Damien Echols discusses life "West of Memphis"

Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:28pm EST
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By Zorianna Kit

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Damien Echols was just a teenager when he and his two friends were tried and convicted of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993, a case that became known as the West Memphis Three.

Echols, along with fellow teens Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are thought by some to be innocent of the crime and over the years, several documentaries have been made about them. Support from "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson and other celebrities has helped raise awareness of their case.

Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were released from prison last August in a legal maneuver known as an "Alford Plea," whereby the men plead guilty in their own best interest while asserting innocence.

Now their case is the subject of a documentary, "West of Memphis," produced by Jackson, his wife Fran Walsh, along with Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis. The movie looks at their case, interviews them in jail and tracks them after leaving prison.

Over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival for the world premiere of the film, Echols, now 37-years-old, sat down with Reuters to talk about the documentary, his old life on death row and what his newfound freedom has been like.

Q: When Peter Jackson began officially funding your defense in 2006, did you secretly wish this big-time filmmaker would make a documentary to bring more attention to the case?

A: "I didn't really think of that. One, I was too busy just trying to survive day to day in the environment that I was in. Also we had a lot of high-profile supporters and friends that have helped us over the years who chose to publicly stay behind the scenes. I thought perhaps that would have been the same in this case, but Peter and Fran both were extremely hands on. It's not like they just threw money at it and walked off. They were involved in every single step of the process from forensic testing to hiring investigators to come in and talk to the witnesses. So that's really all I was thinking about at the time. The first priority for us, and for them, was always the case. The film is the icing on the cake."

Q: In the documentary, you say your case is nothing out of the ordinary. It happens all the time. Why do you think the media spotlight shined on you three?   Continued...

<p>Damien Echols, producer and subject of the documentary film "West of Memphis," poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>