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Review: ‘West of Memphis’ is chilling, heart-wrenching

March 18th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

By Natasha Bodily

Three teenagers—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.—were convicted of first-degree murder in 1994 in the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. Echols got the death sentence; Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life. In August, after 17 years in prison, new evidence cleared them. West of Memphis, a new documentary about the West Memphis 3, was released at Sundance this year, where Natasha Bodily saw it.

PARK CITY—Not only was I lucky enough to get free tickets to two Sundance films, I also had a ticket for the awards show and after party. Unfortunately, the second film, West of Memphis overlapped with the awards show and party. As much as I love hitting up parties all by my lonesome, the sure-to-be hit won me over.

I was eagerly anticipating the film due to positive reviews I had heard from my ticket-hook up. “It’s one of the must-see films this year,” he said.

Peter Jackson, the famous New Zealand filmmaker (Lord of the Rings), and director Amy Berg created West of Memphis, which took seven years to complete.

• See Ben Hansen’s report on a press conference by Jackson, Berg, and the West Memphis 3 themselves.

As the film begins, we see the painted picture of the events that transpired in the 1993 killing of three young boys—Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore—in West Memphis, Ark.  Initially, all the evidence seems to point to the three teens arrested and convicted for the crime: Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin.

From the picture of a demonic and manipulative young Echols to the horrifying condition of the bodies of the three 8-year-olds when they were found in a river, prosecutors seemed to have damning evidence that not only were these young men capable of such crime, but they did so with a sociopathic lack of remorse.

The audience gasped when Echols is seen smiling at cameras as he is driven away from the courthouse.

But as we are introduced to Echols’ wife, a different picture starts to form. At first, it seemed shocking that an attractive woman would want to marry a cold-blooded child murderer, but evidence and a lack of evidence start to present another view.

From planted evidence to mistaking animal bites as mutilation, the sense grows that something was very wrong with the trio’s conviction.

What were initially described as cuts by a knife on the boys’ bodies matched bite marks from a large turtle that lives in the area where the bodies were found. Witnessed who testified against the three teenagers began to confess that they had perjured themselves on the stand.

As the evidence against Echols, Miskelley and Baldwin began to crumble, a new suspect emerged in Terry Hobbs, one of the dead boys’ stepfathers.

Through interviews and news clips, Jackson and Berg have created a chilling and courageous portrayal of the misconduct by police officials and prosecutors in the 17-year imprisonment of the accused killers.

Despite missing out a surely glamorous awards night and after party, I certainly did not regret my decision. I’ll be sure to hit theaters when this movie is released to the public. It’s a more-than-one view film and you’d be a fool to miss it.

Grade: A++, a must-see and must-see-again hit.


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  1. 2 Responses to “Review: ‘West of Memphis’ is chilling, heart-wrenching”

  2. By WM3 truth on Mar 18, 2012

    A lot of people believe the West Memphis 3 were not innocent but that they were guilty as charged and that they committed the crime. The 3 were found guilty by a unanimous jury the first time. The 3 plead guilty instead of waiting for a trial the second time.

    The one sided movies and websites about this case leave out the evidence showing why they were found guilty.

    Misskelley confessed three separate times, once with his lawyer present. Misskelley also told two other people about the crime before he was arrested. Baldwin told someone else he committed the crimes. Echols was seen in muddy clothes near the crime scene. Echols is reported to have either told or bragged about the crime to four people before he was arrested.

    The supporters of the 3 keep pointing to different people to distract attention from the 3. Now they point to the stepfather. The evidence against the stepfather is very weak. The evidence and the many confessions against the WM3 is much stronger.

  3. By Meagan Taylor on Mar 20, 2012

    Dear WM3 truth,

    I feel as though I need to thank you. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Every time I read your comments I get a good laugh. One of those laughs you really appreciate.

    Gotta hand it to you bud, you are certainly persistent. It’s too bad you are persistent with absolute nonsense.

    The West Memphis Three are innocent. *You* should educate *yourself* on the facts.

    Good luck with that.

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