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

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

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."