The West Memphis Three — Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelly — are free men today.
With the promise of a new trial in December, a representative for the state of Arkansas said it would be “practically impossible to put on a new case after 18 years. The sentences would be different and appeals would ensure.” He said he feared that a trial could result in the WM3 suing the state.
He said the defendants could very easily been acquitted in a new trial and added, “I believe this case is closed.”
The terms of the case allow the judgments to stand while allowing the defendants to maintain their innocence. “This is a right decision on behalf of the state, and I stand by it.”
Echols received a death sentence, with Baldwin and Misskelly receiving life sentences for their supposed roles in the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, who were found murdered and mutilated in a wooded area in West Memphis, Ark. in May 1993. At the time of their arrests, Misskelley was 17, Baldwin was 16 and Echols was 18. All three have maintained that they did not commit the murders.
In court today to witness the proceedings were Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, directors of the “Paradise Lost” documentaries that chronicled the fight to prove their innocence for nearly two decades, as was longtime supporter and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder.
Berlinger and Sinofsky announced that they will be changing the ending of the third “Paradise Lost” documentary, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” to reflect recent events. The film is slated to premiere next month at the Toronto International Film festival.
“To see 18 years and three films’ worth of work finally come to fruition with the potential for righting this terrible wrong is more than any filmmaker could ask for,” Berlinger told indieWIRE via email from his flight to Arkansas Thursday evening.
After the court session, Echols, Misskelly and Baldwin took questions from the press. Said Echols: “I feel very much in shock and overwhelmed. I spent most of the last decade in solitary confinement.“
He says that while the state considers the murder case closed, he plans to continue the process of clearing their names.
Baldwin told the press that he initially wanted to reject the plea deal, which requires they acknowledge the court’s assessment of guilt while they maintain their innocence.
“This is not justice,” he said. “I did not want to take the deal from the get-go, but they wanted to kill Damien.” Echols was on death row.
Later, Echols said: “I want to publicly acknowledge and thank Jason, that he did it almost only for me.” The two men embraced while the press applauded.
For more indieWIRE coverage on the West Memphis Three, click here.
For the liveblog, click here.