"West of Memphis" examines the case of Damian Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, also known as the "West Memphis 3." Freed in August of 2011 on a Alford plea, the men served 18 years in prison for the murder of three second grade boys. The three men have long maintained their innocence and were convicted despite the lack of physical evidence linking them to the crime. The New York Times describes the plea as a
legally awkward deal that had them declaring their innocence but pleading guilty to the murders while the State of Arkansas essentially admitted the evidence against them was weak but possibly viable.
Read more about the documentary from NPR here.
West Of Memphis, in its final 25 minutes or so, gives a more thorough accounting of how the deal that freed the three was ultimately done, and in particular, lingers on the difficulties that Baldwin faced in deciding whether to plead guilty to something he has always insisted he didn't do in order to get himself out of jail — and in order to ensure Echols wouldn't be executed. After spending 20 years in prison, the idea of refusing an offer that would get you out is more than many of us can wrap our heads around, but as it's explained here, his hesitation seems quite logical.
Roger Ebert suggests,
If you only see one [documentary on the case], this is the one to choose, because it has the benefit of hindsight.
Kate Erbland's review is here.
For more on the soundtrack with performances by social activists Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, and more, go here.
Echols discusses his book "Life After Death" on C-SPAN2 BTV:
"West of Memphis" is available on DVD on August 6th.