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In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas. Within weeks, police arrested teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. Basing its case on a coerced "confession" from Misskelley, who is mentally handicapped, the prosecution used the teenagers' interest in Metallica and black clothing to argue that the victims were sacrificed in a satanic cult ritual. Despite the lack of physical evidence or connection to the victims, they were convicted of murder. Echols is on death row, and Baldwin and Misskelley are serving life sentences without parole. The case of the West Memphis Three, the subject of the Paradise Lost documentaries, has inspired nationwide activism. In Devil's Knot, award-winning journalist Mara Leveritt—who speaks Friday 5—outlines their story.
What's the status of the case?
All screwed up. There have been so many bad calls, mistakes and manipulations in the legal process. I named the book Devil's Knot because of the knots used to bind the victims, and the legal knot I saw binding the [convicted] teenagers. I see those legal knots getting more complex.
What's Damien, Jason and Jessie's reaction to the public support?
[It] has made a pretty unendurable situation endurable. It has let them know they are not forgotten, that there are people who feel outrage and have a commitment to effecting change. They have a connection that most inmates do not have.
Will this activism help?
Yes. The outside attention has raised awareness in Arkansas. People have come into this new, without the preconceptions [held] at the time of the events. They become more attuned to what goes on in the legal system... The expectation that [the system] will operate without flaw is going out the window—and cases like this accelerate it.—Annie Tomlin
Mara Leveritt discusses Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three at Barnes & Noble Friday 5.