West Memphis Three film at Belcourt brings families' call for justice
Before the showing of West of Memphis at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville on Thursday are Amanda Hobbs, left; Pam Hobbs, mother of victim Stevie Branch; Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three and also a producer of the documentary; Amy Berg, West of Memphis director; John Mark Byers, adoptive father of victim Christopher Byers; Lorri Davis, Echols' wife and another producer; and Jason Baldwin, another of the West Memphis Three. / Jeanne Reasonover / The Tennessean
Producers Lorri Davis, left, and Damien Echols give an interview as Jason Baldwin gives one at right before the showing West of Memphis at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. The documentary had its premiere last week at the Sundance Film Festival. / Jeanne Reasonover / The Tennessean
Damien Echols shows off a gift from the Hobbs family, a pocket watch, engraved with the words "Time Begins Now" and the date he was released from prison. / Jeanne Reasonover / The Tennessean
It was an odd scene: two convicted murderers with arms around parents of two of the 8-year-old victims, all smiles and laughs, cameras flashing, video recording.
Backstage at Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre, the unlikely group gathered for only a third time in the 18 years since the brutal murders of three Cub Scouts and friends in West Memphis, Ark.
The occasion: only the second public screening of a new documentary, West of Memphis, which brings forth new evidence that shows the convicted defendants — the West Memphis Three — didn’t do the crimes.
And parents of two of the slain children agree, and they showed up in Nashville — after first appearing at the film’s debut last week at the Sundance Film Festival — to support efforts to fully exonerate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.
“When you learn the truth, that they didn’t kill your child, that’s wonderful,” John Mark Byers, adoptive father of victim Christopher Byers, told The Tennessean.
“However, you know the killer’s still out there. Every time you go through this (legal maneuvering and media coverage), you have to go through the worst day of your life. However, if that’s what it takes to bring justice, that’s what it takes.”
Pam Hobbs, mother of victim Stevie Branch, at the Belcourt, agreed that even documentary screenings are painful. But she, too, believes the West Memphis Three are innocent, and she, too, expressed a deep desire to know the truth.
“Right now, I feel like it’s 1994 again,” Hobbs told The Tennessean.
And she added, “Being a citizen of the state of Arkansas, I demand that they reopen this case.”
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were arrested in 1993 and convicted of the brutal murders of the three Cub Scouts after police got a tip fingering Echols. The boys — Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers — were found dead, naked and tied up, in a wooded area. Police then got a confession from Misskelley, a statement that implicated Echols and Baldwin.
In 2010, after much publicity, including support from celebrities such as Eddie Vedder, the defendants got new hearings from the Arkansas Supreme Court after defense lawyers pointed to new DNA evidence that implicated others. The men were released a year later on the rarely used Alford plea, which allows them to maintain innocence while acknowledging there’s enough evidence for convictions.
And while families of two of the boys were at the Belcourt, parents of the third, Michael Moore, remain unconvinced of the innocence of the West Memphis Three.
Todd and Diana Moore objected to this week’s Oscar nomination for Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third in the trilogy of HBO documentary films separate from the documentary screened here Thursday night. The couple said the nomination brought “sadness, disappointment and outrage.”
While the Belcourt gathering is only the second time Hobbs and Byers have been around two of the West Memphis Three, they all have corresponded for a year or so. And Hobbs and Byers last night issued written statements of support for the three defendants.
“It means more than we can articulate,” said Echols, the only one of the three who had been sentenced to death. “It is an incredibly powerful thing. We all realize what we’ve all been through.”
Echols showed off a gift from the Hobbs family given Thursday, a pocket watch, engraved with the words “Time Begins Now” and the date he was released from prison.