The men known as the West Memphis Three were convicted as teenagers in 1994 of the heinous murders of three little boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Jason Baldwin, who’s interviewed here, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Jessie Misskelley, Jr., received a sentence of life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and the so-called ringleader, Damien Echols, was given the death penalty.
During the trial the prosecution declared that the children were slain as part of a Satanic ritual. A number of documentaries have been based on the case, and celebrities, filmmakers, and musicians have spoken out in the belief that they are innocent. Finally, in 2010, the trio were released after striking an unusual legal deal.
And now, there’s a Hollywood movie, Devil’s Knot (review). It’s directed by Atom Egoyan and stars Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon.
Dread Central: One wonders… as someone who lived the story, have you watched all the documentaries and TV specials on your case? Which one(s) would you say are the most accurate?
Jason Baldwin: I have watched all the films on the case and recommend them to everyone in their entirety, including Devil’s Knot.
Having said that, Paradise Lost is particularly meaningful for me because without it, Damien would likely have been executed and Jessie and I would have spent the rest of our lives in prison. I was actually able to see Paradise Lost not too long after it came out in 1996, and for the first time I was able to see my mom and brothers just feet away from me in the courtroom, reaching out to me and trying to console me. At the time I could not see them because I didn’t have glasses. I have always been severely nearsighted and can only see a few feet in front of me with any detail. That is one thing I was able to experience for the first time, as well as my mom’s interview with the media, pleading the case for my innocence to anyone who would listen.
Also, Paradise Lost let me see for the first time snippets of Jessie’s trial, Damien being interviewed, and all the hurt and fury Pam Hicks and all the families of the boys who were murdered felt at the time.
DC: Were you able to take part in the production of the movie – visit the set and/or meet Atom and the actors? If not, why not? If so, what was it like for you?
JB: During the production and filming of Devil’s Knot, my wife, Holly, and I did visit the set and meet many, if not all, of the actors, extras, and everyone else who poured their hearts and souls into bringing this film to life. I now call many of them a friend, including the director, Atom Egoyan, who has imbued this film with so much nuance and integrity.
One thing I will never forget is seeing how everyone treated Pam Hicks with such love and respect. I cannot imagine how horribly difficult the burden of her grief has been; yet, I saw her shoulder it with bravery on the set of Devil’s Knot. It could not have been easy for her to be there, but she was because neither she nor anyone else involved with the film want [the victims] Stevie [Edward Branch], Christopher [Byers], or Michael [Moore] to be forgotten.
When I met the young man who played me, Seth Meriwether, I met a kid who was very serious about doing his part and doing it well. At one point he told me this about the scenes where he had to be escorted in and out of the courtroom through the gauntlet of raging spectators: ‘Jason, I’m an actor. And all of these people out here are actors. But let me tell you, doing that scene was scary!’ All I could do was give the kid a hug and tell him everything would be fine.
DC: How do you feel about your story being presented as cinematic “entertainment”? Do you mind that fans of horror movies will be drawn to Devil’s Knot?
JB: I think it is very important for Pam Hicks to know that her son will not be forgotten. This film does that for her. It also says to [whoever] murdered the boys: You may think you’ve gotten away with murder, but you haven’t. Just because the State of Arkansas says the case is closed, the fact remains that there is no statute of limitations for murder. We are not giving up. You will be found.
As far as fans of horror movies being drawn to Devil’s Knot, on the night of our arrest, Damien and I were watching a B-grade horror film called Leprechaun, and honestly I still haven’t seen the end of that film! But seriously, it is important for us as a people to embrace the fact that, though we all have different tastes and beliefs, we should be able to go home and watch whatever movies we feel drawn to without fear that we’ll be punished for it.
The horror community has been incredibly kind to me over the years, I think partially because so many of them relate to being unfairly judged for their movie and music preferences. I’m grateful to have had the chance to meet and thank some of them since my release, as thanking supporters in person has been one of the highlights of my free life. [Ed. Note: For example, Baldwin appeared at this past weekend’s Texas Frightmare Weekend.]
I really just appreciate and welcome anyone who wants to see true justice done in this case.
Image Entertainment is releasing Devil’s Knot on May 9th.
From Academy Award nominated director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) and starring Academy Award winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), comes the true story of a crime that would grip a nation for almost two decades and that continues to be one of the most high-profile trials of all time. Based on the bestseller by Mara Leveritt, DEVIL’S KNOT recounts the trial and conviction of teenagers Damien Echols; Jessie Misskelley, Jr.; and Jason Baldwin in the savage murder of three 8-year-old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993.
Dubbed the so-called “West Memphis Three,” the defendants, each of them a social outsider, quickly found themselves up against a community crying out for justice as well as a lack of physical evidence that led police to believe the murders were carried out as part of a satanic occult ritual. Firth stars as Ron Lax in the film, a local private investigator and one of the first people to support the teens in their defense. Witherspoon plays Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the murdered boys. Together, they allow an uncompromising look at both sides of a town that was torn apart… and will probably never be the same again.
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