The West Memphis Evening Times has a scathing review of West of Memphis written by Gary Meece. The article is only available to subscribers on their website, so I’m reprinting the whole thing here.
“West of Memphis, east of the truth”
by Gary Meece
West Memphis Evening Times – March 12, 2013
“West of Memphis” is here.
It’s in that desolate expanse of gumbo soil between the rotting Mayflower Apartments and the service road, on a weedy knoll that used to be the infamous Robin Hood Hills.
At this point, that bleak and forbidding site will yield as many new clues as to what actually occurred here May 5, 1993, as any other contemporary source anyone is likely to come across.
But they’ll keep trying, those “supporters.”
Before there were “supporters,” there was the first “Paradise Lost” documentary, which seemed to establish that the three Metallica-loving teens were arrested by incompetent police and convicted by conniving prosecutors in the brutal murders of three West Memphis 8-year-olds, all based on the flimsiest of evidence and fueled by Satanic panic over the teens’ strange preferences for black T-shirts and long hair in a throwback, inbred community that had never been exposed to lovers of hard rock and Stephen King novels.
By the time the second “Paradise Lost” movie rolled out, shameless camera-hog John Mark Byers, adoptive father of one of the three boys, was being suggested as the likely culprit.
Funny, but Byers’ whereabouts that night always have been fairly well-documented so the suggestion that he was directly involved in the brutal slayings has been and remains a “straw man” argument. It’s barely possible that he somehow could have slipped off into the woods, brutalized those boys and thrown them hogtied into the water, but it’s not credible. He was loud, though, and huge and kind of scary and had a trifling but real criminal record and liked to play around with guns, and hence was an all-too-easy target. The filmmakers didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The Arkansas author of the book on which the upcoming feature film about the case is based also could not resist pegging Byers as “a person of interest,” despite much evidence to the contrary.
By the third “Paradise Lost” feature and now with the fourth documentary in general release, Byers fell off the hook and the favored “culprit” has become yet another grieving dad in the case. We all have had moments we would not wish to share with the world, and Terry Hobbs, somewhat understandably given the nature of the wrongs done his family, has had more than his share of those moments, dug up for all to see. Mysterious overheard third-hand conversations about “family secrets,” allegations of a sometimes-nasty disposition from an ex-spouse and angry ex-inlaws, the discovery of a single hair that may or may not be from Hobbs (and with a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why it would be in a shoelace if it is his) make an even weaker case for prosecution than the supposedly feeble ones represented in the “Paradise Lost” epic. The ironies abundant in the latest round of accusations are absolutely lost on producers Peter Jackson and Damien Echols and their crew.
Other misrepresentations and obfuscations abound. Let’s give it this: It’s an artful look at West Memphis and environs, and we are not likely to see many such others.
“West of Memphis,” fourth movie about the case, is an advocacy documentary; it’s the movie that the aptly nicknamed “Icky,” his jailhouse bride Lorri Davis and their various movie star/rock god “supporters” wanted made. It’s been quite an effective piece of propaganda, directed by Amy J. Berg. It shamelessly exploits the memories of three little boys, Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, whose families still suffer from their loss and from the many subsequent traumas visited upon them by this remarkable case.
If you go to the rottentomatoes.com Web site and survey the comments of critics large and small around the country, you’ll discover a couple of things.
One, seemingly every newspaper and Web site in the country that bothered to review “West of Memphis” unthinkingly accepted the premise the “West Memphis 3” were at the very least unjustly accused and convicted; many reviewers cluelessly have asserted their innocence, as if the killers were somehow exonerated by multiple convictions and by the plea-bargained guilty pleas that got them out of prison.
Two, virtually every newspaper and Web site in the country that ran a review employed the services of movie reviewers who know nothing about the case except what they’ve seen at the movies, and many of them can’t get even those details right.
Over the course of two hours and 30 minutes, “West of Memphis” supposedly demolishes the prosecution’s case against the West Memphis 3, or so bray the critics.
It largely does so by simply omitting the prosecution’s case. While far too much of the movie is taken up with Terry Hobbs’ supposed lack of an alibi, the movie suggests that the real culprits, with a real lack of alibis, have alibis that prove these teens just couldn’t have committed the crime. This is pure bunkum. Echols flat-out admitted on the stand that he and his family shaped their constantly changing and wildly divergent explanations to suit the changing circumstances. A woman who was at that time one of his 12-year-old girlfriends (not to be confused with his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend) says she can provide an Echols alibi though she never took the stand in the 1994 trial, probably because her statements to the police offered no alibi. The Miskelley defense’s weak attempt at an alibi was demolished in the courtroom; the jury didn’t believe his witnesses provided an alibi, for a number of good reasons. Jason Baldwin’s explanation of his whereabouts was so weak that his attorney didn’t even try to present alibi testimony, and Baldwin offers none here. Where was he? What was he doing if he wasn’t brutally attacking and raping those boys? And yet we’re supposed to take his word that he has an explanation now? Sadly, many of our nation’s top film critics already have.
Like “Paradise Lost,” “West of Memphis” uses the “CSI factor” to play upon the audience’s prejudice that police investigators should be all-knowing, with all the forensics details immediately at hand to determine the truth with cool scientific ease. Real work is a lot sloppier than that, but then the West Memphis 3, their celebrity pals and many of their supporters aren’t that familiar with real work. Was the investigation perfect? Of course not. Did the prosecutors work hard to make their case and sometimes misstep? Of course they did. Did the medical examiner get some things wrong? Quite possibly, but that’s no reason why we should have to watch snapping turtles tear flesh off corpses just to make a point that would be more relevant if snapping turtles had tied up the boys, beaten them and thrown them in the water. And did Terry Hobbs slash open his stepson’s face and otherwise mutilate these children? Or was all the gore caused by snapping turtles? One supposes the filmmakers would like to have it both ways, as long as they can continue to argue for pardons.
The linchpin of the case is that Jessie Miskelley gave multiple and fairly consistent confessions before, during and after his arrest; anyone who can count can determine that the length of the interrogations has been routinely mistated. And it is misrepresented here. The police did not “sweat” the boy; he apparently wanted to talk. Unlike the other two in this case, Miskelley still had a smidgen of moral intelligence in May and June of 1993. He knew he had done wrong, and it often brought him to tears.
As for Baldwin and Echols, there are no signs yet that there is a soul in there.
Wow. Just wow. There are a few real journalists left, the kind with functioning bullshit detectors and a willingness to check facts rather than regurgitate the conventional wisdom.