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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.