Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature this morning. In response, four parents whose children were murdered by Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley wrote an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
January 24, 2012
President Tom Sherak
Chief Executive Officer Dawn Hudson
Chairman Robert P. Epstein
AMPAS Awards Office
8949 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills CA 90211
Re: Paradise Lost III: Purgatory
Dear AMPAS officers and members of the Academy:
We are the parents and step-parent of Michael Moore and Stevie Branch, Jr. On May 5, 1993, our sons, along with their friend Christopher Byers, were brutally murdered. Three teenage boys, now men, were convicted of the crime: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. An HBO documentary film crew came to our town, West Memphis, Arkansas, to chronicle the aftermath of these murders and the trials of our sons’ killers. That film, Paradise Lost, was followed by two sequels – Paradise Lost II: Revelations and Paradise Lost III: Purgatory. We are writing to the Academy now to express our sadness, disappointment, and outrage over the decision to nominate the latest film, Purgatory, for an Academy Award in the documentary film category.
Despite the spin and controversy fabricated by defense attorneys, documentary filmmakers, and celebrities, certain aspects of the past 18 years are irrefutable. Three precious eight-year-old boys went for a bicycle ride on May 5, 1993, and never came home. They were murdered in a most vicious and horrifying manner. Jessie Misskelley has admitted to taking part in these terrible crimes three times on record and at least three additional times off the record. He described in detail how he and his two co-defendants, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, beat, tortured, and mutilated the boys, hogtied them, and threw them into a muddy ditch to drown. This is irrefutable. Misskelley admitted to witnessing and partaking in these horrendous acts several times. Also indisputable is the fact that two juries found the three men, known as the West Memphis Three, guilty of these crimes and that the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld these verdicts as just. The West Memphis Three, 18 years later, remain guilty of these murders as a matter of law and a matter of fact. They have failed to gain exoneration, despite being given the opportunity to do so, an opportunity that few convicts in their position are granted. They were given an arguably undeserved second chance to prove their innocence, and they declined, choosing instead to plead guilty to the murders. Again, this is irrefutable. They now claim to be “searching for the real killers” of our sons, but it seems unlikely they will be able to do so while directing movies, traveling the globe, and partying with rock stars. Our sons, meanwhile, remain dead in their graves.
While we were grieving for our children, the HBO film crew assured us that they only chronicled the events as they unfolded, and that they believed the defendants to be guilty. They earned our trust, and then they violated it. Director Joe Berlinger aptly referred to himself as a “storyteller first, a journalist second…” an accurate description given the fable he has conjured. Berlinger decided within “five minutes” of meeting Damien Echols that he was innocent and immediately set out upon a mission to prove it, truth and facts be damned. The fabricated innocence of the defendants made for a better “documentary” than the truth that these three teenagers killed our children for nothing more than a sick thrill. Directors Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky exploited the deaths of our children from the opening scene of the first film, when they grotesquely and unnecessarily showed the crime scene footage of our sons’ broken and naked lifeless bodies, and they have not stopped gravely misusing our children since. Including video of our sons’ dead bodies in the first film must have proved lucrative because they indefensibly used the footage again in Purgatory.
Directors Berlinger and Sinofsky lied to grieving parents. They have callously accused not one, but two, grieving parents of their own sons’ murders. They manipulated viewers into believing that these trials were a witchhunt, showing only very carefully selected snippets of trial testimony. The trials of our sons’ murderers lasted twenty-two days. Despite having over 140 hours of footage in their possession, Berlinger and Sinofsky ultimately showed viewers less than one hour of trial footage and led viewers to the false conclusion that there was no evidence produced that the three defendants were guilty. They neglected to include virtually all of the evidence against the defendants, regardless of the fact that two juries and the Arkansas Supreme Court deemed that sufficient evidence of their guilt existed. The directors spun three films worth of lies and manipulation, leading viewers to believe that there was insufficient evidence of guilt. On August 19, 2011, the killers themselves finally admitted that there was sufficient evidence to convict them. Despite the celebrity and financial support garnered by these films, even an estimated $10-20 million could not produce the exculpatory evidence that Berlinger, Sinofsky, high-profile defense attorneys, and the defendants themselves insisted exists. This includes the DNA mentioned in the latest film, which even the convicts’ defense attorneys admit was not exculpatory. The defendants finally conceded this when they admitted to the State of Arkansas, and the world, that their guilty verdicts were in fact just. Paradise Lost III: Purgatory glosses over the irrefutable fact that the defendants themselves requested the Alford Plea and chose instead to portray the situation as if the defendants were forced to plead guilty. The truth is that the defendants were given the opportunity to present their case for innocence, but four months prior to the evidentiary hearing, they requested that the Court allow them the opportunity to plead guilty instead. After 18 years proclaiming their alleged innocence, these men were given the chance to prove that they did not kill our children, and they declined. Perhaps this was because their attorneys knew that sufficient exculpatory evidence does not exist.
Despite these facts, the Academy has declared that these filmmakers and their grotesque mission of reversing justice for three innocent children is worthy of the highest film recognition. These films glorified child murderers and made them stars. Worse yet, they had a direct impact on the release of our sons’ killers. These admittedly guilty defendants are now free to profit from the horrible, unthinkable, tragic deaths of our sons, just as Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have done before them.
We last wrote to you on November 22, 2011, asking that the Academy would not reward the evil acts of May 5, 1993, when our children were taken from us in the most horrific way imaginable. We have been denied closure since the day that HBO stepped into our town and manipulated us into believing that they were present to chronicle the tragedy that had befallen us. It is with heavy hearts that we express our extreme disappointment with the decision to nominate this film for an award in the documentary film category. This film is not art. While it can be argued that virtually all documentaries are biased in some way or another, Paradise Lost III: Purgatory blatantly misrepresented the truth, staged scenes, contrived confrontations, distorted the facts, and lied by omission. Even crueler, these films had a direct impact in the reversal of justice for our precious sons. The filmmakers callously disregarded the families of Michael Moore, Stevie Branch, Jr., and Christopher Byers. This film should be exposed as a fraud, not rewarded with an Academy Award nomination.
Todd Moore, father of Michael Moore
Diana Moore, mother of Michael Moore
Stevie Branch, Sr., father of Stevie Branch, Jr.
Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch, Jr.
Expect the Academy and its members to respond with a condescending brushoff, followed by another round of “Damien is so cool and dreamy, I was just like him when I was a teenager”.