A year ago, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were still in prison, serving the 18th year of their highly publicized sentence for the alleged murders of three young boys. Today, six months after they filed the Alford Plea that gave them their freedom, they are a veritable cottage industry as the subjects of multiple features, documentaries and a memoir stemming from their story.
Although the investigation as to who’s really responsible for the murders continues, the vocabulary for discussing the West Memphis Three has shifted from phrases like “DNA evidence” and “miscarriage of justice” to “distribution rights” and “Oscar.”
Here’s a look at the current WM3-related projects and where they stand.
The “Paradise Lost” Trilogy (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky)
The films that started everything, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s “Paradise Lost” series now comprises three films: “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” which is nominated for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards. However, despite HBO Documentary chief Sheila Nevins’ initial enthusiasm for a fourth installment after the men were released, Berlinger says there will not be another.
“It is definitely the end of an era,” Belinger wrote via iPhone. “I was 31 when we started [the first ‘Paradise Lost’] and I just turned 50. We pledged to keep making films until the West Memphis Three got out of prison which is what has happened, so I am quite happy to hand off the baton to the next generation of storytellers whose work I hope will, along with Paradise Lost 3, force the State of Arkansas to fully exonerate The West Memphis Three and find the real killers of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Short answer: No, we feel we have done our job and welcome the the next generation of story tellers.”
“West of Memphis” (Amy Berg)
Status: Distribution pending
Over the last six years, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh emerged as one of the most fervent supporters of the WM3 cause, financing research into DNA evidence to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several years ago he also decided to finance a documentary about those discoveries, hiring Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”) to direct the film and bringing Damien Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, into the project as executive producers. The film premiered at Sundance in late January to laudatory reviews among both Criticwire members and beyond; Jackson’s longtime manager and the films’s executive producer, Ken Kamins, is now in discussions with distributors.
An untitled memoir (Damien Echols)
Status: Publication date is September 2012.
In October, new Penguin imprint Blue Rider Press announced that it would publish a memoir from Echols. According to a statement from the publisher, “The as-yet untitled book will be Echols’ account of the trial proceedings and eighteen years spent on death row, including his personal and public quest for exoneration, his prison diaries, and accounts of support from his wife and friends.”
“The Devil’s Knot” (Atom Egoyan)
Last fall, Atom Egoyan signed on to direct a dramatic adaptation of “Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three,” journalist Mara Leveritt’s 2002 account of the crime and trial. The script, co-penned by Paul Boardman and Scott Derrickson, eschews a strict focus on the WM3 themselves in favor of a look at Alabama private investigator Ron Lax (portrayed by Colin Firth) and the mother of one of the victims, Pam Hobbs, who will be portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. Shooting this summer.
A feature adaptation of Damien Echols’ memoir (Infinitum Nihil)
Status: In development
Johnny Depp and Christi Dembrowski’s Infinitum Nihil production company has optioned Damien Echol’s memoir six months ahead of its publication date, Deadline announced today. Echols and his wife Lorri Davis will be executive producers. According to Deadline, “[Depp] and his producing partner have long been wanting and waiting to explore this story and will develop the narrative as a feature film with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, who will be executive producers. Their collective take is to spotlight the controversial conviction and imprisonment of the then 18-year-old who’s now in his mid-30s and to present his life before conviction as well its twists and turns leading to release.”