Letter to AMPAS from victims’ parents

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.

Sincerely,

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”.

Oscar nomination for Paradise Lost 3?

Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning (24 Jan 2012), and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is a frontrunner for a Best Documentary Feature nomination.

Todd and Dana Moore, parents of murder victim Michael Moore, wrote a public letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences urging them not to honor Paradise Lost 3.

TODD MOORE
DIANA MOORE
PO Box 721
2004 Main St.
Hughes, AR 72348

November 22, 2011

Chairman Robert P. Epstein
AMPAS
Awards Office
8949 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills CA 90211

Re: Paradise Lost III: Purgatory

Dear Chairman Epstein and members of the Documentary Branch of the Academy:

We are Todd Moore and Dana Moore.

Our cherished eight-year-old son, Michael, was brutally murdered on May 5, 1993 by Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin. Misskelley was tried and convicted in 1994. Baldwin and Echols were convicted by a separate jury later that year. All three entered Alford pleas to our son’s murder August 19, 2011. They are now, as they have been for the past 17 years, guilty as a matter of law. They have been guilty as a matter of fact since the moment water flooded Michael’s lungs after he was beaten, stripped, hogtied, and then discarded into a stream to drown.

Michael was the joy of our lives. In addition to our son, his murderers also tortured and slaughtered two other children, Christopher Byers and Stevie Branch. These three precious victims were classmates and friends, and their loss was a tragedy felt throughout the entire community.

We are horrified to learn that a documentary that glorifies Michael’s killers, Paradise Lost III: Purgatory, is among 15 documentaries being considered for an Academy Award. Because of public pressure that exploded due to gross misrepresentations of fact in two previous documentaries, Michael’s killers were unjustly able to enter into a plea agreement, were released from prison, and now pose additional threats to society. This third documentary further insulted the families of these three boys and may lead to further injustice. We implore the Academy not to reward our child’s killers and the directors who have profited from one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated under the guise of a “documentary film.”

We realize that documentaries have a point of view and advocate a position to some degree or another. As with the two before it, this film crossed the line into a cruel hoax that had real-life consequences larger than even those of us who still mourn our horrific losses. It is not art. This film is cynical and exploitative deception that compounds our pain needlessly and rewards those who inflicted it. It and the two films that preceded it are simply tasteless tabloid entertainment presented as social commentary.

We are private individuals. The directors, Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, are aware of this because we refused to participate in their last two films. We appeared solely in the first film because the directors lied and told us their purpose would be to “protect children.” You can imagine our shock and disgust when the first film opened with gruesome and gratuitous images of the crime scene and remained exploitative and salacious until the credits rolled. It did nothing to promote child welfare. It did everything to support child killers and to benefit monetarily from a ghastly crime.

We were hardly the only people Sinofsky and Berlinger misled or manipulated.

Consider what happened to John Mark Byers. He was Christopher Byers’ adoptive father. Confrontations between Mr. Byers and Echols’ supporters at hearings were staged. Of course, Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to film these episodes. Berlinger and Sinofsky would transport Mr. Byers to the hearings and wire him for sound beforehand. Furthermore, Berlinger and Sinofsky maneuvered Mr. Byers and Echols’ supporters in order to film the anticipated confrontations. Later, after the cameras were packed away, Mr. Byers acted like a different person. Instead of being belligerent, he was affable. When asked about his change in demeanor, Mr. Byers stated that he was supposed to act that way when the cameras were present. Mr. Byers was quoted as saying he received $500 per hour for “exclusive interviews.”

These contrived “confrontations” and other distortions caused many viewers to believe Mark was the “real killer.” It had a terrible impact on his life. We brought this to the attention of HBO. Our complaint was ignored because these falsehoods proved lucrative.

The complete list of distortions would be a long one. The above example is illustrative of the manipulation and distortions that are prevalent throughout the entire Paradise Lost franchise. The films are bereft of ethics, principles, or factual accuracy and basis.

Publicity from the first two films did generate millions of dollars in donations. Much of that money went toward the defense’s investigation of the case. Not a single piece of exculpatory evidence was produced. In other words, between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 has been collected, although no one knows the exact amount collected or how it was spent. In eighteen years, nothing was found to clear the names of the actual killers. Late last year, the windfall that went toward the legal defense resulted in the granting of an evidentiary hearing which was set to be held a few weeks from now. Instead, the murderers opted to initiate a plea negotiation with the State. As a result, they remain convicted of the deaths of three children.

We have to note that this situation is similar to the one that confronted the Academy when Capturing the Friedmans was nominated for Best Documentary Film of 2003. Two of the Friedmans’ sexual abuse victims presented another Open Letter to the Academy. Capturing the Friedmans had much more artistic merit and integrity than Paradise Lost III: Purgatory, yet it did not receive the award. The Academy made the right decision then, and we pray it does so this time as well.

Sincerely,

Todd Moore
Diana Moore

Not surprisingly, I support the Moores 100% on this. All three Paradise Lost films are extremely dishonest works which omit or misrepresent key evidence in order to glorify scumbags who tortured and murdered children for kicks. Other filmmakers should hold Berlinger and Sinofsky in disgrace, not honor them.

New witnesses point to Terry Hobbs; old witnesses still point to Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley

Entertainment industry website Deadline prints a press release from the Echols defense team.

Terry Hobbs’ nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., allegedly told his friends “my uncle Terry murdered those three little boys,” according to declarations under penalty of perjury recently given to Damien Echols’ defense team. The three new witnesses were polygraphed about what they stated Michael Hobbs, Jr. told them.

“One day Michael picked us up in his truck. He was very quiet and upset. Michael then said to us, ‘you are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.’ According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.”

Another witness stated, “One night last winter, Michael and I were playing pool in his basement when the third friend asked about the West Memphis Three case which had been in the news. Michael responded by saying, ‘My uncle killed three kids in West Memphis.’ Michael was dead serious when he said this.”

* * *

A third witness stated that he was at Michael Hobbs Jr’s home in 2003 or 2004 when he was told by Hobbs Jr. that the two of them could not go down to the basement to play pool because Michael Hobbs Sr. was down there having a conversation with Hobbs Jr.’s uncle. The witness said that he “ listened with Michael Jr. at the top of the stairs. I heard two men talking. One appeared to be very upset even crying and he said ‘I am sorry, I regret it.’ The other man was trying to console him and said, ‘You are in the clear, no one thinks you are a suspect, those guys are already in prison.’”

WM3 supporters are already trumpeting this as proof that Terry Hobbs was guilty and that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were innocent.

To my mind, this just demonstrates the fanaticism and double standard of WM3 supporters.

The first two are fourth-hand statements: some guys claim that Michael Hobbs told them something, which Michael Hobbs had heard from his dad, which his dad called a “family secret”, original source unknown. And these “friend of a friend whose dad told him a rumor” statements pop up eighteen years after the fact. But WM3 supporters automatically consider them reliable.

The third guy tells a Nancy Drew-style tale about overhearing an actual Terry Hobbs confession. He keeps it to himself for eight years, then tells defense lawyers and filmmakers, who include the story in a press release on the day their movie premieres at Sundance. But WM3 supporters automatically consider this guy reliable.

Meanwhile, WM3 supporters have consistently dismissed the many direct confessions and secondary confessions pointing to the WM3’s guilt, nearly all made within a year of the crime.

Direct confessions:

  • Jessie Misskelley’s original 6/3/93 confession
  • Jessie Misskelley’s continued admission of guilt to his defense lawyers until late September 1993, including documented confessions on 6/11/93 and 8/19/93
  • Jessie Misskelley’s confession to police officers on 2/4/94
  • Jessie Misskelley’s tape-recorded confession to defense lawyer Dan Stidham on 2/8/94
  • Jessie Misskelley’s tape-recorded confession to prosecutors and defense lawyers on 2/17/94

Secondary confessions:

  • Damien Echols’ bragging about the murders at the softball park, reported to police by five different witnesses
  • Damien Echols’ alleged confession to William Winford Jones
  • Damien Echols’ alleged confession to Ken Watson
  • Damien Echols’ alleged bizarre story to Jesse Hurst in prison
  • Damien Echols’ alleged bragging about the murders at the skating rink, reported by Brandy Wilson
  • Jason Baldwin’s alleged jailhouse confession to Michael Carson
  • Jessie Misskelley’s alleged confession to Buddy Lucas
  • Jessie Misskelley’s alleged confession to Kim Floresca
  • Jessie Misskelley’s alleged confession to Michael Johnson in prison

Indirect reports:

  • Jason Baldwin’s mother accused his stepfather of turning in Jason for the reward money, on the night of 6/3/93 when Jason was arrested
  • Friends and family of Buddy Lucas told police that Lucas discussed his knowledge of Jessie Misskelley’s involvement in the murders
  • Jessie Misskelley’s possible prison confession to “TrueRomance78”
  • Jessie Misskelley’s rumored continued confessions in prison

I don’t necessarily believe all these accounts. The Johnson, Wilson and Floresca statements are shaky. But their stories are more direct (“I heard Jessie say …” and “I heard Damien say …”), and they didn’t wait eighteen years to talk. There’s no honest basis to dismiss Johnson, Wilson and Floresca but to accept these “new witnesses”.

The closest parallel to these “new witnesses” against Terry Hobbs might be the long-ago witnesses who relayed a rumor that Jason Baldwin had told his friend Garrett Schwarting about the murders.

Laura Maxwell told police on 5/18/93: “Garrett told Jason Frazier that Damien & Jason (Baldwin) always have their devil-worshiping meetings in that park & those little kids were riding over there & they saw something they were supposed to of seen so Damien killed them. Garrett said he heard this from Jason Baldwin who was supposed to of been there.”

Police interviewed Jason Frazier on 6/11/93:

Jason Frazier – [Garrett Schwarting] said that uh, that he was studying to be a psychic and he knew this and him and this guy was studying it, and that uh, he said that uh, Damien and uh Jason did it, but Jessie’s name wasn’t involved, so uh they was practicing their witch craft and, he didn’t say how the boys got there, or anything, he just said, they did it and that’s where they practiced there witch, their satan stuff.

Detective Bryn Ridge – Okay, and you’ve known Garrett for a long time?

Frazier – Yes sir

Ridge – And, basically what he told you, you believed at that time?

Frazier – Yes sir

Ridge – Okay

Detective Mike Allen – Was there anyone else present with you when this conversation took place?

Frazier – Yes sir, my cousin, Jeff Hood

Then police took a handwritten statement from Jeff Hood on 6/15/93: “It had to been on a Saturday it was after the murders, me & my cousin Jason Fraizer were in front of the old belvedere apartments, it was in the morning time about 11 or 12 and Garrett Swarting was on a bike & he pulled up on his bike & asked for a cigeretes & started talking about White Which Craft & said the Jason Baldwin & Damien Echols did the murders. He studied which craft & said it came to him. When he told me I didn’t belieave him.”

Non-supporters rarely mention this alleged Jason Baldwin confession to Garrett Schwarting. The reports are third-hand or fourth-hand (Jason B told Garrett, who told Jason F and Jeff, who told Laura) and sketchy. Schwarting himself denied ever telling Frazier and Hood any such thing. Why bother arguing this confession when there are so many direct and secondary confessions from Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley available?

But the Baldwin-Schwarting story is still more reliable than these “new witnesses” against Terry Hobbs. Maxwell, Frazier and Hood all talked to police within six weeks of the murders. Schwarting was well known as a close friend of Baldwin. The “new witnesses” popped up two decades later to pass along indirect reports of a “family secret” which might or might not trace back to anything Terry Hobbs ever said.

WM3 supporters will reject any evidence, however obvious, that points to guilt. They’ll accept any evidence, however flimsy, that helps frame someone else for the crime. It would be comical if the results weren’t so horrible.

UPDATE: The Memphis Commercial Appeal has more: New sworn statements implicate Hobbs in West Memphis Three case.

So what do Michael Hobbs Jr and Sr have to say about it?

Contacted today, Michael Hobbs Sr. laughed upon hearing the allegations, calling them “made up stuff.”

He said his son and the three friends had a falling out and this is their way to get even.

He said his son, Michael Hobbs Jr., sent him a text message today saying, “You think people are going to believe that (expletive)?”

The elder Hobbs said he is convinced the West Memphis Three are the real killers and that the defense team is determined to pin the murders on his brother.

“How they got three killers out of jail, I don’t know, except the all mighty dollar,” he said.

Cue supporters calling Michael Hobbs Jr and Sr liars in 3-2-1 …

EW on West of Memphis

Entertainment Weekly previews the new pro-WM3 documentary West of Memphis with a fawning joint interview with celebrity supporters Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, West director Amy Berg, mass murderer Damien Echols and wife Lorri Davis.

Deadline has another interview with Walsh and Jackson.

As usual, the EW and Deadline pieces are pure murder groupie puffery, accepting every pro-WM3 claim at face value while making no mention of the overwhelming evidence that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were guilty as charged.

West of Memphis debuts this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

Paradise Lost 3 debuts on HBO tonight

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory debuts on HBO tonight. The reviews have been very positive, and it’s in the running for an Oscar “best documentary” nomination.

I don’t get it.

Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 all but accused John Mark Byers of being the “real killer”, even though there was no real evidence against him.

Now 18 years later, the filmmakers switch gears. Forget about that guy who was the “real killer” in the first two movies. Now this other stepfather is the real killer. And none of the celebrities, movie reviewers or professional journalists express the slightest skepticism.

For the record: Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were not “wrongly convicted” even though there was “no evidence linking them to the crime”. They were rightly convicted based on solid evidence. Paradise Lost and PL2 were highly misleading account of the case; they simply omitted much of the key evidence and flat-out lied about key events.

Justin Theroux, Jason Baldwin, Joe Berlinger, Orlando Bloom, Jennifer Aniston
Justin Theroux, Jason Baldwin, Joe Berlinger, Orlando Bloom & Jennifer Aniston at a January 9, 2012, screening of Paradise Lost 3

But that hasn’t stopped celebrities from fawning over the guy who tortured eight-year-old boys with a knife for kicks, sliced open one boy’s face, sliced off another boy’s scrotum and penis skin, then drowned them in a shallow creek.

Recommended Articles

Some recommended reading about the WM3 case:

Billy Sinclair: Why was Troy Davis executed and Damien Echols freed? I agree with Sinclair — both men were guilty, but neither should have been executed.

Pat Brown: Don’t Free the West Memphis Three. From two years ago but still a righteous, right-on rant.

Way of the Mammoth: untitled blog post, mostly about Roger Keith Coleman with oblique comparisons to the WM3.

Facebook Wars

So I get this message from Facebook.

You made a wall post that violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, posts that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down posts that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

The only two wall posts I’ve made in the past month are this one on December 27 at the WM3 Truth Facebook page:

The “Damien Echols profile” page at wm3truth.com has been updated and greatly expanded.

Damien Echols profile

And this one on December 28:

Another wm3truth.com case history page updated. Did Jessie Misskelley recant his 6/3/93 confession right away, as supporters claim? No. He told his lawyers the same story for the next sixteen weeks. – DJK

Jessie Misskelley maintains guilt to his lawyers – Summer 1993

I suppose you could say that these posts are hateful in the sense that I hate people who beat eight-year-olds unconscious, tie them up, sexually assault them, torture them with a knife, carve off body parts, then drown them. Guilty as charged, I hate people like that.

Facebook obviously doesn’t have someone reviewing each wall post for violations. Users have to report specific posts. Facebook probably doesn’t even review each reported post. I doubt that an actual Facebook employee looked at those posts and said, “yes, that’s hate speech, we might need to ban the author”. Other admins on the WM3 Truth page have also been subject to repeated TOS violation reports. As far as I can tell, Facebook offers no way to appeal a violation charge or to report people making anonymous, bogus violation charges.

If the WM3 Truth Facebook page disappears soon, this is why.

This is not a free speech issue. Facebook owns the site, they set the rules. Ditto Wikipedia. That’s why I prefer to publish on a site that I own.