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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.