Years ago, I just happened to catch part of an HBO documentary that affected me in a very big way. Having been involved in Amnesty International, Innocence Projects & similar things growing up, I've always been interested in the justice systems & all of it's triumphs & flaws.
If you've never seen HBO's Paradise Lost:The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills & it's sequel, make some time to view them. When filmmakers Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky traveled to West Memphis, Arkansas, they'd planned to document this crime as part of a series on teen murderers. The goal of the project was to make a film investigating the proliferation of violence in our society in the hopes of explaining what causes teens to murder in cold blood.
What they found during the course of their work was that the 3 teens imprisoned for these murders were most likely not the killers. The evidence used to convict these boys was less than circumstantial, it was pure conjecture. Catalogued evidence from the courtroom used in the capital murder trial included Metallica t-shirts & library books on wicca. The filmmakers were so appalled that they completed their initial project immediately in order to focus solely on this case. They have since made a sequel to the original film & are in production of a thrid installment of the saga.
In this small southern town, the inexperienced investigators comprimised the crime scene, lost evidence & ignored potential leads. Based on the hypothesis of a local juvenile officer, the police force decided within minutes of discovering the bodies, that the town was under the influence of satanists & teens practicing satanism were the most likely culprits.
I'm not making this up. Investigators ignored important clues such as: a delusional man covered in blood who had run into a fast food restaurant near the murder site & locked himself in the bathroom; the fact that one of the victims was possibly sexually assaulted & was killed in such a way that usually signifies a parent as killer; the fact that witness testimony was recanted; and the list goes on & on.
The murders themselves are extremely chilling but the gross miscarriage of justice that has stratched for 13 years is more horrifying. It's hard to imagine any person of my generation not getting a chill from this story & thinking of the old adage "There but for the grace of God . . . "
For any armchair student of murder, American culture or crime & justice, the story of the West Memphis 3 is an absolute must. But it's the kind of story that every American should become familiar with, as it illustrates everything that is wrong with our system, as well as showcasing the intricacies of the role of the media in high-profile criminal cases.
Call on your spirit of activism & learn how you can help. June 6 is WM3 Awareness Day & also marks the 13th anniversary of the day the boys were arrested for murders they very likely did not commit. Only 17 & 18 at the time, they have since grown up in prison, one of them on death row.
With the release of the documentary, many concerned citizens from all over the world have become involved in the fight to demand a new trial for the WM3. The conclusive evidence of this case is that, even if these boys are guilty, they shouldn't have been convicted based on what they read & listen to, since the murders themselves were never actually investigated, only potential suspects were.
Many high-profile celebrities have jumped on board this cause but it's been the music world that's given the most to the movement. Supersucker's frontman Eddie Spaghetti, Henry Rollins, the latest incarnation of the Misfits & many others have recorded albums, given concerts & done book tours (of books written by these prisoners). The new Pearl Jam album just released last month features a song cowritten by Eddie Vedder & the guy on death row, Damien Echols.
For more information on this case, visit WM3.org. This is the kind of situation every American should be involved in because it could happen to any one of us.