do with the crimes. The knife had been discarded a year before the crimes. The bodies were not touched by the knife. The cuts and wounds on the bodies came from animal bites (probably turtles) after the children were dead. A so-called expert embarrassed himself but convinced the Arkansas jury with an incredible and stupid theory of the murders. The "expert"s ignorance of forensic science was profound, and was contradicted by a panel of qualified experts post conviction - too late to prevent the injustice.

DNA testing, not available at the time of the first trials, was used in recent years to establish that the boys were not present at the murders. One of the step-father's DNA was found in hair in the rope which bound the dead boys' bodies. Much evidence was developed by the documentary makers to prove that the murderer was one of the step- fathers.

Witnesses were coerced. They lied at trial and later recanted. Piece by piece the evidence came apart, and the sham that was the trial was exposed by the documentary makers. The makers of the first documentary - "Paradise Lost- The Child Murders and Robin Hood Hills" - produced enough evidence of the wrongful convictions to exonerate the boys years ago. That film was made in 1996, and the boys were just beginning to rot away in prison in Arkansas. A number of celebrities brought notoriety to the case and its obvious wrongful convictions, but Arkansas would not be moved by reason, intelligence, or the cause of justice. Released in 2000, "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" explored a new suspect a step father by the name of Mark Byers. Byers is an odd fellow and he does strange things and he seemed a possible suspect. Byers was an odd duck, but not a murderer.

A third installment was released in 2011 called: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory." That documentary covers a lot of the same territory covered in "West of Memphis."

A disheartening aspect of the story is illustrated in the final minutes of "West of Memphis." The Attorney General of the State of Arkansas is single-minded in his pursuit of face-saving explanations for why his justice system should not be blamed. You want to say: "Give it up, Dude. You made a mistake. Own it. Apologize and move on." He does not. In trying to save face, he heaps more disgrace on Arkansas and himself.

This film is well-worth the viewing. It is a cautionary tale to the viewer. Bravo to Peter Jackson for this excellent inside look at our justice system.
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When should a documentary film maker campaign for justice, rather than simply documenting it? And where does it leave our verdict as a viewer?
MattJJW4 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
In 1993 three young boys are found in a ditch, bound and mutilated. The local police, desperate for a conviction, make a connection between the marks on the dead children's bodies and Satanic rituals. Before long suspicion falls on three local teenagers, and in particular, Damien Echols, who with his died black hair, stands out from the rest of the community. At the 1993 trial, evidence of Echols interest with Satanic symbols surfaces, which, along with a confession from Jessie Misskelley, is enough to convict all three, and in Damien's case, bring a death sentence.

Over the following 15 years, doubt over the convictions grows, and fanned by several celebrities taking up the cause (Eddie Vedder, Jonny Depp among them), eventually force the Arkansas state to re-look at the case.

This documentary, produced by Peter Jackson, and directed by Amy Berg, is more than just a skillful re-telling of the story, from the original trial through to the eventual final judgement. Far from just reporting the defence campaign, the film-makers get involved in the campaign, helping organise DNA analysis, and setting-up a strong case against another member of the family for the killings.

The film gradually dismantles the original prosecution case, pointing out the lack of the teenagers DNA evidence at the crime scene, explaining that far from sexual mutilation, the dead children's injuries were actually post mortem, from snapper turtles, living in the creek. In the final third of the film, having done a convincing job of un-picking the evidence, the film makers pull out a final card. Using new DNA techniques, they test the single strand of hair found in the shoelaces used to tie up one of the victims. It's found to belong to one of the dead children's step father's, Terry Hobbs. The film then focuses on Hobbs, using interviews with his estranged wife and family to accuse him of being a child sex abuser, one with a violent temper, and jealous of the attention his step-son was receiving from his partner.

Eventually, in 2012, the District Attorney strikes a deal, that grants the convicted teenagers freedom, in return for their guilty plea, thereby avoiding a costly re-trial and compensation. It's an un-satisfactory legal outcome, but one that Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin understandably elect to take-up, and finally secure their freedom after 15 years of incarceration.

This is undoubtedly a very skillful documentary, which after a slow start, grows into a riveting story, with twists in the evidence and the legal process with up to the end. But it's a one sided affair, and the film-makers direct involvement with the campaign, muddies the waters, and asks the viewer to take their side.

While probable that there was mis-carriage of justice, or at the very least, that the convictions were "unsafe and unsatisfactory", the film and the case leave significant ambiguity behind. Some of the parents of the dead children still firmly believe that the real killers were indeed the ones that were found guilty back in 1993, and Terry Hobb's is left with the finger of suspicion hanging over him, never to be proved or dis-proved for the rest of his life.
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"Lyrical, philosophical, humane and informative..."
Sindre Kaspersen19 June 2013
American screenwriter, producer and documentary filmmaker Amy J. Berg's second documentary feature which she co-wrote with screenwriter and film editor Billy McMillin and co-produced, premiered in the Documentary Premieres section at the 28th Sundance Film Festival in 2012, was screened in the Mavericks section at the 37st Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, was shot on location in USA and is an American production which was produced by producers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Damien Echols and Lorri Davis. It tells the story about American 16-year-old Charles Jason Baldwin, American 17-year-old Jessie Lloyd Misskelley Jr and American 18-year-old Michael Wayne Echols who in June, 1993 in the city of West Memphis in the state of Arkansas in Crittenden county, USA was arrested for the triple homicide of three 8-year-old boys named Michael Moore, Steve Branch and Christopher Byers whose bodies were found by a former Juvenile officer named Steve Jones and a policeman named Mike Allen in a pond in the Robin Hood Hills.

Distinctly and subtly directed by American filmmaker Amy J. Berg, this fourth documentary about the now well-known West Memphis Three which was preceded by American filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996), "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" (2000) and "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" (2011), is narrated from multiple viewpoints, draws a more multidimensional portrayal of the place where two young men were sentenced to life imprisonment and one to death by the Arkansas Supreme Court in the year of 1994, focuses mostly on the story of Damien Echols and reexamines the case which has engaged filmmakers, actors, musicians, journalists, defense attorneys, activists and people from all over the world in a common action to get the three men who become preys of a satirical judicial system exonerated. While notable for its distinct and atmospheric milieu depictions and the sterling cinematography by French cinematographer Maryse Alberti and Irish cinematographer Ronan Killeen, this narrative-driven retelling of a criminal case which began two decades from today, which as the former documentaries proves how horrible things can turn out when people in power decides to play almighty and self-righteously impose their judgment on people they regard as inferior and which deprived the freedom of three American citizens and isolated them from the civilized society for eighteen years, introduces new interviews, theories and stories and contains a timely score by Australian musicians and composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

This investigative, educational and scrutinizing study of a 20th and 21st century tragedy which is set mostly in the American South and which through a wide range of conversations with people who has, still is and will always be connected to the case describes the significance of the media and politics in this matter and points pretty clearly as to who the real perpetrator might be, is impelled and reinforced by its fragmented narrative structure, subtle continuity and nuanced style of filmmaking. A lyrical, philosophical, humane and informative documentary feature which brings forth unheard voices, acknowledges the many people who stood by the three convicted boys who became the earliest and most accessible targets of hatred and condemnation until their arduous and disregarded call for justice prevailed and underlines how a pivotal union between a once aspiring magician and a woman who dedicated her life to a man on death row was born in the midst of this real life horror story which began on a day in May, 1993 when three boys went missing.
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"Justice delayed is justice denied"
FlickLover6225 January 2013
West of Memphis

This documentary, produced by Peter Jackson, examines the 1993 triple homicide of three eight-year-olds, investigation and trial of three teenagers and the subsequent efforts to overturn their conviction. While the story itself spans a 20-year period, this documentary focuses upon the most recent attempts at re-examining the evidence and freeing those convicted (one of whom confessed).

The story's already been told in HBO's "Paradise Lost" 1 - 3 (yep, this is the FOURTH doc on the subject), but this tale has been going on for twenty-years and has had multiple layers. If you haven't seen any of the other movies, or know nothing of the case, not to worry - West of Memphis does a fantastic job telling you the story from start to finish and in refreshing the memories for those of us to whom it's familiar.

I'm normally not bothered by graphic images, but my only complaint for this movie is the frequency of the explicit crime scene and autopsy photos of the victims - truly disturbing and haunting...I felt it was too much and took away from the film - the story itself, and sad realization that there were six actual victims, is overwhelming enough without being visually assaulted. I'm not one to normally feel the need to close my eyes or to look away, but here, I did.

And what a shame, by forcing me to look away, it forced me to tentatively recommend this film to everyone - it's tough to watch and revisiting how six children lost their lives is harrowing. While our country has the best justice system in the world, it's not perfect and works best for those who are able to afford the finest legal council money can buy (right, OJ?!) - in any case, "Justice delayed is justice denied".

I highly recommend it - but, I've warned you...it's tough.
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Infuriating, depressing and horrifying but also ultimately inspiring.
Hellmant14 February 2013
'WEST OF MEMPHIS': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five) A documentary film on the West Memphis Three case, in which three teenage outcasts (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley) were arrested and charged with the murder of three 8-year old boys (Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore), despite the lack of any conclusive evidence and apparent police and prosecutor misconduct. The boys spent eighteen years in prison and were released in August of 2011 as part of a deal reached with prosecutors due to new evidence. The film was directed and co-written (along with Billy McMillin) by Amy Berg (who also directed the 2006 documentary 'DELIVER US FROM EVIL', about the Catholic Church's cover up of a priest's sexual abuse, towards dozens of young boys, in the 70s). It was produced by Berg, Echols and Lori Davis as well as filmmakers Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh. The movie is heartbreaking, frustrating and very disturbing but it's also inspiring in the way it shows how many people came forward to support justice and the freeing of these (presumably) wrongfully convicted men. The film tells the story of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley (known as 'The West Memphis Three'), who were tried and convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death and the other two were sentenced to life imprisonment. The prosecution claimed that the three misfits killed the young boys as part of a satanic ritual but had no physical evidence to backup their claim. They were convicted on a theory, a forced confession of a mentally handicap teen (Misskelley) and the testimony of some shady witnesses (who later retracted their statements and admitted they were lying). Multiple HBO documentaries have been made on the subject which have motivated many to come forward in defense of the accused, including several celebrities (like Jackson, Walsh, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp to name a few). New forensic evidence allowed a deal to be reached with prosecutors where 'The Memphis Three' were released from prison under time served (18 years) due to Alford pleas (which allowed the three to maintain their innocence while admitting that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them (a disgraceful way for the prosecution to avoid the embarrassment of a retrial and admitting they were wrong). The events of the entire ordeal are explained in detail through interviews with several of those involved. There's also a lot of evidence provided pointing to the most likely killer of the three young boys (Steven Branch's stepfather Terry Hobbs). The film is the classic tale of people in power taking advantage of the weak that can't defend themselves (three misfit teens in this case) and society exploiting someone for looking different and acting 'weird' (therefore he's 'creepy' and there must be something wrong with him). This sort of thing happens all the time, this is just one of those times it's been brought to the public's attention. Which is a good enough reason, on it's own, why no one (with any morals of any kind) should support the death penalty. The movie is infuriating, depressing and horrifying but it's also ultimately inspiring. It's also very relatable, to some, and shows how people that are different are often used and abused by society. That's why so many musicians and other celebrities felt for these young men and got involved in trying to help them. It's a movie that we can all learn a lot from. It still leaves a lot of questions and doesn't reach a completely satisfying conclusion (because one wasn't reached in real life) but the filmmakers did about as good a job bringing this story to light (in more detail, to the masses) as they possibly could. A must see!
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Biased Film with Limited Facts
mjcmike130 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I generally am a pretty liberal guy and do root or the underdog and downtrodden more than the average person. This film almost sucked me in to believing their slanted view of the innocence of the West Memphis Three. Almost. As I watched the film, I began to have more and more doubts of their innocence as the film progressed. I found the attitudes and body language of the WM3 to show their guilt during the original trial in 1993-94. I mean if you were tried under false pretenses, wouldn't you be a little upset and vengeful, especially after being let out 18 years later? I also found Lorri Davis rather odd and in love with Damien, which is basically what drove her to get them out of jail. Her on screen appearance was bizarre and disturbing. This film doesn't provide a broad scope of evidence and instead provides only what it needs to get it's point across. It's a fact that 4 out of the six parents still believe that the WM3 are guilty. If you really want a clear picture of what happened, check out this site.

http://thewm3revelations.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/a-question-of-dna/ They stretch they make as naming Terry Hobbs as guilty is just that. Quite a stretch. Yes Terry seems like a rough guy and probably guilty of being a weirdo but the confessions of Misskelley are in now way coerced or being led by the police at any point.

Basically of bunch of people got together and let out 3 murdering sociopaths. Watch the documentary, and do your research and I would imagine anyone with common sense would agree. Very interesting and worth the time to watch but ultimately a biased slanted film.
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Echols has a production credit. This is not an unbiased account.
neil-arsenal8 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Documentaries are a genre close to my heart. It is difficult for the makers not to show bias one way or the other. However, it must be kept to a minimum for the sake of credibility.

The Executive Producer for this movie was...Damien Echols.

How can this even begin to be classed as an unbiased account? Anything he says is treated as gospel. A casual viewer would believe him. Hey, this is a documentary, right? Wrong. It's propaganda.

Echols lies. And it can easily be proved. His defence team also became desperate. Examples?

1. ''I was scared of being stabbed in jail. I was continually raped.'' The only problem with this is that he states he was in solitary 24/7 365.

2. ''My lawyers let me down as I had an alibi but they didn't call them to the stand.'' Again, another lie. His alibi (''I was on the phone with 3 different people'') has been shot down. Those people have not given the police the correct info. His lawyers didn't call these witnesses as they would've helped the prosecution. Echols then tried to change his alibi a few times. And was caught out every single time. Misskelly's alibi was also shot to pieces (wrestling ticket was for a different week and the place was closed that day). Baldwin didn't even bother with an alibi.

3. Witnesses saw Echols leaving the area of the killings full of mud by a family in car. Again, you'll find this non existent in the 'documentaries'. I include 'Paradise Lost' in this list.

4. Two girls took the stand and said Echols bragged about the murders in a park. He called the girls 'liars'. Later, he admitted he did say this. But he was only joking (purrlease).

5. Misskelly confessed several times. Around half a dozen times. Not once after 10 (then 12 then 17 hours as Echol's sheep claim) hours. Mulitple times. Even months later. He called his own lawyer. That's right. Misskelly requested the chance to get it all off his chest. His lawyer begged him not to. Was that a forced confession? His early confessions revealed knowledge of the crime scene. Echols was also caught out on this. Search and you'll find it.

6. Desperate acts by the defence team. First, trying to blame a mystery man nicknamed 'Bojangles'. Then, Paradise Lost 2 spent the entire movie throwing mud at Byers (one of the fathers of the victims). That failed. It was so obvious it wasn't Byers they are trying to blame Hobbs (another father). DNA is the shout from the Echols camp. Sadly (for them) it's a single hair on a shoelace. The kids regularly played at his home and secondary transfer would actually be quite probable. Even if it is his hair (which also can't be proved 100%).

7. The kids were killed elsewhere. The lack of blood at the crime scene indicated that (so say Echols and the defence team). Well, they are blaming Hobbs. That means he stripped them, killed them and then must have took their bodies to the woods. Only problem with that is that the kid's clothes were staked into the water with a stick. So, Hobbs must've taken their clothes with him too. Or dressed them and undressed them in the woods post mortem. Utterly ridiculous. That's why the police are not interested in Hobbs.

8. Echols claims he only suffered with depression as a teenager and had no problems with the law (on Piers Morgan's show). That is a huge lie. His medical records are on the internet at a website called 'Callaghan'. Many health professionals (not just one as Echols claims) have entered their findings. Most of which pre dates the crime. Not as Echols states...after the crime to get him off the death penalty. The reports are actually quite revealing. Arson. Animal cruelty (killing animals including dogs). Thinking he was god. Believing he was possessed by a spirit. Biting peers and drinking their blood. Wanting to sacrifice his unborn child to the devil. These were written by healthcare officials BEFORE his arrest. He was also pulled for public masturbation a few weeks before the murders.

The movie is well made, but it has an agenda.

If this is a documentary then so is Loose Change.

Check the facts of the case at Callaghan and wm3thetruth. It's unbiased and is run by three people (Callaghan). Two of whom believe the three are innocent.

Just check the facts. I've only scraped the surface in the comments above.
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A powerful example of how cinema can be used as an expression of fact
Likes_Ninjas9011 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
West of Memphis is a documentary of such clarity and precision that its findings will leave you rattled by a heinous crime but also convinced by how methodically researched and argued it is. This is a powerful example of how cinema can be used as an expression of fact and director Amy Berg utilises this strength to persuade and then allow you to draw your own conclusions about the tragic case.

With a story that reads like a Hollywood thriller, and one that has been embraced by celebrities in several different ways, there are numerous facets to the tragedy that are examined in great detail. Although the case has been covered between three HBO films called Paradise Lost, this is one single film that reflects on the police corruption, sensationalism and the way that minorities and people of low economic status are discriminated against.

The film documents a terrible crime in the city of Memphis in 1993, where three boys were found dead. Their bodies were also mutilated and this was said to be part of a satanic ritual. The satanic element of the crime led the police to arrest three teenagers who became known as the West Memphis Three.

Damien Echols' interest in dark magic made him an easy target for the police and was sentenced to death. The other two boys were Jessie Misskelley, Jr., who people said was mentally handicapped, and Jason Baldwin, whose brave decision would affect the lives of the other as much as his own. These two were both given life sentences. The boys would spend eighteen years in prison, but due to the efforts of people fighting for their innocence they were able to enter a complicated plea asserting their innocence but acknowledging the states guilty ruling too. They were released from prison the very same day.

The documentary is insightful towards the inconsistencies of policing methods and the evidence used to convict the teens. Police interview recordings show how they interrogated rather than interviewed the boys and then coached the confessions from them, drawing the answers they wanted to hear. Years later, witnesses also admitted to lying and changing their stories too. Another important lapse is the discovery of the murder weapon, the knife. Its location was predetermined so early that the media was alerted before it was found. The markings on the bodies are also said to be from an animal like a turtle, not the knife.

A crucial turning point in the documentary is when the film argues persistently about the suspicion of Terry Hobbs. He was the stepfather of one of the victims, Stevie Edward Branch. Venturing onto Hobbs' own personal blog, he is still adamant that there is only speculation about the murders, citing an article from the father of one of the boys, who revokes the claims made against Hobbs. I wonder what the father will make of this film. It covers Hobbs' own violent history, including domestic assault, as well as his constant passivity towards questions over his flawed alibi. By the end of the film I was certain he was guilty.

Numerous famous people also believed in the innocence of these teens too, the most prominent of which is filmmaker Peter Jackson. He helped arrange for sophisticated legal aids to be brought in and to reassess the case. Other celebrities like Johnny Depp and various singers addressed the issue. It is also interesting to note how this story is being addressed by Hollywood too in a feature film.

It's not hard to see why. The crux of this story could be read as a feel good story about bravery and the determination for the truth. But it is also a sad story about damaged relationships, including Hobbs' own daughter Amanda, who had a fractured life. While in gaol, Damien started a relationship with Lorri Davis from the outside. She supplied him with books and they decided to wed before he was free.

Furthermore, the film is also an examination of the impulsiveness of small, insulated communities to demand answers, whether they are accurate or not. One man interviewed states: "The community was relieved to have someone behind bars. They didn't have to be scared anymore". I hope these layers, along with the fear of the unknown and religious fanaticism, aren't lost in the fictional adaptation. It is difficult to state what makes the documentary so compelling. The true story speaks for itself: it's embedded in many complex twists and examples corruption and the failure of the justice system. But it is the coherency of the material, the clarity of the filmmaker's arguments, including how this content is presented through techniques like juxtaposition, which casts this as a thoroughly researched piece. It supplies two of the most important staples of any documentary: it informs and convinces.
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Bad filmmaking
cinecephale12 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
First of all, if you have seen the 3 Paradise Lost films or the 48 Hours coverage there is nothing new here. The film explains yet again why the WM3 are innocents - which is difficult to doubt - and tries to find another suspect, like Paradise Lost 3 did with Byer. Even if the man in question is guilty, it should not be up to a film to make accusations and substitute itself to a court of law. Paradise Lost 3 proved you can easily be wrong, even if all the evidences seems to be there. A lot of questions about he film itself are left unanswered, like why we see almost exclusively Damien and so few of Jason and Jessie. Did they refuse to participate? Were they left aside by the production? The implication of Peter Jackson and his wife is weird too; listening to him we have the impression he financed and directed all the process leading to the liberation of the 3. Moreover, a lot of things are pointless, especially the part with Stevie Branch sister's. What are we to make of her ordeal? She had a difficult life, but it doesn't prove anything. Last but not least, the film is incredibly badly filmed and edited. I don't remember having seen so many useless images in a documentary in a long time. It is like every time she doesn't have an image that goes with the sound, the filmmaker turns to meaningless images of cars, chairs or whatever. There is no visual imagination here, which is kind of frustrating giving the power of the subject.

If you know nothing about the case, this film can work as a summary, but nothing more.
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Was this an illusion of misjustice?
samb811 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
My first thought after viewing this documentary was how could three innocent youths be charged/convicted/sentenced to this crime based on the post trial evidence I'm viewing? It's really tragic if these three are innocent. But what if the guy who directed this film, the clear leader of the three, actually duped the justice system. He befriended two boys who are clearly less intelligent, and appear to be very manipulative. When he's being interviewed in prison, he expresses his interest in magic and his desire to be considered the best at this craft. He finds a young women in whom he bears his soul and they connect. Over time he gets some influential people in his corner. Serious doubts based on lack of evidence, specifically DNA, plus some focus now on Hobbs, the stepfather who's at the very least abusing his step children. The bodies of the boys are found in the water perhaps damaging the chance for some/any DNA recovery from the actual perp(s)sans the hair from Hobbs. But since Stevie lived with Hobbs it is possible a transfer occurred not related to the crime. Hobbs would be an easy target to manipulate, he's unable to answer some of questions with a logical answer even if it were a lie. Damien Echols is an odd character in my opinion, capable of manipulating the other two boys easily. Capable of creating the illusion of innocence with the people that got involved on his behalf. Did a guilty man actually get himself off death row by creating the illusion of misjustice? Quite a magic trick, among the best if he did.
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Detailed, Eye-Opening, but Somewhat One-sided Documentary
doug_park200123 August 2013
WEST of MEMPHIS is a very compelling documentary about a huge--and not as uncommon as we'd like to think--apparent miscarriage of justice. The most haunting aspect of the film is how guilty the "Memphis 3" appear during the trial, yet how innocent they seem once certain facts emerge afterward. No matter what really happened in this particular case, WEST of MEMPHIS succeeds in showing how completely innocent people can be routinely convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable due to corruption and human error, some of it understandable, some of it otherwise. The ease at which prosecutors motivated by their own "professional" or political agendas can distort the truth and elicit confessions from the innocent and vulnerable is truly bone-jarring. Most of us want to believe in the fundamental integrity of America's justice system, which is why cases such as this are so irksomely inconvenient.

Having said all of this, I must add the following caveat: It's still entirely possible that the Memphis 3 were guilty all along. I found this film very persuasive at first, but a little further investigation into the matter revealed many new aspects, with much conflicting evidence, to this story. WEST of MEMPHIS really stacks the cards in only covering the "these poor, innocent,misunderstood boys" side of things.

This documentary is long and detailed, which is obviously helpful in allowing the audience to understand how everything supposedly happened. Still, it may prove a little ponderous for the more casual viewer. There are some very disturbing images--crime scene photos of the eight-year-old victims, etc--as well as blunt descriptions of the mutilations done to the bodies. The film is tasteful as possible, however, in what it shows/does not show.
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That's the way they do things in West Memphis
paul2001sw-121 October 2016
There's no such thing as a nice murder, but the deaths of three children in West Memphs, Arkansas in 1993 seemed particularly horrific: the killer had apparently cut off his victim's penises and drunk their blood before throwing the corpses into a creek. The police promptly rounded up some local kids with a passing interest in Satanism, and a conviction as duly secured. Only later, amid mounting concerns over a potential miscarriage of justice, did it emerge that an incompetent pathologist had failed to recognise that the wounds were almost certainly inflicted post-mortem, and not by the killer, but by turtles. Not only had the wrong people been convicted of the crime, but the crime was perhaps just an "ordinary" murder after all. But getting the State to agree was a further long struggle. Amy Berg's documentary charts the story. It's horrific (the crime was still an awful one, even if not quite as originally portrayed, and the false imprisonment of the accused a second tragedy), fascinating, and beautifully filmed. On the downside, it is a bit long, and while it does a good job at suggesting who might have actually committed the crime, one can feel a bit uneasy about making such charges in a film like this (although one can also note that the authorities seemingly have no interest in re-investigating the case). More than anything else, the film is an interesting (and scary) look into the life of the American poor, a long way from the glitz of Manhattan. For many of the people we see in this movie, life would have been a hard, tough grind, even without the terrible events displayed. When one of the three accused finally gets out of prison, he tells us he isn't going back to Arkansas; and one doesn't feel like blaming him.
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Shocking, tragic, infuriating and always gripping
TheGatsby21 September 2013
'West of Memphis', the latest documentary from Amy Berg, focuses on the story of 'the West Memphis Three' – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Miskelly, three teenagers who were wrongly imprisoned in Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993, for being accused of brutally murdering three 8 eight year-old boys from the area. This documentary chronicles how they spent nearly two decades in jail before being released and also details the meticulous investigation that was carried out from the moment they were placed behind bars.

The great miscarriage of justice is the primary focus here, as Baldwin, Miskelly and Echols suffer (the latter's health began to deteriorate) in prison for a crime they were blamed for because they are considered "the type of people who would do something like that", for example, Echols listened to heavy metal and was interested in the area of Satanism so the finger was instantly pointed at him. After the blame was eventually lifted from the three, it was then directed at one of the boy's fathers as he was, like Echols, considered "the type of person who would do something like that." When the documentary reaches its conclusion, it becomes apparent how ludicrous the accusations against both parties were because they were simply scapegoats and consequently very few people in the area questioned the credibility of them being the murderers. Simultaneously, we are offered a balanced look at the topic, frequently seeing opinions from both sides of the argument.

The injustice that prevailed here was already explored in HBO's 'Paradise Lost' trilogy, but many have argued that this film presents a more compelling and thorough account of the 18 year saga. Produced by Peter Jackson (who appears throughout the documentary as one of the many famous guest stars) and Fran Walsh, the film expertly combines specially-recorded interviews, news and archive footage and forensic examinations. This combination results in a documentary that is by turns shocking, tragic, infuriating and always gripping.
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Really well structured presentation of an ongoing miscarriage of justice (spoilers, I guess)
bob the moo14 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Reading the comments about this documentary I learnt that there had been other films on this subject as part of the decades of trying to overturn the original convictions; this was news to me but, in all honesty, the case itself was news to me as I had never heard of these murders or the wider story. Perhaps I am under a rock but I am not sure how well known this all is outside of the US. Anyways, the film opens in such a way that is a little hard to follow. The murders themselves are clearly presented but a lot of characters and history is delivered and at times I was not wholly sure when certain video clips were from and I felt that it put me off balance a little in terms of context of what was being said. This was a minor problem and gradually I got out of it as the bigger story was made clear.

This moved forward well and the film patiently reveals one after another example of bad practice, straight-up deception or implication of misconduct all of which presents a terrible miscarriage of justice. It adds to this by exploring other paths and presenting new evidence in the film – statements, DNA etc, all of which seem to point very clearly to a man who was prone to erratic violence towards one of the boys who was killed. This is hard to watch because it seems so clear while these three sit behind bars. The film doesn't offer justice though – only freedom, and in a way this is both a hard end to the film but also a very apt one because it highlights yet another nonsense. I really didn't see much difference between the original coerced confession and the pleas of "guilty" which are obtained by dangling freedom in front of the three men; to me it sat very badly and it angered me to see the elected official saying this plea had saved the State money by preventing the three from suing. So, even in their freedom they are robbed of what they should have been entitled to – and this guy says it like it is a positive outcome.

I didn't know anything about this story when I started the film but it did the job very well of giving me a complex background, getting me up to speed and then delivering a lot of information on the way to the conclusion. The conclusion is that justice wasn't done and continues not to be done even while those in charge talk about how this gives closure to the families etc. Really hard to watch the film without getting angry, and this is to the film's credit.
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Pure propaganda
chemist6422 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I could make a documentary and use only evidence that makes Manson look innocent. Paradise Lost was made by foreigners with the intent of making the American justice system look bad. Then all of the closet satanists and atheists took up the cause. In one of the earlier documentaries, one of the supporters is actually on the phone telling others that they do not want everyone showing up at an appeal hearing dressed in all black. They also use a bunch of clowns with made up forensics as "proof" of their innocence.

Which brings us to this trash. It is a propaganda rehash of the other documentaries. The rednecks railroaded some innocent teenagers. First, why would an investigator allow the murderer of 3 little boys to get away, just to convict 3 other morons. Second, if you research the real facts and not the made up nonsense of this POS, you will see that their was a lot more to the prosecution's case. These guys did it, were convicted, and in the end made a guilty plea that basically states they were not pleading guilty but agreed that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them again.

Everybody who was moved by this documentary would have been marching up and down the street in Germany in the 30's saluting Hitler. Propaganda is used because it works on the majority of gullible people. I particularly like the reviewer with the devil face and horns in his avatar, he must be unbiased and he supports these guys fully. You may think the devil worshiping thing is BS, but three redneck teenagers from West Memphis were playing devil worship games in 1993 and murdered three little boys in the process. Now they are free to roam the streets thanks to these documentary filmmakers.

I read earlier that one of the murderers is a producer of this trash. So now he is making money off of his crimes. He also goes on the college circuit to proclaim his innocence for money. However, every time he is confronted by someone with the real facts, he runs off the stage in a tantrum.
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Another Great Documentary on the Subject
Michael_Elliott27 January 2016
West of Memphis (2012)

**** (out of 4)

This here is basically the fourth documentary to take a look at the West Memphis Three case, which gained worldwide attention after the PARADISE LOST trilogy. Countless celebrities including Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Peter Jackson came to the three men's cause and they are also featured here.

So what this fourth film basically does is give you an overview of the case as well as new bits of information regarding who the killer might be. Let me start off by saying that this is a wonderfully entertaining film even though it is hard to watch at times since crime photos are shown in great detail. In fact, I will say that all four films on the subject were wonderful and certainly highly entertaining.

With that said, as they bring up in this movie, the case will always be controversial with some believing the three men are guilty and others believing that they were set up by some crooked cops. Some believe that the media attention got three killers off with murder while others believe that the media forced the state of Arkansas to set the guys free. Even at the end, the controversy continues as the three men admit to be guilty but take a loophole law to say they're also innocent.

I must admit that the PARADISE LOST series tried to place blame on one of the stepfather's but that person is shown as a great guy here. A new suspect is brought into play with evidence linking him to the crime but due to this loophole he will never be brought to trial. All four movies have demanded that the three men be released from prison and they have been. My question is now: what about the person who committed the crimes? What about the parents to the three murdered children? Is anything being done for them?
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