LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The parents of two of three Arkansas boys who were brutally murdered nearly two decades ago said they’re disappointed that a documentary about the killings and the three men convicted, known as the West Memphis Three, was nominated Tuesday for an Academy Award.
Todd and Diana Moore had asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to exclude “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” from consideration, saying it glorifies Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. The three spent 18 years in prison, long claiming their innocence and attracting attention from celebrities, before reaching a deal with prosecutors to be set free last year.
The film, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, is the third in a series of HBO documentaries about the case. The 8-year-old Cub Scouts — Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers — were found dead in 1993 in West Memphis, a town along the Mississippi River. Two drowned in a drainage ditch, the other bled to death; all were found naked and tied up.
The Moores, along with Stevie Branch’s father and stepfather, sent a letter to the Academy and reporters on Tuesday expressing their “sadness, disappointment, and outrage” about the Oscar nod.
“This film should be exposed as a fraud, not rewarded with an Academy Award nomination,” they wrote.
Berlinger, who was at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, said in an email that he was sympathetic to the victims’ families.
“We believe that the pursuit of the truth has been the best way to honour the memories of the victims of this unimaginable crime and our hearts go out to those who are criticizing us,” he said.
The Academy didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The film was among five documentary features nominated for an Oscar.
The first film aired in 1996 and immediately raised doubts about the case. Over the years, celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines joined the effort to free Echols, who was sentenced to death, and Baldwin and Misskelley, who received life prison sentences.
The three men were freed in August after pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for sentences of the 18 years they’d already served. An unusual legal manoeuvr allowed the men to maintain their claims of innocence.
Since then, the men have been relearning to live outside prison walls and new films are chronicling the case. “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” premiered last year, and another film, “West of Memphis,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this month.
The letter from the Moores comes shortly after Pam Hobbs, Stevie Branch’s mother, asked the state to reopen the case after she saw new evidence in “West of Memphis.” She believes Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley did not murder her son.
Prosecutor Scott Ellington, who handled the case in August, said Tuesday he had received a packet of materials from the defence team but had not had a chance to look at it. He has said previously he believes the real killers were convicted but promised to look at new defence evidence.
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted after Misskelley unexpectedly confessed and implicated the other two, describing sodomy and other violence. Misskelley, then 17, later recanted, and defence lawyers said he got several parts of the story wrong. An autopsy found there was no definite evidence of sexual assault, and Misskelley said the older boys abducted the Cub Scouts in the morning, when they had actually been in school all day.
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