West of Memphis is a strong documentary from director Amy Berg, who in the past made Deliver Us From Evil about a Catholic priest’s crimes and those who protected him. West Memphis Three is about three young men who were voted to have done a heinous crime.
It was in 1993 in East Memphis Arkansas when bodies of three preteen boys were found naked and tied up in a drainage ditch. One of the boy’s genitals had been cut off. Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols, also known as The West Memphis Three, were convicted of murder.
But in 2005, The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, saw the first HBO documentary about the crime and argued that the real killer was still at large. They join several other celebrities crusading to free the West Memphis Three. Among them are Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines-Pasdar.
According to West of Memphis, the case against the three stank right from the start. Factors include the dubious evidence, conveniently located suspects to take the rap, and their suspicious confessions. DNA evidence pointed out to a very different scenario that implicated one of the victims’ stepfathers.
Lorri Davis started corresponding with Echols and soon she got involved in the case personally. Davis and Echols got married while he was still in death row. Jackson joined Davis and Echols as producers of West of Memphis. Berg’s perspective is excellent but her documentary appeared weaker because of those involved in the background.
But it brings one strong point to the case of the West Memphis Three. DNA evidence is hard to dismiss. Released just after The Central Park Five, West of Memphis is a good way to end the few weeks at the movies for stories about wrong men being at the wrong place at the wrong time.