Finally, the culmination of a saga that many have paid attention to for years. Paradise Lost 3 is the final part of a trilogy that documents the trials of three young men accused of the gruesome murders, in 1993, of three young boys in West Memphis, AR. I’m sure that most people are aware of the story and the personalities involved, at least to some degree, as there was a lot of publicity surrounding the case from the get-go. Without giving too much away, though, a brief summary: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were all convicted in court of killing three eight-year-old boys and leaving their bodies in a wooded area in West Memphis. Early in the trial, a link was made between Echols’ preference for wearing all black and listening to a lot of heavy metal music, the nature of the victim’s bodies (they are often described as being ‘sacrifices’) and the notion of an uptick in cult activity among young people. Before you could even say ‘but not all occultists listen to heavy metal’ the three suspects were labeled Satanists, the case blew up in the media, and they were convicted based on a confession made under severe duress, no real physical evidence, a lot of sketchy testimony, and seemingly slick work by the police and prosecutors. Two of them were sentenced to life in prison, Echols was sentenced to death.
Fast forward a couple years, and Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky make their first documentary about the case, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. The film focuses on the trials, as well as the community during that time, and brings to light a lot of issues with both. In 2000, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is released, and introduces some of the new evidence that is being gathered in the appeals process, as well as the growing opinion among people (including some in the community) that the three young men are innocent.
In between then and the events of Paradise Lost 3, that consensus grows, the case gets support from many different groups, and more importantly for them, that support gives them the means to re-test DNA and hire experts. At some point the new evidence and the public support, along with some changes in law that affect the case, build a momentum that is palpable–watching the documentary, you can feel how close those involved are to having a positive outcome, but also how it all seems to hinge on which way the legal wind blows. Other sentiments that come across loud and clear are disbelief and frustration–three young men imprisoned for nearly half their lives, evidence uncovered that all but exonerates them and indicates other suspects, and a judicial system that won’t budge lest it have to admit its wrongdoing.
Watch this–watch all three if you haven’t yet–and let yourself be a little amazed at all of it: the horrific murders, the trials, the sensationalistic nature of it, the total wrongness of it all. And finally, be amazed at the three young men who remain at the center of it, and how they not only cope, but persevere.