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.