Paradise Lost: The Child Murdered at Robin Hodd Hills (1996)
Diceted By Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
As I write this, three men known as The West Memphis Three have been free for a little more than 2 week. It was a big news story and I had big interest in seeing this documentary. HBO rereleased it on HBOGO.com, so I was lucky enough to be able to see this doc as well as the sequel Paradise Lost: Revelations.
So for those living under a rock and not familiar with the back story which had been plastered all over the news a couple of week ago, The West Memphis Three(WM3) — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin — were falsely accused of killing three 8 year old boys — Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byer. In a witch hunt style investigation, the WM3 were singled out as suspects merely because they dressed in goth style black clothing, listened to heavy metal music, and acted out as outcast youth tends to do. The botched police investigation falsely claimed the three young boys were killed in a satanic worship. Jessie Miskelly, who has a IQ of 72(borderline mentally retarded), was coerced into making a false confession after 12 hours of undocumented questioning by the police. They scared Jessie into thinking they had evidence on him. The WM3 were found guilty despite a ton of evidence presented proving otherwise. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jason Baldwin and Misskelly were sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.
So this movie documents the first of 3 appeals. And during the filming of this movie, new evidence in the form of a knife was given to the HBO crew. This film also sheds light on the conservative Christian community that was so quick to blame the WM3. It focuses on the varied family life of the WM3 as well as the families of the victims, including the camera hungry step father of one of the victims, John Mark Byers. He was scary, yet rivoting. Kind of like a freak show. The movie also shows how the local media built significant hype around the case and appeals, pinpointing how they played a role in the community outrage.
The Truth be told, I could not finish Paradise Lost: TCMRHH. I found it to be so… slow… and dry. I think the footage was good and gave a good sense of how backwards the West Memphis community could be. But the editing made it a chore for me to get through this movie. As a matter of fact I only got half way through it. I may give it another go. But truth be told, I saw Paradise Lost: Revelations first. And it referenced the first movie with clips in a more interesting editing job. I would venture to say skip the first movie, catch the second.
HBO had a third movie in production at the time of the WM3’s release. And at the time of their release for prison, the WM3 had reached a near icon status as the gained overwhelming national public support including support from high profile celebrities and musicians who rallied to make public statements and raise funds for their appeals and eventually their release. It also should be noted that Metallica allowed HBO to use their music for the 1st and 2nd movies and it was the first time they have every allowed any movie to do so. I would hope the 3rd movie is being reeditted to include their release and the bullshit alford plea they had to file to secure Echols’ life. Technically the WM3 are still considered guilty. But they are now able to work to clear their name as free men.
If you like this movie, or maybe just are interested in this documentary, by all means watch the sequel Paradise Lost: Revelations. You also might like theses movies:
I got a lot of the details from this post from what I remembered of the movie (you know the parts I was awake for) and from Wikipedia. Read more about the case here. You can also follow some about how the WM3 are doing since their release here.