The saga of the "West Memphis 3" has been detailed in documentaries, notably the Paradise Lost films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, which exposed serious questions about the death sentence and life sentences for three teenagers accused of murdering three boys in 1993. The three teens, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin, were convicted but were released last year in a deal with prosecutors. Now, Echols has just published a memoir, Life After Death (he was sentenced to death), and movie star Johnny Depp helped him promote the book at Union Square last night.
Echols apparently attracted attention of authorities because he was interested in the occult, wore black and had a partially shaved head; he told 48 Hours, "A lot of it was just the way I looked. and in a really small, extremely conservative, right wing town, things like that, anything in that vein, they say automatically, 'Oh well, you must be a Satanist. Therefore, we don't put anything past you.'" The documentaries attracted attention, including celebrity attention, and Depp explained, "He comes from a small town in Arkansas, I come from a relatively small town in Kentucky. As a teenager, as a kid growing up, I can remember kind of being looked upon as a freak. if you will, different, because I didn't dress like everybody else, because I didn't look like everybody else." And Depp became a fierce supporter of the three:
The NY Times' Janet Maslin called the book "haunting," and noted the stories "are so well told that 'Life After Death' sometimes sounds like the work of a ghostwriter. But the book reprints enough handwritten pages of Mr. Echols’s prison writing to make it very clear that the literary talent is entirely his." And Depp provided a blurb for the book, "Damien Echols suffered a shocking miscarriage of justice. A nightmare few could endure. An innocent man on death row for more than eighteen years, abused by the very system we all fund. His story will appall, fascinate, and render you feeble with tears and laughter. A brilliant memoir to battle with literary giants of the calibre of Jean Genet, Gregory David Roberts, and Dostoevsky."
A big crowd was at Union Square for Depp's and Echols' appearance (among the onlookers, topless advocate Holly Van Voast).
And here's Depp reading from Echols' prison memoir last year:
Another documentary about the West Memphis 3, who were released but not quite vindicated, is due out this December from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Echols, who lived in New York City for a year after being released (now he's moving to Salem, Massachusetts), told Capital New York that he'll still fighting, "Right now, we have no sense of closure, and the only way we’re ever going to get that sense of closure is if we’re completely exonerated; if the people who belong in prison are in prison; if the officials in the state of Arkansas are held accountable, "