I'm Still Alive: Peter Jackson Produced West of Memphis Premieres New Evidence
The "West Memphis Three" are finally out of jail, but details about the murders of three young boys 19 years ago are still emerging. That Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Charles Baldwin were convicted of the crime and spent the past 18 years in prison (with Echols very near execution) is a travesty of justice; that they were finally freed, no consolation either to the victims' families or the accused. Though people aren't often complimentary over celebrity causes or politics, in this instance big Hollywood names may have made all the difference. Peter Jackson (and producer/spouse Fran Walsh), Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines and Patti Smith helped bring national attention to the case, along with funding the defense campaign. Like many of you, I have read all the gruesome details and sporadic updates over the years; I just watched the latest HBO documentary "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" which followed the ongoing effort to collect DNA evidence and covered the defendants' Alford (guilty, though asserting innocence) plea and August 2011 release. In the latest documentary (and tying in with allegations made in West of Memphis), Stevie Branch's stepfather, Terry Hobbs said under oath that he never saw the children the day they were murdered, but three neighbors testified that they had seen Hobbs with the boys shortly before the time they went missing.
Though Jackson and Walsh's production West of Memphis, directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil) may seem late to the game, reviews from Sundance are positive, even from those who have seen the three HBO "Paradise Lost" productions. West of Memphis is an in-depth look at the events following the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers and immediately prior to its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, rumors were flying about a last minute addition that might provide new evidence in the case. Right before the film was screened, Echols' legal team sent out a press release that implicates Terry Hobbs (also linked by DNA 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 trailer and poster for West of Memphis:
The new information has been turned over to a district attorney and hopes for a proper investigation continue. Asked what she hopes will come of the film, director Amy Berg said, " I hope that the state is put in a position to react. We want them to investigate this case properly. Because right now, the families of the murdered children have no justice and the three guys who were wrongly convicted have no justice, so it's just a failed system that needs to be repaired."