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The West Memphis Three, featured on an episode of 48 Hours Mystery that runs this Saturday, February 27The case of the wrongly convicted Arkansas men known as the West Memphis Three may seem a little far afield of Phoenix, Arizona, but not really. Perihelion Arts Gallery, currently on Roosevelt Street, has done benefit art shows for the cause in the past, and the convicted murderers -- including Damien Echols, who now sits on Arkansas' death row -- have many supporters in the Valley and in Arizona.
Back in 2003, I traveled to Arkansas for the L.A. Weekly, now one of New Times' sister papers, to visit Echols for a story I did on the fight to free the WM3 titled "The Devil's Advocates." Needless to say, it was an unsettling experience.
The story of how this trio of outsiders became the scapegoats for the brutal killings of three young boys in 1993 and how West Memphis, Arkansas and the region was gripped with the phenomenon known as "Satanic panic" is the subject of the documentaries Paradise Lost 1 & 2 and a brilliant book by Arkansas reporter Mara Leveritt Devil's Knot.
Leveritt still covers the case, and you can read updates on her Web site maraleveritt.com. The officials that put the WM3 behind bars are a rogues gallery rivaling even that of our own Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas.
The case has garnered support from a host of celebrities, such as Winona Ryder, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, and others. Now Johnny Depp is adding his name to the list of WM3 backers. His insistence on the WM3's innocence is part of a new report by 48 Hours Mystery, which will air on CBS this Saturday.
Having the assistance of celebrities does not mean someone is innocent of a crime, of course. But anyone who studies this case sufficiently can't help but conclude that these men were railroaded for crimes they did not commit, while the real killer or killers remain free.
I'll definitely be watching Saturday night, and encourage those interested to do so as well. Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelly and Jason Baldwin have become an international cause celebre for a reason. Their tale is a chilling one, particularly for anyone considered an outsider as a teenager. There but for the grace of someone or something goes a great many of us.
The West Memphis Three, featured on an episode of 48 Hours Mystery that runs this Saturday, February 27
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