LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Premium cable TV network HBO plans to re-tool the ending of the third in a series of documentaries it has backed on the “West Memphis Three,” reflecting Friday’s decision to free the men previously convicted of murder.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. pleaded guilty in an Arkansas courtroom on Friday to the gruesome, 1993 murders of three young boys, but in an unusual bargain with prosecutors, the men were allowed to maintain their claims of innocence in the case and were set free.
The case — and the question of their guilt or innocence — had become a cause celebre, attracting attention from actor Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, among others.
It is also the subject of 1996 Emmy-winning documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” by directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky that aired on HBO.
The directors subsequently made two followups, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” in 2000, and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” which will screen at September’s Toronto International Film Festival and air on HBO this coming January. HBO said it will re-work the ending of the third movie due to Friday’s decsion.
“To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for,” Berlinger said in a statement after attending Friday’s court hearing with Sinofsky.
The third movie “tells the entire story, from the arrests in 1993 to the growing movement, through the entire appeals process and the uncovering of new evidence, concluding with their release,” the directors and HBO said.
Pressure has been mounting in recent years to free the men who were convicted of murdering 8-year-old Cub Scouts Steven Branch, Christopher Byers and James Michael Moore.
Police at the time called the murders “satanic” because the children’s naked bodies had been bound and mutilated.
Of the West Memphis Three, who were teenagers at the time of the murders, Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison, and Echols was on death row.
Yet, they had always maintained their innocence. Recent DNA tests did not link the men to the crime scene and, in fact, showed the presence of others who have never been identified.
Arkansas officials said they believed the defendants might be acquitted in a new trial due to the deaths of witnesses, DNA tests, changing stories, and stale evidence.
Editing by Jill Serjeant