Alternative suspect: John Mark Byers

Both Paradise Lost and Devil’s Knot point the finger at John Mark Byers, stepfather of Chris Byers, as the real killer. Until 2007, he was the top alternative suspect of the “free the WM3″ movement.

However, there was never the slightest evidence that John Mark Byers committed the crime. West Memphis police investigated him early on, took hair and blood samples, interrogated him at length, but never uncovered anything suspicious.

Unlike the three convicted killers, Byers had a solid alibi for the timeframe of the murders. His whereabouts were accounted for by multiple people.

John Mark Byers got a lot of screentime in Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2. His outrageous screen presence was a documentary filmmaker’s dream. Co-director Bruce Sinofsky called him “one of the most interesting figures in film history.” By many accounts, Byers was drunk, stoned, on Xanax and otherwise medicated throughout the first film’s shooting.

Paradise Lost and sequel smear Byers with the same cultural prejudice they supposedly decry. The films argue (falsely) that there was no evidence against the WM3, that they were unfairly targeted because they dressed in black, had weird haircuts, listened to heavy metal music, etc. And then there’s that crazy stepfather — he dresses weird, he has weird facial hair, he talks weird, he’s a total redneck, he’s obviously guilty.

There’s no doubt that John Mark Byers is a weird dude. But being weird doesn’t mean he killed anyone.

In December 1993, Byers gave a knife to Paradise Lost cameraman Doug Cooper as a present. After consulting with HBO, the filmmakers turned the knife over to West Memphis police. The knife had blood traces around the handle, which the crime lab tested. The tests showed the blood could have belonged to either John Mark Byers or Chris Byers. West Memphis police interrogated Byers again in January 1994.

WM3 supporters often claim that “the Byers knife” had Chris Byers’ blood on it. This is not true. The DNA tests conducted did not have the precision to match the blood to a single individual. The tests just narrowed the blood source to a particular segment of the population, which included both John Mark Byers and Chris Byers. John Mark Byers could have been the sole source of the blood on that knife.

John Mark Byers is an attention-seeker. He loved being the star of the Paradise Lost films and willingly played the fool to get more screen time. Maybe the filmmakers duped him for the first film. But even after Paradise Lost came out and basically accused him of torturing and killing three children, Byers willingly participated in the making of the sequel. Paradise Lost 2 again made Byers look like the real killer, but he has reportedly worked with the same filmmakers on an upcoming Paradise Lost 3.

The Memphis Flyer ran a decent profile of John Mark Byers in 2006, part of an otherwise awful “innocents railroaded because they wore black and liked Metallica” rehash. (Scroll down to “Tragedy makes a reality star” for the Byers stuff.)

Around 2007, the “free the WM3″ movement abandoned John Mark Byers as their main suspect. Did admitting they were wrong about Byers’ guilt mean admitting they were wrong about the WM3′s innocence? Of course not. WM3 partisans simply began pointing fingers at Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, as the new “real killer”.

Freed from harrassment by WM3 partisans, did John Mark Byers leave the spotlight? Sadly not. He switched gears and joined the “free the WM3″ movement, where he continues to enjoy being the center of attention. He now champions the WM3′s innocence and participates in the smear campaign against Terry Hobbs.