Written by Chris K Wilson
I suppose there are hundreds of cases such as this hidden away in American history justice files – sensational crimes, creating mass hysteria, law enforcement officials desperate to catch a break and solve terribly violent murders. What is most profoundly disturbing about “Devil’s Knot – The True Story of the West Memphis Three,” a well-researched and eye-opening account by Mara Leveritt, is there is no comfortable resolution to this case.
Photo Arkansas Times
If the three teenagers who were convicted in the slayings of three eight-year-old boys in 1993 are truly guilty – as the juries found them – then it is a sad testament to the ever-decreasing humanity existing within the interstate wasteland of faceless trailer parks, strip malls and fast food dives. However, if these three anti-social teens were railroaded simply because they were counterculture, adorned in black listening to Metallica and Black Sabbath while perusing Anne Rice, then this morbid tale is an example of a modern-day witch-hunt akin to the Salem Witch Trails hundreds of years ago.
Has justice been served in West Memphis, Arkansas – a small, faceless Southern town near the banks of the Mississippi River? Someone murdered those three innocent boys in or near the woods outside of town. But is that someone truly behind bars?
When reading “Devil’s Knot,” it is abundantly clear these law enforcement officials had little experience dealing with a violent case such as this. The crime scene was contaminated, officers didn’t follow leads, interviews were not recorded, evidence was lost, witnesses were threatened, body conditions leaked to the press. Most disturbing of all, there seemed to be an inability by these desperate officials to believe a God-fearing resident of their community – one of them – could ever murder three boys in this brutal a fashion.
“It had to be someone who is not one of us. Someone who does not believe in God.”
When terrible crimes like this happen in our society, there is always an instinctive reaction to find a boogey man – some kind of monster not one of us. Damien Echols, goth and counterculture, with a creepy (though creative) presence fuelled by depression and smalltown restraint, made the perfect boogey man for a wounded community trying to understand and cope.
It is clear when reading “Devil’s Knot” that Damien fuelled much of this talk, and relished his role as eventual goth martyr. It is also clear mentally handicapped Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was intimidated and taken advantage of during his 11-hour ordeal when he eventually implicated himself, Damien and Jason Baldwin in the murders. The confession itself is so unconvincing as to be surreal. And the scant evidence – some of which was discovered or found months after the murders, was never scientifically related or matched to a single wound on the victims’ bodies. But drop the name of Satan or Cult into a hysterically uneducated, conservatively religious town needing, if not wanting, to lynch someone for these murders, and all bets are off. All workings of a fair justice system are suddenly crippled. Damien and company made the perfect boogey men. Of course, Damien and company could truly be the boogey men we have always feared since the beginning of time……since the days of Salem Witch Trials.
From all sides, this is an ugly story. As America, one way or another, we should be ashamed. “Devil’s Knot” documents this in perfect fashion.