Peter Jackson – Among high-profile supporters of Damien Echols and his co-defendants, known as the Memphis Three, was Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming film The Hobbit. Now the film maker is working with Echols in New Zealand so the three men, incarcerated for half their lives, have a chance to live normal lives after their lengthy ordeal.
At the start of this year, Echols and fellow convicted murderers Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley were behind bars, with little hope the three men would ever see the light of day again after a decade and a half in prison for a crime it seemed highly unlikely the three committed.
The three men were tried and convicted as teenagers in 1994 of the 1993 murders of three young second grade boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a satanic ritual.
A number of documentaries have been based on the case, and celebrities and musicians have held fund raisers in the belief that they are innocent.
However, there was a Hail Mary pass, and the men were suddenly released. Several celebrities had thrown their weight behind the cause, and even one of the fathers of the murdered boys supported their release after evidence continued to pile up suggesting the three men were innocent of the horrific crime. A judge in the case accepted an Alford plea- one that got the West Memphis Three out of jail but did not clear their names in the traditional sense.
Peter Jackson said, “There are all sorts of emotive headlines about Damien Echols, killer, coming to New Zealand, but the reality is that Damien Echols is an innocent man who has spent 18 years incarcerated in a tiny cell… He’s come here to work with us on a couple of things. We’re doing investigative work, we’re doing forensic work … with the purpose of getting a complete pardon.”