In his new life, Echols, who lives with his wife, Lorri, in Salem, Mass., is teaching the practice of meditation.
Here I sit writing this in my new office in Salem, Mass. My home. I’ve christened this place, my work area, the Hermetic Reiki Center. And in this place I teach people the things I learned that helped me to survive the brutality of death row. This is my passion. It’s also where I am truly myself, no longer one of the “West Memphis 3″ or “Inmate SK-931.
Echols said he's not teaching meditation as a religious practice but a scientific method of physical and mental healing. According to his website, sessions with Echols go for $130 an hour. Crystals and T-shirts are available through the Hermetic Reiki center as well. Who would have pictured this future for Echols a couple of years ago?
There's a memorial to the victims at their school, Weaver Elementary in West Memphis. The principal there, Sheila Grissom, is trying to raise money to refurbish the memorial. She writes:
The memorial is called "The Weaver Reading Grove." It was constructed in 1994 on the playground of Weaver Elementary. It consists of a gazebo, benches and a memorial stone honoring the boys.
Sheila Grissom, principal of Weaver Elementary, has set up a fund to pay for landscaping around the gazebo. Plans are under way to build a flower bed, which will hold 20 yellow rose bushes to mark the 20th anniversary of their deaths. The estimated cost is $2,800 and will be done by TC Landscaping in conjunction with O'Neal Landscaping of West Memphis. $500 has been collected from donors so far. If additional funds over and above $2,800 are collected, the money will be used for future Weaver Reading Grove and playground maintenance.
In addition, West Memphis Realtors Michael and Lesia Ford with Coldwell Banker Heritage Homes are organizing and funding an effort to repaint the gazebo in brighter colors, repair some damaged benches, add trash receptacles and cover exposed nails in the ceiling. Organizers are hopeful the landscaping and refurbishing will be funded and complete by May 5.
If you would like to make a donation in memory of Michael, Chris and Steve to the Weaver Elementary Reading Grove/Playground Fund, please send your donation to the school at the following address:
Weaver Elementary Reading Grove/Playground Fund
1280 East Barton Ave.
West Memphis, AR 72301
For more information contact Sheila Grissom, Weaver Elementary School principal, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 870-735-7670.
Roger Ebert gives a strong review to 'West of Memphis,' on the West Memphis Three murder case. The opening:
Three young men spent 18 years in prison, one under a death sentence, for a horrifying triple murder they clearly did not commit. The apparent killer is still walking the streets of West Memphis, Ark. The documentary "West of Memphis" is the fourth film about one of the most heinous cases of wrongful conviction in American judicial history.
Do we need a fourth film? Yes, I think we do. If you only see one of them, this is the one to choose, because it has the benefit of hindsight.
The line is open for those not watching football. But there is news:says he doesn't support the Senate deal on taxes because it doesn't address spending. U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin of Cabot/Benton is already throwing lots of bull with the same talking point on Twitter. Bottom line seems to be that they plan to amend the Senate bill to make it unpassable in the Senate.
The deal is thus in peril, maybe dead. And so enormous tax increases could be in the offing for everyone, primarily because House Republicans simply won't allow taxes to go up on millionaires. Not without bleeding the working poor in return. Will voters buy their argument that it's all about spending, when they really mean only certain kinds of spending, not, for example, the defense dollars and special interest subsidies they love so much? Tiny Tim apparently feels comfortable about that position in his White, Lonoke and Faulkner County base. He's sounding a touch cranky about criticism. Poor baby. He's prone to tears and bemoaning the cost of public service when things don't go his way.
UPDATE: House now set to vote on deal. 'Baggers apparently short if votes to defeat. This means replay with worst consequences in two months.
And on other subjects tonight:
* LIFE IN THE SOUTH — COMING OUT: Oxford American has a new installment of its series with NPR, "Life in the South." It's a familiar but durably good topic — a profile and interview with Chad Griffin, the Arkansas native and PR whiz who's now the leader of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's top advocate for gay rights. I fault the piece for letting the bigot Jerry Cox, leader of the Family Council hate group, get away with saying so-called religious conservatives are live-and-let live about gay people in Arkansas and his only issue is when gay people want to "redefine marriage." This from a man who fought allowing gay people to adopt or foster children. From a man who favors employment discrimination against gay people as a matter of law. From a man who resisted anti-bullying legislation because it might infringe on the religious beliefs of people who think harassment and intimidation of gay people is a holy rite. Bull**** like this shouldn't be allowed with a straight face in serious journalism.
* LIFE IN THE SOUTH II: GIVING THANKS FOR MIKE BEEBE: It's not Thanksgiving, but it's occasion still to be thankful for Gov. Mike Beebe's leadership, quietly trying to implement federal health care legislation, including the no-brainer expansion of federally funded Medicaid services for more Arkansas working people, a move that will also bail out the existing program. I'm moved by an Alabama newspaper editor's doggerel, a condemnation of the Alabama governor for fighting the health care law, fighting federal mandates, fighting Medicaid expansion, fighting anything that could provide a better life for more people in his state. He has his parallel in Arkansas in the new Republican legislative majority in Arkansas. Maybe somebody here, too, will write a poem about the Medicaid Grinches. The poet, too, should work in George Wallace, massive resistance and the Southern way of life.
* THE ARTISTIC DIVIDE ON THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE: Interview here from Crave with Joe Berlinger, who made the Paradise Lost documentaries on the West Memphis Three murder case that were so critical in the eventual release of the three men convicted in the 1993 West Memphis murders. The interview delves into the prickly feelings between camps associated with the subject, particularly Berlinger's side and the Peter Jackson-financed side that has produced a new film, "West of Memphis" on the case. Berlinger is diplomatic about some friction over use of film in the new move and the nature of the work. His films, he says, are objective journalism, while the new movie is an advocacy documentary. But he says they are "strong companion pieces."
* INVESTING IN NEWSPAPERS: Interesting story on the Orange County Register's new publisher, who's investing in more reporting in hopes of lifting the sagging newspaper. Readership is up some. That's good. But advertising is the big question mark, still. Local publisher Walter Hussman is quoted.
Last night, we kicked off the first night of the two-day "Cameras in the Court" event we're co-sponsoring with the Clinton School for Public Service and the Little Rock Film Festival. The first "Paradise Lost" documentary screened as part of the LRFF's monthly Argenta Film Series at the Argenta Community Theater. Afterwards, I moderated a discussion between Mara Leveritt, whose recent cover story is the impetus for the events, and Jason Baldwin and his girlfriend Holly Ballard.
Tonight's event, at 6 p.m. at the Clinton Presidential Library, will feature a more expansive discussion. RSVP details here.
Last night, Baldwin and Ballard talked about their life in Seattle. They have two cats. Jason rides his bike a lot. He's taking community-college classes towards a bachelor's degree. He said he's considering trying to go to law school someday. Since he was released last year, he and Ballard said they'd traveled constantly, thanking supporters and advocating against the death penalty and on behalf of groups fighting wrongful convictions. Today, Baldwin and longtime WM3 supporter John Hardin announced the formation of a non-profit, Proclaim Justice, to advocate on behalf of those imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. See the group's release on the jump.
Joe Berlinger, one of the filmmakers of the "Paradise Lost" films, was scheduled to attend, but had a last-minute conflict arise. But I recalled something he said a year ago when I interviewed him as part of a similar panel at the Argenta Community Theater. He said that he and his filmmaking partner Bruce Sinofsky originally came to West Memphis expecting to make a movie about rotten teen-aged devil worshippers.
Baldwin said when they realized that wasn't the story, they were afraid that would be the end of the project.
"There came a point when they suspected we were innocent, and they were actually scared to call their boss, Sheila Nevins at HBO. Joe has said he was afraid that he'd be told to pack it up and come home. But when he told Sheila that he believed we were innocent and this was a totally different story, to her credit, she said, 'Keep recording. Don't stop!' "
Mara Leveritt reports from West Memphis at a hearing on a suit seeking access to police evidence in the West Memphis Three murder case:
The matters arose as the result of a lawsuit filed by two of the parents of children murdered in West Memphis in 1993. Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers want to see evidence collected by police during the murder investigation.
They have also asked to see evidence in the possession of prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington, who is currently running for Congress.
The parents attorney, Ken Swindle of Rogers, argued that Ellington did not respond to a freedom of information request on behalf of the parents within the time required by the state's freedom of information act.
Ellington was seen in court prior to the hearing, but he did not appear at it to testify on his own behalf. A deputy prosecutor from his office testified that Ellington had asked him to appear instead. Swindle complained about his difficulties in contacting Ellington, despite weeks of trying. Byers called Ellington "gutless" for not appearing in person at the hearing.
Under questioning, the deputy prosecutor, Curt Huckaby, said that there were three affidavits in Ellington's possession that constituted an ongoing investigation. These documents were turned over to Judge Hill. The first was said to have been received in December 2011.
Under questioning by Swindle, Huckaby said that no action had been taken on any of the affidavits. However, he said that interviews were planned.
Swindle argued that the "passive receipt" of documents does not constitute an "ongoing investigation."
The second subject the judge said he would consider as a result of this morning's hearing concerned evidence collected by the West Memphis police department.
David Peeples, city attorney for West Memphis, argued that documents would be made available to the parents, but that other evidence did not fall under the requirements of the freedom of information statute.
He maintained that police had an obligation to preserve evidence for possible testing in the future.
Swindle responded that his clients did not seek the return of the evidence or seek to touch the evidence. He said they only wanted to view it, "to make sure it is there."
He added, "So this is no small thing we are asking for."
Court adjourned for lunch. The hearing is to resume at 1:30 PM.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the Argenta Film Series at the Argenta Community Theater will screen "Paradise Lost," Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's 1996 documentary about the child murders in West Memphis and the three men who came to be known as the West Memphis Three. Following the film, one of the three, Jason Baldwin, will make his first public appearance in the state since he and Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley were released from Arkansas prisons last year after submitting an Alford plea, under which a defendant asserts innocence while pleading guilty. He'll be joined by filmmaker Joe Berlinger and Times contributor Mara Leveritt, the author of "Devil's Knot" and a forthcoming sequel that also explores the West Memphis Three case.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, Baldwin, Berlinger and Leveritt will participate in a panel discussion at the Clinton School entitled "The Case for Cameras in Court." Judges rarely allow trials to be videotaped. Had Berlinger and Sinofsky not been allowed to film the trials of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley, most believe Baldwin and Misskelley would still be in jail and Echols, who was sentenced to death, would have been executed.
Keep your calendar free, and we'll let you know in this space when and where to RSVP for seats to these two free events.
A series of free screenings is set in Arkansas and Tennessee for "West of Memphis," the new documentary on the West Memphis Three murder case.
The movie contains new information aimed at further establishing the innocence of the three men originally convicted in the slaying of three children in 1993 and suggesting other avenues of investigation. A $200,000 reward has been offered for information leading to arrests and convictions. For now, the case is officially closed. A plea bargain in which the original defendants pleaded guilty while asserting innocence led to their release from prison last year.
The movie will be shown free in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Blytheville and Mountain Home. Full details follow on the jump. The movie is scheduled for commercial release in Decmeber.
Two parents of children murdered in West Memphis in 1993 still have not been granted access to evidence relating to those murders, despite a lawsuit against local officials and state claims that the case is closed. Now, Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers have amended their lawsuit to include as a defendant Scott Ellington, the district’s prosecuting attorney, who is also a candidate for Congress.
Hicks filed her lawsuit on June 22, after West Memphis police officials denied her request to view evidence in her son’s case. She made that request more than nine months after Ellington entered into an unusual deal by which with the men convicted of the murders—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley—pleaded guilty and were freed from prison.
Earlier this week, Ellington said he had not yet seen the lawsuit. He added: “Once I get papers served on me, we’ll forward them on to whomever and respond accordingly.”
Blake Hendrix, attorney for Jason Baldwin, has forwarded a copy of a letter he and co-counsel John T. Philipsborn sent to Second Judicial District Prosecutor Scott Ellington two days ago outlining the results of some of the most extensive fiber-analysis ever conducted on materials collected during the investigation of the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis in May 1993.
Fibers from the case were analyzed by forensic chemist Dr. John Goodpaster of Purdue University, Christopher Bommarito, formerly of the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory, and criminalist Max Houck, formerly of the FBI crime lab and FBI trace evidence collection.
In short, the new fiber analysis found that fibers found at the crime scene which were determined to be "microscopically similar" to fiber samples collected from the homes of Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols — and later used as evidence against them at trial — are actually not similar to the collected samples. Or, as Hendrix and Philipsborn put it in the letter to Ellington: "The bottom line is that in 2012, three forensic scientists have looked at the fibers made available by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, and all three applied their expertise to the fiber evidence review. They demonstrate that the initial opinions expressed, which became part of the State's case, were wrong. The questioned fibers examined in 2012 should have been clearly described as unrelated to the fibers that were taken from the Echols and Baldwin residences during the investigation."
You can read the letter to Scott Ellington and the report by Dr. Max Houck here: Baldwin_fiber_evidence.pdf
On Tuesday, The Arkansas Blog reported on passages from "Life After Death," the new memoir by Damien Echols, that look very much like Echols throwing Jason Baldwin under the bus over Baldwin's brief stand against accepting the Alford Plea that freed the three men because it would require them to plead guilty. Among other claims, Echols says that Baldwin had "grown to love prison" and "was actually looking forward to the next year in prison school." Echols goes on to say that if he and Misskelley had been freed while Baldwin stayed in prison, "My own case had garnered much of the WM3 publicity, and if we managed to be freed without [Baldwin], there would be very little interest left in his case."
Baldwin later released a statement on Facebook (included in on our original post) in which he said Echols broke off all contact with him over Baldwin's involvement as a producer of the film "Devil's Knot," based on Mara Leveritt's book about the West Memphis Three case.
This morning, Echols released the following statement:
"In my book, Life After Death, I describe my childhood, life in prison and the incredible efforts to free me, Jason and Jesse. It is a very honest description of my life and the ways in which I have come to see the world both before and after my release. It is not a pretty picture in many ways, but it is my story. I also discuss my relationship with Jason and anyone reading the entire book will see that it is a very poignant and loving friendship.
In the weeks prior to our release, there were some very difficult times for everyone involved and I describe them at the end of the book. This was without a doubt the most tortuous period of my life - with freedom so close and yet capable of being taken away again at any moment - and my recollections of that period are honestly colored by that torture.
After our release from prison, Jason and I had a disagreement over how I was to be portrayed in the film Devil's Knot. The movie unfortunately has driven a wedge between us, but I will always respect Jason and love him as a friend.
I believe Jason was selfless in his decision to go along with the Alford plea that freed us, and I understand how difficult this decision was for him. For that, I will be forever grateful. My intention was not to hurt anyone, but to write honestly about my struggle."
We got an advance copy of Damien Echols' new book "Life After Death" (due Sep. 18 from Blue Rider Press) the other day, and probably shouldn't have read the ending first. That's because at the end of the book Echols unceremoniously throws fellow WM3'er Jason Baldwin and Baldwin's defense team under the bus.
Baldwin, you'll remember, briefly made a principled stand against accepting the Alford Plea, in which the three pled guilty to murder while maintaining their innocence, because it wouldn't fully exonerate the WM3. He eventually gave in at the urging of Echols' supporters, who got word to Baldwin that Echols was in ill health on Death Row.
An Aug. 17 story in the New York Times on the one-year anniversary of the men’s release said that Baldwin and Echols aren't speaking because of the way Baldwin — who said in a press conference just after his release that he agreed to the plea to save Echols’ life — is portrayed in Echols' book. If so, it's probably got a lot to do with passages like this:
"Over the years, Jason had grown to love prison," Echols writes. "His circumstances were not the same as mine. He had a job, he had befriended the guards and was actually looking forward to the next year in prison school. Jason had also said previously that he wasn't willing to concede anything to the prosecutors."
Another passage: "[Baldwin] also realized he was going to be left behind if he didn't come along with us on the deal. My own case had garnered much of the WM3 publicity, and if we managed to be freed without him, there would be very little interest left in his case. The funds were nearly gone as it was."
Other passages in the book speak of Baldwin's attorney Blake Hendrix — who is never referred to by name, only as "Jason's lawyer" — as insisting on talking to Baldwin before a deal could go through, but Hendrix saying "he had a brief at home he needed to work on" and that he would get to the prison to see Baldwin "within a few weeks."
"We could have been released the next day," Echols writes. "Even [Attorney Gen. Dustin] McDaniel was shocked. He said, 'Do you mean to tell me you're going to allow your client to sit in prison for weeks when he could be out tomorrow?' "
We spoke with Blake Hendrix today, and he called the allegation that he told McDaniel it would take "weeks" for him to get around to discussing the Alford Plea deal with Baldwin "false."
After reading and digesting some passages from the Echols book regarding the negotiations over the Alford Plea and Baldwin's reasons for originally being reluctant to sign off on it, Hendrix sent the following statement to the Arkansas Times:
"My co-counsel [John T. Philipsborn] and I are very sympathetic to Damien, who was wrongly convicted and unjustly spent too many years on death row. Both of us, however, must disagree with his characterization of the final negotiations and his description of Jason's viewpoints. Damien apparently is unaware that it was the Baldwin defense that uncovered the evidence of jury misconduct; insisted on a review of the pathologist's findings and obtained that review; led the discussions about DNA testing; and conducted wide ranging investigation of alibi evidence. Damien also apparently is not aware of the extensive evidence supporting the granting of a new trial that the Misskelley and Baldwin teams introduced over weeks of hearings in 2008 and 2009 which gave Jason the very justified belief that he would prevail. Jason continues to be interested in ensuring that all evidence demonstrating that he, Jessie, and Damien are innocent is placed in the public record. My co-counsel and I will be adding some significant new information about forensic science issues in the case in the coming two weeks."
UPDATE: Baldwin offers up a long response via Facebook. Read it on the jump.
UPDATE II: Damien Echols has released a statement. You can read that on the jump too...
*DEMS GATHER: Today's the state Democratic Party Convention is happening in North Little Rock. Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory and the author of "The Political Brain," will be speaking at noon and then later at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
*WM3 IN NY TIMES: The Times checks in with the West Memphis Three today. Two things of note: Damien Echols apparently criticizes Jason Baldwin for not immediately agreeing to the Alford Plea in his forthcoming book, "saying Mr. Baldwin had grown to love prison and was acting as if he was morally superior." That's caused a rift between the two, according to the Times. And Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington talks about evidence presented to him by WM3 lawyers:
“You don’t have dot to dot to dot,” he said. “And that’s what we need if we were to reopen the case.”
Still, he said he was willing to do that if such evidence appeared. “I’m man enough to present that evidence to a judge and let the judge decide.”
Has it been a year already? I suspect it doesn't feel nearly that long for Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley, who spent almost half of their lives behind bars. But the anniversary of their release (Aug. 19) is just about upon us, and their supporters have sent out a reminder that that a $200,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction remains on the table, and a tip-line, 501-256-1775, continues to accept information.
Lonnie Soury, a spokesman for the WM3, told me today that the tip-line had yielded information — "no homeruns, but that's typical in an investigation like this" — that had been passed along to Prosecutor Scott Ellington. Soury said the group is committed to finding the killers.
In the release, Echols said his upcoming memoir, "Life After Death," and the documentary "West of Memphis" (out in September and December, respectively), "serve the purpose of continuing to put pressure on the state of Arkansas in hopes that they will eventually do the right thing and reopen the case.”
Baldwin said he's had a momentous year.
"This has been an incredible year. Thanks to the generosity of more people than I could possibly name, I earned my first paycheck, found my first apartment and learned to drive, all the same goals I had as a 16-year-old kid that have been deferred for so long.
"Recently, I have had the opportunity to travel both across the country and internationally advocating for a number of incredibly important causes, such as abolishing the death penalty and eliminating juvenile life without parole. I am also enrolled in undergraduate studies in pursuit of a law degree so that I can continue to help reform the justice system and ensure that wrongful convictions become a thing of the past."
Read the full release, including a statement from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, on the jump.
If this is what they teach in their Business School, they need to focus on…
How can he know the records that were disposed of were not "relevant" or "needed"?…
Great post, Max. To answer your question, of course, the Republicans have no shame. One…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings