After three years in the making and a theatrical release set for December 25th, the filmmakers of West of Memphis still won’t mind re-editing their film again and again, until the real killer of three eight-year-old boys is brought to justice and convicted.
“We thought a documentary film would be the perfect forum to get the evidence out that the courts were denying be heard down in Arkansas,” co-producer Peter Jackson told media via Skype from New Zealand during a press conference for the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film – which offers undeniable new evidence in the horrific murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers in 1993, virtually screaming the name of the real perpetrator – is a way for the supporters to try and get an exoneration for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, the then-teenagers sent to prison for life – one to Death Row – based on no evidence.
Police and prosecutors concocted an outrageous theory of Satanic ritual, railroaded one of the boys into making a false confession, strong-armed witnesses, ignored others and planted evidence, according to the film.
The three were released last August after reluctantly accepting the rare Alford Plea, whereby defendants assert their innocence while pleading guilty in their own interest. Under this agreement, the accused were not entitled to collect $18 million each in compensation for their wrongful conviction and incarceration for 18 years.
In Toronto for the screening and press conference were Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, friend and supporter Johnny Depp and director Amy Berg.
“We’re out of prison physically, but having to take this [Alford] deal has a lot of ramifications and reaches into a lot of areas of our lives, that makes sure we’re still not completely free,” said Echols. “We had to go through hell just to come here for the film festival because the U.S. deal shows that I have three counts of murder on my criminal record.”
Among the major evidence put forward is DNA identified as that of Terry Hobbs (Branch’s step-father) and evidence of animal predation (by turtles), showing that wounds on the bodies were post-mortem (findings agreed upon by multiple forensic experts). Witnesses have also retracted past testimony.
“This is the road to total exoneration,” said Depp of the film.
Since West of Memphis was completed, Echols said they have learned the FBI has 200 pages on the case that have not been examined.
“The political justice system in Arkansas doesn’t have any desire to bring justice to this case and the families of three little boys that were killed. It’s pretty outrageous,” said Jackson, who has funded DNA tests and other scientific and forensic testing.
With an election upcoming, the filmmakers have lined up a series of free screenings in Arkansas and Tennessee over the next two months to get the film to the voting citizens.
“We can just hope that since it is election season and a couple of these guys are running for office, we’re hoping that someone would step up in some way,” Berg tells Rolling Stone.
Between now and Christmas day, she is on standby for another edit – hopefully.
“The thing is, if they were to investigate another person or they were to exonerate these guys, it should be in the film. An exoneration would just be an addendum. An investigation, we would need to follow it and make sure we got it in there.”