The miscarriage of justice that saw three teenagers in Arkansas go to prison for crimes they did not commit has been kept in the public eye via film since 1996.
West Of Memphis is the fourth documentary about the case; filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made the first three movies, and their work has kept the case -- and at least one of the defendants -- alive.
West Of Memphis is a frankly extraordinary document about the three innocent children who were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas and the three innocent teenagers who spent 18 years in prison for the crime. The film follows the story from start to finish, covering much of the same ground as Berlinger and Sinofsky did, but also incorporating new material and evidence about all the players involved in the case.
In 1993, three eight year old boys -- Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore -- were found dead in the Robin Hood Hills neighbourhood of West Memphis, Arkansas. They were found naked and tied up in a creek; their bodies appeared to have been mutilated. Rumours were afloat that some sort of satanic ritual was involved in the killings, and before too long, police arrested three local teens: Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin. There was no real evidence to convict the men, and each had a solid alibi for the night of the murders, but Echols was eventually sentenced to death, while Misskelley Jr. (whose IQ hovers around 70) and Baldwin got life sentences.
What happened in this case was a pile-on of ignorance, lies, bad police work, worse forensics, coercion, a bungled crime scene, possible misconduct by jurors, the political ambitions of some of the players and general stupidity.
West Of Memphis makes it all look obvious, based on what's known now; in their films, Berlinger and Sinofsky did a better job of plunking a viewer right into the middle of it all. Their first film, for example, clearly illustrated what would make Arkansas locals (and many others) so convinced that the three young men were guilty.
At any rate, the flaws in the case soon drew celebrity support for the accused, and as West Of Memphis shows, Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, members of Metallica and several others threw their support behind the imprisoned men.
West Of Memphis eventually points at the likely killer of the three children.
Finally, it shows the West Memphis Three undertake life outside of prison after 18 years of incarceration, scenes that -- be warned -- are enough to reduce entire viewing audiences to tears.