LGBT Pet Cause Ends in Freedom on  

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

January 17 2012 3:05 PM ET

Nearly 20 years in the making, HBO’s
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
is the conclusion of the award-winning trilogy that spawned a
worldwide movement to free three innocent men from prison. Celebrities
like Johnny Depp and everyday LGBT activists
were chief among the supporters of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley,
and Jason Baldwin — known as The West Memphis 3 — who were originally
investigated as teens for the murder of three young boys, not because of
hard evidence but because of Echol’s dark outsider
status and Goth clothing. A number of LGBT supporters first followed the case because the many characteristics that marked Echols as suspicious — he didn't have many friends, he dressed differently, he was artistic and weird — have been shared by queer and trans people for eons.

Paradise Lost 3
is both provocative and saddening. It tells the whole sordid story of
one of the most notorious child murder cases in U.S. history, including
each new stunning development along the way, and the conclusion just
months ago when Echols, who was on death row, and Baldwin and
Misskelley, who were serving life sentences without the possibility of
parole, were finally freed from prison after more than
18 years.

“Almost 20 years and three
films ago, HBO’s Sheila Nevins sent us on this journey to document the
terrible murders of three innocent boys and the subsequent circus that
followed the arrests and convictions of Echols,
Baldwin, and Misskelley,” says director and producer Joe Berlinger. 
“To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of
justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.”

The story is horrific: On May
5, 1993, the bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found next to a muddy
creek in the wooded Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Ark.  A month
later, three teens — Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley — were arrested and later convicted of
raping, mutilating, and murdering them.  The subsequent trials were
fraught with innuendo of satanic worship, emotionally charged
statements and allegations of coerced confessions, but
the defendants were convicted without any physical evidence linking
them to the crime.

With the support of HBO,
filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have followed the story for
almost two decades from days after the arrests to the 1994 trials when
both men began to question the guilt of the West
Memphis 3. Their first documentary, 1996’s Emmy award-winning
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills shocked
audiences with what many believed was a rush to judgment on the part of
police and jury members, nay a whole city that needed easy targets for
their despair and rage. At the time, all the family
members of the murdered youth believed the West Memphis 3 were guilty.

Two films later, and all
that’s changed. The first two films fueled a public and legal battle,
raising awareness of the case and helping spark the worldwide movement
dubbed Free The West Memphis 3, which was supported
by celebrities such as Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Natalie Maines of
the Dixie Chicks. Some of the parents and community members came to
believe the West Memphis 3 are innocent, as well.

Most revealing in
Purgatory, is one of the stepfathers, his wife dead, his life
still ruled two decades later by that dreadful day. But now his rage has
shifted from Echols to who he thinks is really the killer (the man
whose DNA is found at the crime scene, a stepfather
to one of the murdered kids).

Tags: television

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