Jason Baldwin, one of the members of the so-called West Memphis 3, credits Hollywood with getting him out of prison.
Now Baldwin hopes a new movie will ensnare whomever is responsible for the crime he swears he did not commit decades ago. Atom Egoyan‘s “Devil’s Knot,” which opens in theaters Friday, dramatizes the story of three teens convicted of killing three young boys, with Oscar winners Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon in key roles.
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The movie follows three “Paradise Lost” documentaries by Joe Berlinger about the case, which attracted celebrity interest, and one from Amy Berg that came out after Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were freed three years ago.
Baldwin told TheWrap that he feels like he owes it to the slain kids and their families to keep telling the story in hopes justice will ultimately be served.
“There’s no statute of limitations on murder,” Baldwin told TheWrap. “We’re saying to whoever did this, whoever is out there, we’re still paying attention. We’re not giving up on a search for you. You may think you’ve gotten away with murder, but you haven’t.”
Although a series of appeals and new evidence convinced legal authorities to ultimately free the three men accused of the 1993 murders, but Baldwin gives Berlinger a great deal of credit for saving the life of Echols, who had been on death row.
He served as executive producer on Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot.” TheWrap spoke with Baldwin and Egoyan about the film, its potential impact and how the case influenced their beliefs.
This story has been the subject of several movies and books. Why did you pick this approach, and do existing materials complicate your efforts?
Egoyan: I first saw ‘Paradise Lost’ when it came out in Toronto a few years after the case, and clearly this documentary was instrumental in keeping the case alive. It also pointed towards another culprit. A lot of books and documentaries seem to say if only this person had been pursued or that person. I don’t think it’s that easy; it would have been another witchhunt.
What’s remarkable about this incident is the mountain of evidence that one has to wade through because so much of that was dismissed. Once the system set its sights on these three young men, they felt they found the culprits and focused on as expedient a resolution as possible.
It is the most horrifying crime scene imaginable and it happened in a town deeply rooted in religion. With an action of unquestionable evil, demons had to be created. Once these three young men were brought into the system, the resolution was sealed.
Did you draw your own conclusions?
Egoyan: Nothing that I would begin to want to talk about. This movie is not about saying this is what would have happened, but about showing how we live with doubt, how we navigate in places where there is no resolution. Mistakes were made from the get-go. You don’t find a body and then move it.
How many more ways can you tell this story?
Baldwin: I feel like we owe it to Michael, Steve, Chris, their families and my family to use whatever tools we can. You may say the case is closed, but the fact remains there’s no statute of limitations on murder. We’re saying to whoever did this, whoever is out there, we’re still paying attention. We’re not giving up on a search for you. You may think you’ve gotten away with murder, but you haven’t.
And what role will Hollywood play in this?
Baldwin: If it weren’t for the documentaries before the movie showing the world what happened to us, Damien would have been murdered by the state of Arkansas. Whoever did this would have escaped justice forever. Maybe this film is a part of all this. This situation is not hopeless. Damien is alive.
Jason, how much attention did you pay to all of the media coverage of the case and the books about your life?
Baldwin: I paid the utmost attention to everything I could grasp about the real atmosphere of the crime scene. When you are arrested you expect certain things to occur in the judicial system. A mugshot, a phone call. When it came time to fingerprinting, I was not surprised they took my entire handprint or footprint. I figured they must have some kind of evidence to compare something from the crime scene.
They were convinced I’m the person that did this. I was no longer looked at as innocent. A dark spell came over people and the prosecution was allowed to create a fanciful story and overlook facts. There was biological material that could be tested, but since tests didn’t lead to us it made no sense for the prosecution to act like it was there.
Egoyan: For all the talk about dark magic, the only act of magic was what Fogelman could do in that summation. Here’s a table of circumstantial evidence, and when you mix it all together you’ve got demons.
Are either of you spiritual?
Baldwin: I was raised Southern Baptist all my life; I was raised on the story of the Bible. On a sunny Sunday morning, you don’t want to sit in the church. When the murders occurred, I had this faith. At the same time I would rather be spending time with friends. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been spending more time with faith.
Egoyan: I was raised in the Armenian Christian Orthodox church, dealing with an extraordinary act of evil — the genocide against the Armenian evil. Justice hasn’t been served; perpetrators haven’t admitted it happened.
What draws me to these types of stories is faith seems to be a very personal issue. When applied communally, it becomes much more complex.
Did this influence your faith?
Jason: All things can be used for good, and all things can be misused.
Egoyan: When you look at Fogelman’s summation, he says religion can make people do evil things; he’s talking about it in terms of Satanism. Yet he is about to do a very evil thing in the name of religion, and that religion is justice.
As a Christian, the fundamental law you are taught is do as you would have done unto yourself. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t want to be treated the way you would treat yourself.