The upcoming release of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third and likely final film in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky‘s award-winning HBO documentary series chronicling the strange case of the West Memphis Three and the circumstances that resulted in their wrongful imprisonment nearly two decades ago, just got a radically different ending.
Today all three members of the group — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin — were released on suspended sentences with time served after spending seventeen years behind bars. They were convicted in 1994 for the brutal slaying of three 8-year-old Boy Scouts — Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers — in the wooded Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. The killing was said to have been committed as part of a Satanic ritual. Echols, who was 18 years old at the time, was given the death penalty, while Misskelley, 17, was given life imprisonment plus 40 years, and Baldwin, 16, was given life. Due to the lack of DNA testing available at the time and the questions that arose surrounding the police investigation and the three teenagers’ subsequent conviction, the case became a focal point of controversy across the country. It wasn’t until 2007 that testing proved that none of the DNA collected at the scene of the murders belonged to the defendants.
Beginning in 1996 with Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Berlinger and Sinofsky took to telling the story of the West Memphis Three while examining the facts of the case, giving the three youths a fighting chance at freedom when their plight became national news. The series continued with 2000’s Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.
â€œEighteen years and three films ago, we started this journey to document the terrible murders of three innocent boys and the subsequent circus that followed the arrests and convictions of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly…. To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for,â€ said Berlinger today in a joint statement released with Sinofsky, who added, â€œToday, we, along with HBO, are humbled to be a part of this remarkable outcome.â€
Both filmmakers were in court today to see Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin released and will incorporate this surprise turn of events into the latest installment of the Paradise Lost series. Echols once noted in one of the documentaries that would one day help lead to his release from prison that if it wasn’t for the Paradise Lost films, â€œ…these people would have murdered me, swept this under the rug, and I wouldn’t be anything but a memory right now.â€
In my opinion, it’s wonderful to see justice in this case finally served, and I know a lot of folks agree with me. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will have its theatrical premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month with a number of prestigious festival dates to follow this Fall and will premiere on HBO in January 2012.
The third film will feature songs by Metallica, who, along Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and actor Johnny Depp, believe the men were wrongly convicted and have advocated for their release and have continuously shown their support of the trio and of the filmmakers.