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Sundance 2012 Review: WEST OF MEMPHIS - New Evidence Revealed in WM3 Case

Movie Review Sundance by Joey Paur

I've been following the story of the West Memphis Three for the last ten years. I was hooked when I first saw the HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Since then I've been following everything surrounding the case of with Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, and like many of the other people that know of this sad tale, I've been waiting for the day of their release... that day has come and gone. With the help of filmmaker Peter Jackson the investigation of these murders were able to continue, and these investigators brought information to light proving that these three men have been wrongly imprisoned for the last 18 years.

This Jackson produced documentary West of Memphis was directed by Amy Berg, and it takes the audience through a frustratingly long journey of how these boys were part of a modern day witch hunt after three 8-year-old boys were found murdered and mutilated in West Memphis. It takes us into the dark hole of lies and deceit that put these boys in prison, and follows how they slowly but surely crawled their way out of prison hell and into the light. This was all made possible due to all their supporters, and the fact that this was the first crowd-sourced investigation in history.

I've seen all three of the Paradise Lost films, and this new doc is just a great compilation and profile of what has already been shown in those documentaries over the years. At the same time it's unique in the fact that it gives us a look at how Echols and his wife Lori Davis came together, and how they got by and stayed positive throughout all this madness. It was really touching to see the strength these people had to endure what they had to endure. The doc included interviews with all key members involved with the investigations, trials, the parents of the murdered victims, and the famous people supporting them. It included actual footage from the trial, as well as some images from the crime scene which were very hard to watch.

More importantly, the doc includes crazy insane evidence that was uncovered during the investigation, that not only proves the innocence of the West Memphis Three, but also points the finger at the step-father of one of the murdered victims, Terry Hobbs, and the evidence they have compiled against him is pretty damning. It's anyone's guess what will happen from here, but this newly found evidence is already starting to cause a stir. No joke, this evidence was just brought into light less than a month ago, and they were able to work it into the final cut of the film in the last couple of days. As soon as we got out of the theater news was already blowing up online about it.  

For those of you who don't know much or anything about this story, West of Memphis is a definitive documentary that tells you everything you need to know about this case. At the same time, I don't want to take the spotlight off the Paradise Lost docs because without those these three men would most likely still be in prison, they are what inspired the uprising of support. 

The movie ends on a bitter sweet note. Yes, the West Memphis Three were freed, but they had to admit guilt to get their freedom. Now Arkansas politicians are treating this as a closed case, they "put the matter to rest." A killer is still walking free, and it seems like they aren't going to do anything about it because they got their guilty plea. Justice was not served, and at this point it doesn't look like it ever will be.

The Paradise Lost are available for watching now, but when West of Memphis eventually comes out it's a must watch. 

Here's the fill press release detailing the newly found evidence:

(Mountain Home, Arkansas – January 20, 2012) Terry Hobbs’ nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., allegedly told his friends “my uncle Terry murdered those three little boys,” according to declarations under penalty of perjury recently given to Damien Echols’ defense team. The three new witnesses were polygraphed about what they stated Michael Hobbs, Jr. told them.

“One day Michael picked us up in his truck. He was very quiet and upset. Michael then said to us, ‘you are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.’ According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.”

Another witness stated, “One night last winter, Michael and I were playing pool in his basement when the third friend asked about the West Memphis Three case which had been in the news. Michael responded by saying, ‘My uncle killed three kids in West Memphis.’ Michael was dead serious when he said this.”

The three little boys referenced in the declarations were found brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. DNA consistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, was later discovered in the knot of a shoelace used to restrain victim Michael Moore. Three eyewitnesses have also provided sworn statements that they saw Terry Hobbs with the three children on the day of the murders, immediately before they disappeared. Terry Hobbs has maintained that he never saw the three boys the day they were murdered.

A third witness stated that he was at Michael Hobbs Jr’s home in 2003 or 2004 when he was told by Hobbs Jr. that the two of them could not go down to the basement to play pool because Michael Hobbs Sr. was down there having a conversation with Hobbs Jr.’s uncle. The witness said that he “ listened with Michael Jr. at the top of the stairs. I heard two men talking. One appeared to be very upset even crying and he said ‘I am sorry, I regret it.’ The other man was trying to console him and said, ‘You are in the clear, no one thinks you are a suspect, those guys are already in prison.’”

Echols’ attorney, Stephen Braga of Ropes & Gray, said: “This is critical new information which reveals that the people closest to Terry Hobbs, his family members, may know much more about Terry’s involvement in the West Memphis Three case than they have ever acknowledged. If this is the Hobbs Family Secret, then what a horrific cost that secrecy has imposed on the lives of so many people – perhaps most significantly Pam Hobbs who deserves to know what really happened to Stevie on the night of the murders, as do the Byers and Moore families. With the secret now out, let’s hope that someone in the Hobbs family has the heart, the soul and the courage to come forward to tell the truth directly. In the meantime, I have given our investigative materials concerning these new witnesses – along with other related information – to District Attorney Scott Ellington for his review and action.”

The new witnesses came forward after seeing a recording of the CBS News 48 Hours special on the West Memphis 3 case. At the end of that broadcast, attorney Stephen Braga was asked what’s next in the effort to gain exoneration for the three after their plea deal. He responded: “Hopefully, some day we will find that smoking gun, that key piece of inculpatory DNA or a deathbed confession or a witness will come forward and say, “You know, this is really what happened.”

Hearing those words moved the new witnesses to contact the West Memphis 3 Confidential Tip Line just a few weeks ago. The new witnesses were then interviewed by the Echols’ defense team, signed declarations under penalty of perjury and passed polygraph examinations concerning what they say Michael Hobbs Jr. told them.

The Confidential Tip Line number is (501) 256-1775.

Here's the synopsis for the doc:

West of Memphis is an examination of a failure of justice in Arkansas. The documentary tells the hitherto unknown story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light. Told and made by those who lived it, the filmmakers' unprecedented access to the inner workings of the defense, allows the film to show the investigation, research and appeals process in a way that has never been seen before; revealing shocking and disturbing new information about a case that still haunts the American South.

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