News 01.18.12

“Paradise Lost” Filmmaker Discusses the West Memphis Three Case

Joe Berlinger, the director of the films, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Paradise Lost: Revelations and most recently Paradise Lost: Purgatory recently spoke with the Huffington Post about his experience filming the West Memphis Three. The three men were released in August after serving 18 years for a child murder they always said they didn’t commit. Berlinger revealed how he and his crew initially set out to film a story about juvenile killers before they quickly realized the evidence was lacking and the boys were likely innocent.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were convicted as teenagers of killing three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Misskelley confessed to the crime after a 12-hour interrogation, implicating Echols and Baldwin, though several of his statements diverged from the evidence. Echols was sentenced to death and the other two were sentenced to life. Berlinger says:

The Commercial Appeal printed Jessie’s confession. Not the complete confession—with all the errors in it, with the police pushing him to change the details four or five times until they fit the facts—only the final version, after it was all cleaned up. As if what they printed just spilled out of his mouth.

Several rounds of DNA testing failed to turn up any physical evidence connecting the three men to the crime scene, and they were released after accepting an Alford plea, which allowed them to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state had enough evidence to convict them.
Twenty-eight percent of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence have involved false confessions, admissions or statements to law enforcement officials.
Paradise Lost: Purgatory debuts on HBO this month.
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