Arkansas, Damien Echols, Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder, Jason Baldwin, Johnny Depp, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Robin Hood Murders, West Memphis 3, West Memphis Three, Winona Ryder, WM3
A star’s involvement with a cause does little to sway me to the rightness of said cause. This is true even with actors and actress whom I like and admire, as many celebrities seem to mistake their fame for correctness. For this reason, I would normally be suspicious of a show featuring Depp, Eddie Vedder, the Dixie Chicks and noted shoplifter-cum-actress, Winona Ryder. However, I have been following the story of the West Memphis Three for years, and for a number of reasons, it resonates deeply with me. Despite the attention this case has received over the years, including two outstanding HBO documentaries (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations), it still has yet to tickle the greater conscience of the American people, and an injustice remains fully unaddressed.
The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. In May of 1993, three young children were brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, which sits just across the Mississippi River from storied Memphis, Tennessee. With no other leads panning out, the focus of the investigation quickly turned to Misskelley, Baldwin and particularly Damien Echols, thought by their peers in this quiet American backwater to be odd or different.
Echols and Baldwin wore black, and listened to Metallica. They were anti-social and didn’t hang out with the other kids. They had strange hair and talked about strange books. They were rebellious and they didn’t quite fit in. Echols was thought by many in the Bible-Belt community to be a practitioner of the back arts. That these young “Satanists” could have committed the crime came as no surprise to many West Memphians.
The police arrested Misskelley first, interrogating the mentally retarded young man for hours before extracting a highly dubious and somewhat coached confession. The other two boys were soon arrested, and an Arkansas jury had no difficulty finding them guilty of murder. Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. Misskelley life plus forty. Echols is on death row.
That was seventeen years ago, over half a lifetime for Baldwin, the youngest of the three, who had just turned sixteen at the time of the murders. Now men in their mid-thirties, the West Memphis Three still languish in jail as outside the world goes on without them.
Seventeen years is long enough. I’m not naive enough to think that Depp, Vedder and the Dixie Chicks can right an injustice through the transformative power of their celebrity, but it can serve to bring this injustice to light. To quote Nietzsche (and the Promethean Times masthead), “When will light no longer be on its way?”