News / Arts & Entertainment

West of Memphis Movie Sparks Murder Debate

Movie West of Memphis Sparks Debate About Arkansas Murder Casei
X
April 03, 2013 1:35 AM
In 1993, three young boys were killed and mutilated in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three troubled teenagers were convicted for the crime and put behind bars for 18 years. It turns out, though, that their prosecution was tainted. Although the Arkansas prosecutor declined to comment, Amy Berg says her recent documentary, West of Memphis, points to a flawed justice system and presents fresh evidence about new suspects. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has the story.

Movie West of Memphis Sparks Debate About Arkansas Murder Case

TEXT SIZE - +
Penelope Poulou
In 1993, three young boys were killed and mutilated in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three troubled teenagers were convicted for the crime and put behind bars for 18 years. It turns out, though, that their prosecution was tainted. Although the Arkansas prosecutor declined to comment, Amy Berg says her recent documentary, West of Memphis, points to a flawed justice system and presents fresh evidence about new suspects.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Charles Jason Baldwin were accused of the crime. Their conviction, it turned out, was based on questionable evidence and false testimonies.

The widely publicized trials attracted the attention of filmmakers. In 1996, Paradise Lost was the first documentary to question whether justice had been served.

“There were 15 years of evidence and new information," said Amy Berg, whose 2012 documentary West of Memphis not only follows the case since then, but presents new evidence that focuses on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the three slain children.  Berg says he has been identified though a DNA match and interviews with family members. She argues that the three convicted men should be pronounced innocent.

“I think the documentary stands alone as a reason to exonerate them and to prosecute the real killer. So we hope that the film can stand as the testament,” Berg said.

While Hobbs denies any involvement, in 2011, the state of Arkansas agreed to release but not exonerate them.

Damien Echols, who had been sentenced to death by lethal injection, said to get out of jail, the three had to take what is called the Alford Plea.

“Most Americans haven’t even heard of it. What it means is you’re still maintaining your innocence. You’re saying ‘I did not commit this crime,’ but you are accepting their 'guilty plea.' And a lot of the reason for it is so that the state cannot be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Echols said.

As a result, says Echols, he and the other two still bear the stigma of murder.

“I have three counts of murder on my record.  The guy who went to trial with me, Jason Baldwin, he’s currently in school. He wants to get his law degree and help people with the same situation we were in. But he can’t practice law with a criminal record,” Echols said.
 
Maryland Defense attorney Rene Sandler says, often, in high profile cases such as the murder of children, the prosecution feels pressured to convict someone, anyone.

“Political careers were made, reputations were made, the prosecutor dug in to whatever theory he believed at the time. And the police and the judge and everyone really were invested in the prosecution and the convictions of these three people without ever looking anywhere else,” Sandler said.

The state of Arkansas has refused to reopen the case.

"I believe it would be practically impossible after 18 years to put on a proper case against the defendants," said Akansas prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington, in the documentary.  He did not respond to a VOA request for further comment.

But West of Memphis, the documentary, has opened cracks in the prosecution's argument. Recent hearings could point to a new trial for the three.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.