by David Vicari
In 1993, three eight-year-old boys - Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers - were brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. The crime was purported to be a Satanic ritual since the bodies appeared to be mutilated. A year later, three teenage boys - Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin - were convicted of the crime. Baldwin and Misskelley got life in prison while Echols was sentenced to death.
Home Box Office produced the 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It covered the trials of the three teens, and from the start, things in the case seem to be amiss. Could these three be innocent? It appeared so, and celebrities like Johnny Depp, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines championed the cause of the West Memphis Three. Two more HBO documentaries followed - Paradise Lost 2: Revelations in 2000 and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory in 2012.
Nowwe have West of Memphis, the fourth documentary about the West Memphis Three. So, did we need a fourth film? Absolutely. The Paradise Lost films are great time capsules, documenting things as they happened. West of Memphis has hindsight on its side.
This new doc, directed by Amy Berg, goes into great detail about evidence that would exonerate the three convicted men. We see how cuts and wounds on the victims weren't made with a serrated knife, but rather snapping turtles. We also get two instances where two different witnesses for the prosecution lied on the stand.
This is a well put together documentary, but still, I wanted more. I would have liked to have seen more interviews with Baldwin, and I would have liked to have known more about the relationship between Echols and his wife, Lorris Davis. The film runs approximately two and a half hours, but I could have watched another two hours of this compelling true story. West of Memphis is both shocking and tragic, and it's more riveting than any fictional film.